Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gay Marriage

I just saw this letter from the american catholic bishops .  Generally, I'm a fan of Catholic policy, and this statement rings right for me the majority of the time, but I can't help but feel that they're misstating (in line with this blog's policy of assuming that people when wrong are making mistakes and not being purposefully malicious) the case for state recognized marriage.  Here's what they say

  In close connection with our defense of all human life and particularly the most vulnerable among us, we stand firm in our support for marriage which is and can only be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman.  There is good reason why the law has always recognized this, and why it should continue to do so.  In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children.  Children need, deserve and yearn for a mother and a father.  All human societies in every era of history, differing greatly among themselves in many other ways, have understood this simple wisdom.  No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent or analogous to the commitment of a husband and a wife in marriage, because no other relationship can connect children to the two people who brought them into the world.  For this reason, we will continue to vigorously support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and strongly oppose legislative or executive measures that seek to redefine or erode the meaning of marriage.  We suggest Congressional oversight of executive actions that have the effect of undermining DOMA, such as the expansion of spousal benefits to two persons of the same sex, and the weak defense of DOMA in court against constitutional challenge.  We will seek to reflect respect for the family in every policy and program, to protect the rights of children, and to uphold the rights and responsibilities of mothers and fathers to care for their children.  We will also continue to monitor legislation and federal regulations that protect our children and families from the destructive repercussions of pornography, which degrades human sexuality and marital commitment.
So first of all, out of spite, let's talk about the factual inaccuracies.  Historically, in fact biblically, marriage was recognized as being neither exclusive nor lifelong, and certainly not between one man and one woman.  Old Testament marriage  traditionally recognized polygamous marriages as valid, and allowed for divorce pretty much any time.  Now, Christ reorganized a lot of the thinking about that with statements in the New Testament, but it's certainly untrue that "human societies in every era of history [...] have understood this simple wisdom".  The status of homosexual relationships in society has also varied greatly from time to time and culture to culture.  The bishops make a fair point regarding a possible unique benefit of marriage, but by no means do all marriages possess these characteristics.  It looks like America's divorce rate is roughly half of its marriage rate, which certainly aces the whole both parents with their children idea.  Anyway, if the states interest in marriage is exclusively with regards to stable child rearing, then it seems we should only provide marital benefits to families where both parents and their biological child are present.  I don't think the bishops want this, but if they admit it they might have to admit that they don't have a point.

Basically, I think people are worried about gay marriage because they feel like it imposes upon their concept of sacramental marriage.  Frankly, this is stupid.  Law historically recognized marriage for the purpose of simplifying family oriented legal issues, like inheritance and the divvying up of property following divorce.  Gay couples encounter the same problems, and should be given the same help working out those issues.  This state provided legal aid has nothing to do with sacramental marriage and shouldn't be considered along side it.  Personally, I vote that we abolish marriage as a legal concept, replace it uniformly with civil union, and permit any people entering into voluntary, permanent co-dependence and cohabitation to benefit from it.


  1. For the record, I have long agreed with your suggestion that "we abolish marriage as a legal concept". However, let me play Jesus' advocate for a moment here.

    From the text you quoted, there doesn't seem to be any statement that they feel legalized gay marriage threatens homosexual marriage. The letter in fact claims that man/woman marriage is good for society because children need, deserve and yearn for a mother and a father. There are definitely people out there for whom the word "marriage" has a specific and holy meaning and for them this might be a valid compromise. But if you allow gays to get civilly unionized, then you still will have children who only have two fathers or two mothers who will supposedly suffer for it.

    Back in Mike mode now: I don't think there is compelling evidence that children of gay parents are somehow worse than children of straight parents. I'm sure there are Catholics in your audience who can point me to research that supports their side, just as I know there are studies that support mine (I read a study recently that found 0% of children of lesbian mothers were abused

    Honestly, it seems like the "gays are just regular folks who are gay" movement must be making progress if the primary arguments of the Catholic church against it are "Historically we've never allowed it" and "Think of the children".

  2. Mike,
    I think this is the statement that crystallizes their belief that even civil union type legislation would undermine marriage:

    "We suggest Congressional oversight of executive actions that have the effect of undermining DOMA, such as the expansion of spousal benefits to two persons of the same sex, and the weak defense of DOMA in court against constitutional challenge."

    DOMA basically says that states don't have to recognize the marriages of gay couples outside the state permitting that marriage, and that federal employees' spouses can't receive spousal benefits through state recognized gay marriages. It also tried to define marriage as between one man and one woman, but that clause was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.

    "Extending spousal benefits to two persons of the same sex" is pretty much the definition of civil union, so until they revise that stance I'm gonna have to keep disagreeing with the bishops on this one.

    I love the characterization of their arguments by the way.