Saturday, 12 November 2011

Catholic Bishops, Gay Marriage: "the Outer Fringes of Crazy Town"

Catholic mothers, like all others, delight in their offsprings' weddings - and those of other family members. They are not alone. Weddings are the occasions of major family gatherings, where we gather to celebrate with them, cement the family bonds and interrelationships that have been set up by earlier weddings when we catch up with news from those members we only see at weddings and funerals, and lubricate the family bonding with suitable refreshments, music and dance.

Such celebrations apply to all couples, opposite-sex or same-sex. A few months ago, a colleague told me that his son was preparing for a civil partnership with his then boyfriend - and my friend gave me a regular running commentary of the hoops his wife and son were making him jump through in the wedding preparations, from early visits to (gay) wedding shows and expos, to choosing the outfits, to planning the "wedding" reception. When my niece married her wife on a Cape Town beach a few years ago, my staunchly Catholic mother and the rest of the family gathered from across the country to celebrate with her, just as they regularly do for all family weddings.

All this is to do far, far more than simply "congratulate" the new spouses. Yet in New York, a report at Unicorn Booty claims that Archbishop Timothy Dolan has "forbidden" Catholics from even congratulating gay or lesbian newly-weds:

But then the decree takes a sharp right turn and steers right off a cliff into Even Crazier Town, the affluent suburb to the north of Crazy Town proper’s city limits.

Dolan, on behalf of the Catholic Church, forbids Catholics from even being happy for their newly married gay friends or offering congratulations. Failure to comply with this perversion of law from their all-knowing, all-loving god that hates some of the things he lovingly created in his own image will result in canonical sanctions – a fancy way of saying priest court.

Oh, and stay the F away from Catholic churches, homos.

- Unicorn Booty

Now, the writer of this has himself veered off into Crazy Town - there is not a word in the decree to prevent Catholics from congratulating or celebrating with lesbian or gay newly weds, just a ban on doing it on Church property, or by Church personnel. One of the tragic features of (some) bishops' crazed, irrational overreaction to gay marriage, has been the crazed, irrational overreaction to the Catholic Church from (some) secular gay activists.

There is, however, good reason nevertheless to conclude that Catholic bishops' reactions to gay marriage, in the US and in Scotland, have taken them to the outer fringes of crazy town - but not for the reasons  given by Kevin Farrell at Unicorn Booty.

Consider two statements from the preamble to the Decree:

 Jesus Christ affirmed the privileged status of marriage to human and Christian society by raising this union to the dignity of a Sacrament when entered into by two baptized persons.


Then why did he encourage his followers to leave their homes and families to follow him? Why did it take the Catholic bishops  the better part of a thousand years to require Catholics to marry in Church, or to themselves confirm a sacramental value in marriage?

Dolan gives no Scriptural source for this claim about Christ and marriage, because there is none. This is a figment of his (or Vatican) imagination.

Or consider this:

For millenia, civil authority recognized the true nature of marriage.  

But the "true nature" of marriage recognized by civil authorities was not what the bishops present it to be: the interest of civil authorities was in regulating property and inheritance rights, not the procreation of children.The understanding  of marriage as the loving union of two persons, voluntarily choosing each other, is a relatively modern, Western development reaching its culmination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The bishops' particular understanding, of marriage that commences a sexual relationship with the primary aim of producing children, is a simple fiction. Most couples do not stand at the altar as virgins, and most do not see offspring as the sole, or even primary, aim of the marriage. (Some explicitly do not want children).

The marital union between one man and one woman was universally accepted by civil law as a constitutive element of human society

Dolan DECREE on same-sex marriage

Has the Archbishop made no attempt at all to read history, or social anthropology, or  news and travel reports from outside Europe and the USA - or even the Hebrew Bible? The claim that marriage was "universally" accepted as between one man and one woman is patently untrue.  The Jewish patriarchs practised polygamy, as did American Mormons until the practice was prohibited by law. So do many modern Muslims and Africans (the polygamous marriages of current South African President, Jacob Zuma, have been widely reported).

It is not only the existence of polygamy that contradicts the claims of "universal" recognition only of marriages between one man and one woman. The word means "always and everywhere", but there have been other forms of marriage which, while much rarer than polygamy, exist and invalidate the descriptor "universal". Some societies practice or have practiced polyandry (one woman with several husbands), and some have and do recognized marriages between people of the same biological gender.

The example of the North American indigenous populations is well-known, with the acceptance of the two-spirited people (who sometimes married their own biological sex, and sometimes the opposite sex). Some Roman emperors very publicly married men: Heliogabalus, for example, and Nero (twice); in Crete (and possibly in Sparta, which largely imitated Cretan examples), it was customary for men to enter a form of marriage with younger male partners, and to remain in a publicly recognized relationship with them, before entering heterosexual marriage later, in order to raise children; elsewhere in the ancient world, the law appears to have provided for same-sex marriage in Canaan, and in Mesopotamia. and in China.

There is an important discussion that needs to be held about the sacramental nature of marriage that needs to be considered for sacramental church weddings, but to make ludicrous claims in an attack on civil marriage, simply muddies the waters, and makes it easier for secular opponents to make fun of the Church - just as Farrell has done - and for many disillusioned Catholics, reading the misrepresentations, to believe them and give up on the Church entirely.

Fortunately, most Catholics have long since given up on the expectation of any sanity from the bishops on sexual matters, and proceed to live their sexual lives in accordance with their own consciences (that is, also in accordance with Catholic teaching, in its fullest context). Catholic mothers, with the rest of their Catholic families, will likewise continue to congratulate and celebrate the weddings of their sons and daughters, and those of their relations, regardless of gender or orientation. If some of these must, by Church decree, necessarily be civil marriages not church weddings, then the celebrations afterwards will be in secular venues, not church halls - or they will be celebrated in the growing number of churches, and by ministers, of other denominations that do not discriminate.

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