Thursday, February 11, 2010

A primer on marriage, the state, the Church and gay rights, part 3

Part 3 of my "primer" on same-sex marriage, the Church, the state, and gay rights...

5. What is the role of the Church in this--or any religious body?

The Church--any religious body--has the same rights under our Constitution as any individual or group of individuals. Because we are a church, we do not have fewer rights.

Our tax-exempt status constrains our actions to some degree, but far less than people think. That tax-exemption means some limitation on political involvement, but only some. In practice, it means the Church cannot endorse or oppose candidates. It certainly does not constrain freedom of speech; nor does it constrain the Church from petitioning government on legislation (protected by the First Amendment) that affects the Church directly.

It certainly does not constrain me--I can say whatever I feel like, I can be as political as I wish, without running afoul of tax law...provided I am acting as an individual and not in my role as a part of the corporate body. For example, my posts on this blog. No court would ever find that my blog is "official" in any sense, any more than if I sat at a table in a restaurant, and gave my political views, that that represented "the Church" taking a political position.

Further, there is a very good argument to be made that the Church can, in fact, be as political as she wants, provided she is communicating internally to her own members. I.e., the government has no authority to regulate what is said within the organization; but it may place conditions--related to the tax status--on what the Church communicates to outsiders, i.e., society at large.

There are those who appeal either to the tax-status, or to an unspecified principle of "separation of church and state," as a basis for saying the Church should shut up about public policy. But there is a big difference between this unspecified principle and what the law--the Constitution, statute and their construal by courts over the years--actually says. And the actual state of the law is on the side of the freedom of action by religious bodies, constrained only to some degree by the tax status.

Periodically, politicians angered by the Church or other religious bodies winning on a point of public policy will issue threats to revoke that tax-exemption, but that comes to nothing. You can easily look this up: you will find that actual examples of tax-exemption being revoked came because of very specific and egregious violations. It is rare. I'm not saying the Church shouldn't obey the law; but the law is what the law says it is, not what people who don't like the Church's influence imagine it is.

6. What's the "harm" of allowing same-sex marriage? Why not go along with it?

Well, that's a good question. Someone said in another thread that he couldn't see how allowing "gay marriage" has hurt his marriage. (Shrug.) That doesn't really answer anything. Does that mean only a law becomes a bad law when it affects him? Does a law have to hurt everyone before we decide it was a bad idea? Silly argument.

Others may have other points to make, but I would offer these thoughts on this for now.

a) The "harm" comes in imposing on everyone a new definition of (part of) reality. It is an act of aggression.

"Marriage now means such-and-such." "Well, I don't agree with that." "Well, you're wrong--the city/state/courts voted. Once again, I ask--who gave any of these folks the right to change what marriage is? Instead of these these proposed laws and ballot measures, how about something like this: "I favor giving the state of Ohio the power to decide what marriage is, rather than merely regulate it for good order" or some verbiage like that. Government did not create marriage or family, these things pre-existed government. Government regulates these matters, as may be necessary. Personally, I prefer less such regulation than more.

After all, it is not true that two men or women cannot "marry" each other in an absolute sense. They can find a minister to perform a ritual of marriage, and they can deem themselves married to each other.

They can tell family, friends and neighbors that they deem themselves married, they can live as a married couple, and others can choose to treat them that way. They can even, to a great degree, create legal relationships to carry this out. (One argument used here for legalizing "same sex marriage" is to point to problems of access to hospital visitation, power of attorney, and other legal arrangements. I strongly suspect if these matters were tackled directly, it would be very easy to enact changes in state laws to eliminate these problems. I, for one, do not have much energy for preventing this.)

But what one cannot do in most states, and what is at issue, is to have the civil authority, i.e., society in a formal way, affirm that this is marriage.

If you want to call a sheep's tail a leg, and say a sheep has five legs, go ahead. I'm not going to make a thing about that. But when you pass a law saying I must agree, then I'm going to have a problem with that, as do most people, judging by the outcome of these legislative ventures in most states thus far.

b) The harm comes to the degree that it is even important that there be some social notion of marriage, as opposed to merely private notions. And this, I think, is the major harm: i.e., harm to the very cohesion of society.

What makes a society? What makes one society, one? One can give a lot of answers, but ours, in this country and in our western tradition, tends to be, a common set of values.

And really, those seeking approbation of "same sex marriage" seem to get this, because they either try to appeal to some other common value to justify this, or else they sense that in order for this to succeed, a new value has to displace an old one.

