Tuesday, 17 January 2012

“Marriage and the Common Good”: Washington Bishops, Washington Catholics

As marriage equality enters the political arena in Washington state, the Catholic bishops have predictably begun rallying the opposition. What is particularly intriguing in this version of Catholic bishops opposing marriage, is that they explicitly recognize that the legal dispute is around civil marriage, and have presented their case in purely secular terms.

Note the opening sentence of their statement, "Marriage and the Common Good" (emphasis added):

Legislation has been introduced in Washington State to change the current law defining marriage. The present law states: “marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female…”

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The case (hardly strong enough to describe as "argument") they present is purely secular, and weak. It is based, as always, on pointing out that marriage has "something" to do with producing children - but the conclusion they draw from it (that "to redefine marriage is not in the public interest") is a complete non-sequitur:

This same law also prohibits marriage to close-blood relations, a clear indication that the definition of marriage is related to bringing children into the world and the continuation of the human race. The legislation to redefine marriage, therefore, is not in the public interest.

That civil marriage has "something" to do with producing children, is not the same thing as having everything to do with producing children. Marriage also has something (a great deal) to do with two people giving of themselves to each other in love, sometimes with the explicit agreement to avoid making babies. That may not be theologically acceptable, but is not a legal barrier to civil marriage.

Even within in Catholic tradition, marriage is not only about making babies, but also about raising them - and as research shows, same - sex couples are at least as good as others at raising them.

The rest of the statement is equally devoid of any arguments of substance. (Read it if you must at the diocesan website). The statement concludes with an appeal to Washington Catholics to write to their state senators and representatives to express their opposition. (As Catholics across the US and elsewhere are typically more supportive of equality than the general population, it just may be that politicians will instead be hearing from Catholics supporting the proposal).

But here's a neat twist. In response to the bishops' intervention with a secular argument on civil marriage, Dominic Holden at The Stranger has a counter - proposal: leave the bishops a surprise in the collection plate:

Might I suggest a campaign to put note cards in the collection plates of all Catholic churches in Washington state which say, "I am withholding my usual pledge of $___ because of the church's meddling interference in the affairs of the state pertaining to gay marriage." That would quickly get the message across in the way nothing else would.

Your move, Catholics...

Or even

“Today I’m making a donation to Washington United instead…”

As Pam's House Blend observes, this positioning of their opposition to civil marriage as a secular argument represents a tacit admission of defeat, a recognition that they have lost the religious argument.  There is extraordinary irony here: just as the bishops are abandoning religious arguments to oppose marriage in the name of defending it (that is, restricting it), others are couching their support for marriage - marriage for all,  on the basis of equality- in terms of religion.

Catholic bishops may oppose marriage equality, but other Catholics are supportive. New Ways Ministry / Bondings 2.o has a post up, titled "Across the Land, Catholic Support for Marriage Equality Grows", which points to two important newspaper analyses.

From sea to shining sea today, articles on Catholic involvement in the marriage equality issue  appeared in two separate papers.  On the east coast, a New York Times analysis article assesses the evolution of legislators’ opinions on marriage equality. On the west coast,  an op-ed essay in the Seattle  Post-Intelligencer highlights the not-well-known-enough-fact that the Catholic laity are enormously supportive of marriage equality initiatives, despite the opposition of the bishops.

In New York last year, Catholic support was pivotal in securing marriage equality. In Washington, the same Catholic coalition in support of marriage is forming. The Catholic governor, Christine Gregoire, is promoting the bill, just as Andrew Cuomo did in New York.  The legislative push has bipartisan backing, including two Republican senators. But most interesting of all to me, is that the op-ed essay includes specifically religious arguments:

We humans are, however, created by God as emotional and spiritual and reasoning beings.   Is society to legally "recognize" committeed partnerships only for the potential and purpose of procreation?

"Jesus befriended those who were marginalized because He knew it was only in the security of loving, unconditional relationships that hearts and lives are healed," argues writer Justin Cannon, reflecting the Christian faith as taught to us by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not only healed, but enriched.  I've witnessed a warm, very traditional moment over the years.  A goofy, dreamy smile crosses the face of a friend, who after years of playing the field announces  "Well, I met this woman (or guy)!"  It signals a readiness to settle down.  My natural reaction is to say,   "You lucky dog!" and to be there, in affection and support, when the knot is tied.


 Contacts with gays and lesbians -- as family members, co-workers and friends -- underscores the absurdity of such phrases as "objectively disordered." As NCR noted:  "The label is not only demeaning but to contemporary Christians has no resonance with the heart of the Gospel."

The best advice, which Catholic bishops in Washington and elsewhere should heed, came recently from Nicholas Cafardi, formerly legal counsel to the Diocese of Pittsburgh and formerly a board member of the bishops' National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth:

"We need to give it up.  This is not defeatism.  This is simply following Jesus in the Gospels, who besides telling us not to act on our fears, also told us to render to Caesar what it Caesar's and to God what is God's.  Civil marriage is Caesar's."

Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com

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