Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Question of Law, Part One

I’m spending a few days on the blog talking about marriage, sex, the Church’s teachings, and the whole difficult issue of same-sex marriage (ssm) and its civil recognition. My effort here is to establish a dialogue that is respectful and charitable, and to present the anti-ssm argument and the Church’s teachings on the moral meaning of human sexuality in a clear respectful manner. A commenter yesterday asked (rather rudely) why I was bothering to do this. I am doing this because I wish to persuade my readers that I’m right, of course! Because I believe I (and my Church) are right, and I believe it is important for human happiness and flourishing to strive to be right in our heads about the crucial matters of life.

Today I want to provide an argument against the civil recognition of ssm.  Now, I fully realize that ssm has been the law of the land in Canada for over ten years now, and that it is the law of the land in twelve states of the USA, and realistically is likely to become the law of the land in many of the remaining ones over the next decade. Nor is there any reasonable chance for anything I just wrote to be changed, any time soon. I hold these laws to be bad and harmful, and that is why I am continuing to contest them.

As an aside, I have noticed a most strange attitude in some, that once the matter is ‘settled’ by the courts, the debate is supposed to end. Isn’t that an odd, quasi-fascist notion? A close relative of mine, who cast off the shackles of Roman Catholicism at an early age, told me in tones of utter finality that ‘the Ontario supreme court has declared that marriage includes gay people.’ And that was the end of the conversation. In old-school Catholicism there is the saying ‘Roma locuta est, causa finita est’ (Rome has spoken, the matter is closed.) Whatever one thinks of that saying, it is the height of absurdity to reject Rome in this equation and immediately substitute in the Supreme Court, or Parliament, or Congress, and think one has scored a major goal for liberty of thought and action.

Every court, every legislature in the world may establish ssm as the law of their land, or any other law, and I will maintain to my dying breath that any of us has a right to say ‘And that’s a bad law, and here’s why!’ So here’s why I believe ssm is a bad law.

As far as I can understand, the only reason the State has for sticking its nose into the marriage business is to encourage stability in pro-creative sexual relationships. There is an essential and irreducible difference between same-sex couple and opposite-sex couples that no one can deny, regardless of one’s moral beliefs about this difference.

Namely, a man and a woman can (and often do!) make a baby. Two men, two women, cannot make a baby. It is a social good that babies be made, as much as is possible in this messy old world of ours, in conditions that are conducive to their thriving. And there is no question that human babies are best served by being born into a stable family system where both parents have affective bonds to them and are bound in law (insofar as that is possible) and in custom (that quaint notion) to create a stable nurturing environment in which to raise their children.

That environment is called ‘the family.’ And I can see no other reason possible why the State and its coercive powers should enter the realm of human domestic arrangements to express its preferences. The only reason why the State should privilege certain benefits around taxation and access to social welfare systems to the family is to foster and encourage stability in sexual relations that are likely to produce children, as children born into stable social situations are more apt to grow into adults who are themselves stable and able to form that wonderful unit of a stable thriving society, the family.

Otherwise I would kindly ask the State to butt out of our personal lives. I find it alarming in the extreme that ssm advocates believe they are benefitted by having ‘society’, by which we now apparently mean ‘the government’, approve their relationships. I guess this is a sign of incipient mid-life libertarianism coming out, but I really do believe we are in big trouble when we seek government approval of human domestic relationships. I don’t much care if the Canadian government (or, for that matter, any of youse guys) ‘approves’ of my living in religious community with 200 men and women here in Madonna House, you know!

Now I realize there are a host of objections people raise. What about infertile couples, then? Or same sex couples who have children? Or abusive parents? Seeing my word count for this post, though, I think I had better stop with my basic argument; tomorrow I will address those objections, and then move on to more specifically religious arguments.

Until then, peace and blessings to you all. And let’s try to keep our comments polite and thoughtful, as most have so far.


  1. "My prayers, oh God, flow form what I am not, I think thy answers make me what I am....\Like weary waves, thought follows upon thought" George MacDonald

    Dear One,
    I did not sleep well last night for a number of reasons, so I was up and read your entry this morning almost as quickly as you wrote it. I love it that you wrote this stuff for us. I think it important that we learn to talk about it.
    I thought of a couple things I could say- like about how your celibate family does not produce children and is still life giving. About Pope Francis homily this weekend past weekend- about the sacred obligation of all Christians to follow their informed consciences. It occurred to me how odd this was: when classic theological notions sound so fresh, and novel. Even your choice to write here about this is interesting...because we know that in the past people have been severely punished (loss of jobs, not allowed to receive the sacraments, etc.) for expressing conscientiously beliefs that disagreed with church teaching. We were told basically that a properly formed conscious never disagrees with anything a pope says...
    Anyway. I will just put it all out for you. YOu opened the door afterall
    Human gender issues and personal relationships as they occur in Catholic teachings are important. Indeed 50 years after Vatican 2, 3 big subjects reoccur- priestly celibacy, the role of women in the church and homosexuality. However, much public opinion and western society's views has changed over recent decades- dramatic and vociferous as this change has become most Catholics still look with enormous respect to the holiness and judgement of the Catholic church in these areas. But there comes a time when the genuine shift in society's attitudes- its decencies, practices and understandings- are so fundamental that totally ignore them begins to callinto question the grace and spiritual wisdom of the church's hierarchy in interpreting the real will of God in our time and how God wants His spiritual leaders to respond to the development of the people both for their own good and for the development of Christianity.
    The Catholic church has moved its position on many issues over the centuries. it has had to. Respect for human dignity and scientific discoveries alone have forced the church to end its stance on slavery, torture, burnings alive, crusading wars..Galileo and Darwin made the church accept that Genesis was perhaps not meant to be historically accurate. Positive relativism in practice maybe.
    The time is well overdue for a prayerful, honest, conscious seeking examen at how the church will respond to human relationships and gender issues, led by Rome, in open debate.
    Running out of room here , more to come

