Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The End of Civil Marriage

Same sex marriage is on the march. It is the law in Connecticut and Massachusetts, with Vermont very likely to follow in the next few months. Some variation of same sex civil unions are the law in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The big enchiladas of California and New York seem to be only a matter of time.

I am ready to advocate for a political compromise in order to salvage what remains. The state can issue a civil union license to any two individuals regardless of gender. Civil marriage would cease to exist. The term is an odd construction anyway. After all, there is no such thing as civil baptism or civil anointing of the sick. But beyond that, the battle for the preservation of civil covenant marriage is dead. Though the murderer is not proponents of same sex marriage, but the blunderers who allowed for no fault civil divorce beginning in the 1960s. Heterosexual men and women who wanted easy commitment and even easier disillusionment dealt the fatal blow to civil covenant marriage.

The enduring legacy of the no fault generation has been the political indoctrination that marriage is just another contract, nothing more and nothing less. Natural Law appeals to the teleological order of the family or a rights/duties ethic are completely beside the point. The American understanding of a right is simply the evolving standard of what society in the given moment sees as inalienable. The longer we have tolerated the debasing of marriage to mere contract, the more momentum built (especially among the young) to see nothing whatsoever wrong with easy marriage for everyone as a civil right.

The Christian approach to dealing with homosexuality has only exacerbated the problem. When it comes to homosexuality, many Christians lose their common sense and devolve into irrational fear. Instead of dealing calmly with the moral and cultural issues like we would deal with any other matter of sin or imperfection, we instead held the homosexual in pure disgust. We advanced the ludicrous notions that all homosexual men want to molest boys or that homosexuals are twisted, vile perverts living on the outskirts of society. It became the greatest of all sins to be ostracized because of the bile that ran through their black hearts. How stupid! As the homosexual rights movement mainstreamed in the 1980s and 1990s, young people (especially my generation) found out that our parents had lied to us. Homosexuals were as normal as any of us. They had jobs and were influential members of society and even sometimes had a sense of humor! Not only that, but we found out that they were our brothers and sisters and cousins and life-long friends and we were horrified to learn that they had suffered physical and emotional abuse because we tolerated them being labeled as something a little less than human. By distorting who homosexuals actually are (that is normal, fallen people who are in need of Christ and the Church), Christian parents laid the foundation for the young's rejection of their teachings about homosexuality.

Our energy is ill spent defending civil marriage from homosexuals, especially since we do not defend it from heterosexuals. As part of the compromise for universal civil union license, a law would also be passed that would require respect for the decision of many churches, synagogues and mosques not to grant religious ceremonies for homosexual unions. And hopefully an added benefit would be for religious organizations to encourage the couples that it marries to have stricter civil union contracts with the hope of giving greater opportunity for the stability of the marriage.

In the future, I hope we learn the lesson that demonizing in order to alleviate irrational fears will always distort our ability and credibility to teach truth in love.

Mason Slidell

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mason Slidell,

You made the following statement:

"When it comes to homosexuality, many Christians lose their common sense and devolve into irrational fear. Instead of dealing calmly with the moral and cultural issues like we would deal with any other matter of sin or imperfection, we instead held the homosexual in pure disgust. We advanced the ludicrous notions that all homosexual men want to molest boys or that homosexuals are twisted, vile perverts living on the outskirts of society. It became the greatest of all sins to be ostracized because of the bile that ran through their black hearts. How stupid!"

Sounds to me that you're the one who is demonizing people. I'm 59 years old and I never heard any Catholic say these things or espouse these views about gay people. You're making wildly irrational statments, assigning motives to people's value systems that you can't possibly verify. You want to paint people you disagree with as orges so you can knock them down. You're judging, my friend.

The Church teaches that marriage is exclusively limited to one man and one women. Scripture backs this up. Where is the anthropological evidence from any culture at any point in time that same-sexed marriage was granted legal or civil or religious standing in the community, nation, or tribe? Were all these people from the beginning of time irrational bigots or were they acting out of respect for the Natural Law and common sense?

One can be compassionate toward gays, can view gay bashing as a mortal sin, can insist they they be accorded respect without being for same-sex marraige. Do you think Benedict XVI views gays in the way you've described?

Please measure your words more carefully.


Peace.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Anon,

You should consider yourself blessed that have never heard Catholics make demeaning statements about homosexuals. I have – in personal conversations, in print and in visual media. I am not being “widely irrational” by pointing out that some Catholics have not been Christ-like toward homosexuals in speech and action. It seems obvious enough.

You confused the division I made. The statement you quoted dealt with sinful attitudes and actions of Christians towards homosexuality, thereby poisoning the way in which Christians discuss public policy questions like hate crimes laws or employment discrimination or same sex civil marriage. No one is a bigot for arguing against same sex civil marriage based upon natural law arguments, but is a bigot if arguing against same sex civil marriage based upon incorrect and demeaning assertions about the character of homosexuals as a class of people. As I stated in the post though, I think natural law arguments are beside the point, as the American concept of rights is foreign to the Catholic concept of rights.

I advocate this political compromise because I think the defense of civil marriage is less important than the defense of sacramental marriage. I can understand that some see my political calculation as shortsighted, and I am willing to acknowledge that possibility. The reason for my calculation is based on the reality that as we move into a post-Christian culture, non-Christians will more and more assert their own understanding of the nature of marriage and family. We will continue to defend our definition based upon our theology of the Sacrament and the particular purpose of the family. Marriage and family, however, are older institutions than the Church. Christian marriage and family and marriage and family in general are not synonymous. The ancient Israelites practiced polygamy. The Greeks and Romans viewed marriage as arrangement of a person (man) gaining property (woman). And also the Greek and Roman understanding of family life allowed for homosexual activity between certain men in certain circumstances. Each of these examples is wrong and sinful according to the Christian understanding of marriage and family.

Do I think the Christian understanding is the correct one? Yes. Should the Christian defend our understanding? Yes. My argument calls us to refocus our efforts from fighting with the pagans over civil marriages to using our energy to promote the Christian understanding of marriage and family life in the following concrete ways: 1) saving marriages from the cancer of adultery and abuse, 2) fighting against parents killing their children in the womb and 3) helping homosexuals live a chaste life with the power of God and holy friendship. And if we live out of our own principles with quiet and honest devotion, others will be attracted to us by our example instead of offended by our sometimes hypocritical rhetoric.

Mason Slidell