Hence, for example, when the District of Columbia created "same-sex marriage" in D.C., it also imposed obligations on others to go along--in this case, obligations on those accepting tax funds to carry out programs. Those programs had to go along with this new value; something the Archdiocese of Washington would not do, because it could not. And don't kid yourself--the further we go down this road, the expectations and compliance imposed on others will only increase. This is the narrow edge of the wedge.

c) So what is happening here is "radical" change in the truest sense: radical not meant as a pejorative, but meaning, change at the root. Marriage is at the root of society; it's primordial; it goes to basic human identity. What is at stake is redefining what these things are for all of us as a society, because if such fundamental things are "privatized," then the cohesion of society falls apart.

d) An additional harm lies in what comes through the door once opened. I.e., the law of (unintended) consequences.

This is a legal argument, for which I am not fully qualified, but I think I'm on good ground. As mentioned, marriage-as-heterosexual is not, as some claim, religious in origin. But monogamy is. So, supposing the campaign for "gay marriage" prevails, especially as a product of litigation, then one is left asking, why--if we liberalized marriage laws to allow what was forbidden--are polygamous marriages still not allowed.

This is not speculation; there are people who practice polygamy, at home and abroad. Unlike fictional "same-sex marriage," there is a real history and tradition to polygamy. And our laws against it do not rest on appeal to universal human experience. They rest on a claim that social order demands no polygamy; or else they rest on an attenuated relationship to Christian tradition. (And while we don't like to say it out loud, a lot of our laws, that's where they come from.)

Another "what's next" issue: once we sever any remaining essential connection between marriage and procreation, then why should we defend any essential connection between marriage and sex? I.e., why should the law prohibit any two people, any at all, from "marrying"? Two friends--with no sexual interest whatsoever--nonetheless wish to be married, to have the "benefits" of marriage (this is the argument we hear now)...who are they hurting by being recognized by our laws as "married"?

At some point, when marriage may be anything, then it is nothing. Then marriage has been successfully deconstructed. And it may be that we will find--if this is how it plays out--that it won't matter. Perhaps we really don't need marriage to be a certain thing as a fundamental feature of our society--or perhaps after all this experimentation, the truth of what marriage is will remain largely undimmed, or even triumphant.

But it strains credulity to suppose that all this experimentation will have no real-world effect on anyone. What effect have other social and legal changes--such as easing divorce laws--had on men, women, children, families and society? Don't know? Google it and find out.

It is quite true that I am unable to predict these matters. No matter. Instead of having to show the harm, or else the venture goes forward, I insist: why should we engage in this sort of wholesale restructuring of society? That's a lot to ask. The burden is on you to make the case--and given how much change you want to effect, I'd say the threshold should be set rather high.


J.T. said...

Thank you for your three-parter. I only hope you have a few more snow days down the line if this is what we can look forward to.

Barbara said...

Bless you, Father, we need the Catholic Church to back us. We long-married (37 yrs.) find ourselves as weirdos, almost museum pieces in our culture. Now, in addition to the "gay" rights attack on marriage, we have the polyamory movement. Aren't you thankful you're never short of topics for the blog, or the pulpit - NOT!
Really, with first grandchild on the way, the sheer awfulness in our culture would be a source of despair if I did not have faith. We must besiege heaven to protect this baby and all the babies who will suffer in this anti-family culture. Penance too!
Heather has two Mommies indeed!

Anonymous said...

I know a lesbian couple who have been together since WWII, more than 65 years now. They served together in the war as WACs. And they, like so many gay and lesbian couples, have remained together despite the lack of social and legal supports heterosexual couples people expect and take for granted, and despite the hatred with which you people casually dismiss them.

Fr Martin Fox said...

"...despite the hatred with which you people casually dismiss them."


Thanks for visiting.

Please cite examples from this blog of "hatred" I have directed against lesbians or gays. If you cannot cite it, I'm confident you'll come back and retract that calumny you so easily tossed off.

Anonymous said...

If you think there's a better word for it, make a suggestion.

Anonymous said...

'so-called "same-sex marriage,"'

"It is an act of aggression"

"this, I think, is the major harm: i.e., harm to the very cohesion of society."