    1. Whew! You throw an awful lot of extraordinarily complex matters at me in one comment of one blog post. I'm not sure how many books I would have to write to fully address everything you are bringing up here... while completely ignoring the subject matter of my post!
      In terms of Church history, I can only say that all the examples you give are far more complex than I can easily untangle here, and the popular history everyone 'knows' about them is wildly wrong, basically. For one thing, the Church always knew that Genesis and the rest of the Bible had a lot of symbolism and metaphor in them - there are patristic references to all that, right from the 3rd century onward! And the Church has never had a dispute with Darwin's theories - they fit quite well with a Thomistic metaphysic which was the dominant paradigm in Catholic theology of the late 19th-early 20th century.
      Regarding the Church being out of step with modern sexual mores. Well yes - modern sexual mores in North America and Western Europe. The rest of the world has quite different mores. We have to be careful of a subtle classism or even (sorry) racism that blithely assumes that all the rich white people are in turn with the Spirit and all the poor black and brown people are behind the times.
      Sorry to be blunt and hope that's not hurtful, but I do get a bit irked when we of the privileged West seem to assume our preoccupations and sexual obsessions are the whole story of 21st century humankind. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is the universal Church, and is not looking exclusively to NA and Europe for the signs of the times... especially since NA and Europe are essentially dying societies facing a serious demographic winter in the next 50 years (hardly a sign of great spiritual vibrancy and vitality), and the Church's future is clearly in the global South: Africa and Asia in particular.
      Anyhow, that suffices as response to both of your comments. When entire societies are essentially self-terminating through contraception and abortion, who exactly are the timid and unworldy inert ones?

  2. Is it for example, God's wish that his priests forever be denied the option of a full and loving married life? That these persons with a natural gay orientation be regarded as intrinsically disordered within their own unions? That women never be ordained?

    Or is the church too trapped by the inertia and obscurity of senior clerics, too timid in their own positions, or just plain unworldly- to genuinely question the dogma of some traditions in light of the God inspired 21st century- and not open to the will of the Holy Spirit and God's intentions?

    Big changes in these areas of teaching will come eventually. Human nature does not stand still and God wants his people in harmony, engaged in their beliefs. We may may to the whims of public opinion at our peril, but by ignoring God's directions we act against his will.

    Bless you.

    1. Clerical celibacy is not a Dogma or Doctrine of the Catholic Church and is a Discipline (like no meat on Fridays) that can be changed and accommodated. Many non Latin rite Catholic priest are married and there are 100's of licitly married Roman rite priests who are married (converts from Protestantism or Anglicanism).

  3. The true philosophical argument is " Can marriage be changed from what it 'is' based on a decree of an authoritative body. The simple answer is 'no'. Despite what Canadian law has declared the facts remain. Those ssm's are not marriages. I can say 'by law" that you are now a member of the fauna species, it doesn't make you a plant. I believe that within 10 years the multi-re-defined notion of legal unions will include multiple persons; 3? 4? 5? inter-species unions (those who want to marry that dog they love?) And just as several years ago the American Psychiatric Society tried to push forth an agenda proclaiming paedophilia sometimes as beneficial( until extreme criticism forced them to recant that position)a push toward incestous marriages as well. The real truth- marriage is a sacred state and God gets to make His rules.

    1. I would hesitate to draw comparison between two consenting adults being married to an adult marrying a child or an animal, both who have no ability to consent and would be an entirely exploitative relationship.

      Words are our tools not our rulers. Marriage, in the time of Abraham was one man and a wife and a slave, in the time of Solomon it was 700 wives and 300 concubines, in the time of Deuteronomy it was marrying the woman you raped.

      The definition has changed and authoritarian and you may not accept SSM as some people of other religions don't accept Catholic marriage.

  4. why not compare? why limit it to your definition? any 2 people > what basis could you then use to deny 3 persons or 2 couples. I honestly do not understand how we can allow a change based on current ideology without saying that whatever ideology is normative in 5 , 10 or 50 years will also have to be accepted. To me that's a true bias towards "me and my thinking right here right now"

    1. Well maybe it will come to that, Theresa. But the world is certainly not there yet. But, who knows what the future holds? But, whatever lies ahead, we can be sure, God will be there in the midst of it. If we chose to let him into our church.

  5. The concern is the equality of the spouses. Situations where there are multiple spouses are almost without exception one many and multiple wives, a position that puts the multiple wives in an unequal sitiation.

    1. Well, to my mind that seems just as arbitrary a concern as to your mind (I guess, since you've never once addressed my point on this) the reality of fertility and child-bearing is. Already polygamists and polyamorists are knocking at the door of marriage to be let in. And there have been lunatic cases of a woman marrying a bridge, another one marrying a roller coaster, and a man marrying a cartoon (the last in Japan). It seems that once we say marriage doesn't mean what it always has meant (an institution connected to child-bearing in some fashion), it can mean anything, and I don't really see how you have any rational argument against it.

    2. Sure there are always nuts that want to merry whatever but let's not equate two adults, gay or straight who wish to be married, as the same as some one who wants to marry their 57 Corvette.

      And marriage has not always been exclusively for children. When you conduct a marriage there is a line you can choose to include or not - "Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?" If marriage is always about children, then why is this line optional?

      Also, why does your definition of marriage being always about children normative for all? I happen to agree that loving, stable family situations are the best place to raise children and I can't understand couples who willingly choose not to have children but I do not feel entitled to make my view theirs.


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