The above quotations above are just three examples of thinly-veiled hatred - or at least insulting, false, degrading, fear-mongering commentary which stoke hatred. One respondent called gay marriage an "attack". This kind of thinking is what led Uganda to criminalize homosexuality and foster legislation to kill homosexual people. You and your Church are part of that. When it becomes your aim to show that gay couples really just shouldn't exist at all -- that their marriages are not marriages, that their life together isn't worth protecting, you are expressing HATRED. So what's the difference? What could be worse than denying others a dignified existence? And to do it arrogantly, unrepentantly and with a smile? EVIL.

Anonymous said...

Look what the Church has taught people: to hate and kill gay people and their friends. Jesus must be real proud!


NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan police officers broke up a gay wedding on Friday and arrested several wedding guests, saying they had to intervene before an irate mob could stone the wedding party to death.

Like many other countries in Africa, which are intensely — and officially — homophobic, Kenya outlaws homosexual behavior. Violations in Kenya are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

“It’s culture, just culture,” said a Kenyan police spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, when asked to explain the intense feelings about homosexuality. “It’s what you are taught when you are young and what you hear in church. Homosexuality is unnatural. It’s wrong.”

Carmela James said...

Anonymous, the article reads "church", not "Church". This is an important distinction. More Kenyans identify as Protestants than they do as Roman Catholics.

The Church does not teach that we must hate and kill homosexuals. I don't know what the Protestants are teaching, but I imagine they're not teaching that, either.

Carmela James said...

The above quotations above are just three examples of thinly-veiled hatred - or at least insulting, false, degrading, fear-mongering commentary which stoke hatred.

I see no hatred in Father's comments--just in yours. He's using objective terms. You're calling him evil.

What could be worse than denying others a dignified existence?

So, the only way one can live a dignified existence is by marrying? The call to single, celibate life is just as dignified as the call to marriage or religious orders. And it is the call that homosexual individuals are given.

Fr Martin Fox said...

A lot of the breathless protests here are funny-sad...

The Church isn't denying or forcing anything.

What the Church teaches--which comes right from Jesus Christ--calls for sacrifice and self-denial ("take up my cross," was not coined by Pope Benedict XVI), and it can be hard to live as Christ teaches.

So, yes, if one cannot enter into marriage -- this can include those with a permanent same-sex attraction, but for those here who are feeling so put-upon, it's not limited to them -- one lives a single life. And that means chastity appropriate for a single person.

But this is hardly forced. One is free to say, "I don't believe this. I won't live it."

Of course, why would you believe or live it, if you did not believe it comes from Christ?

But if you believe it does...then the choice is following the Lord, or not. This is a strange definition of "force."

Sevesteen said...

Although I support gay marriage, I don't have any problem in the Catholic church restricting who they will marry, and which marriages they will recognize. I also support them giving up government funding rather than changing their policies. I don't think they should have been *offered* (or accepted) government money in the first place, because of the strong potential for entanglements like this.

But I don't see why the Church has anything to say about non-Catholic gay marriages--or rather you can say it, but Government shouldn't necessarily listen to the Church instead of the individual members.

Historically, you state that marriage was heterosexual. Could some of this be because it was also generally a superior/subordinate arrangement instead of our modern union of equals? There also weren't as many legal issues--hospital visitation, etc.

The role of government is a huge issue here. There are substantial legal benefits to being married, with no significant impact to others. Allowing any two adults of sound mind to marry *is* less regulation, so long as it does not require that those opposed perform the ceremony. I doubt there will be significant abuse by people who aren't really a couple, because there are also significant disadvantages unless you really DO want to be a unified couple with trust and togetherness.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

The Church comments on a lot of moral and social justice issues that may or may not directly impact on the Catholic Church or its members. It does so precisely because it sees itself called to do so. It sees itself called to do so precisely because it has a mandate from Christ. It sees that mandate as legitimate precisely because it sees Christ as God.

You may not like it when the Church comments on these matters, but you would be a fool if you believed the Church will be deterred by your discomfort.

Furthermore, you would be ignorant if you thought the Church came to its conclusions on marriage solely because of what Christ or one of the prophets said or didn't say. The Church also forms conclusions based upon natural law reasoning. That reasoning, of course, also presupposes a vision of the human person that recognizes the place of individual moral responsibility, something that secular humanism does not recognize. In addition, it presupposes that God has designed the human person according to his own criteria of goodness, yet that this design is obscured by our fallen nature. (This claim, of course, is philosophically and scientifically independent of the question of how God caused this design to be realized, a question which undoubtedly must take evolution by natural selection into account).

In other words, the question of marriage, as Fr. Fox said at the very beginning of his discussion, is not merely a partisan religious one.