Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Conservative Catholic's Contribution to the Journey to Marriage Equality

Progressive Catholic thoughts on Joseph Bottum's
"Catholic case" for same-sex marriage.

Here in the U.S., Catholic conservatism is reeling with news of the "defection" of one of its prominent members to the growing ranks of Catholic supporters of civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.

In a long and meandering piece published yesterday at Commonweal, the staunchly conservative Catholic commentator Joseph Bottum puts forward what he calls a "Catholic case for same-sex marriage." I have to say, however, that I agree with Terence Weldon when, in his excellent analysis of Bottum's piece, he notes that "it’s not so much a Catholic case for equal marriage, as an account of the writer’s own personal evolution on the topic." Having said that, here's the central point of what Bottum calls his "Catholic case" for marriage equality:

. . . I don't mean to hide this essay’s conclusions. Where we’re going with all this is toward a claim that the thin notions of natural law deployed against same-sex marriage in recent times are unpersuasive, and, what’s more, they deserve to be unpersuasive — for their thinness reflects their lack of rich truth about the spiritual meanings present in this created world. Indeed, once the sexual revolution brought the Enlightenment to sex, demythologizing and disenchanting the Western understanding of sexual intercourse, the legal principles of equality and fairness were bound to win, as they have over the last decade: the only principles the culture has left with which to discuss topics such as marriage.

And so, I argue, a concern about the government’s recognizing of same-sex marriage ought to come low on the list of priorities as the church pursues the evangelizing of the culture. For that matter, after the long hard work of restoring cultural sensitivity to the metaphysical meanings reflected in all of reality, Catholics will have enough experience to decide what measure of the deep spirituality of nuptials, almost absent in present culture, can reside in same-sex unions.

. . . [W]e can’t predict the effects of same-sex marriage. I think some good will come, I hope some good will come, but I cannot say with certainty that all must go well with this social change. Still, as the church turns to other and far more pressing ways to re-enchant the world, we’ll have time to find out. And when we are ready to start rebuilding the thick natural law that recognizes the created world as a stage on which the wondrous drama of God’s love is played, we will have the information we need to decide where same-sex marriage belongs in a metaphysically rich, spiritually alive moral order.

No doubt it's because I'm not a conservative Catholic that I find myself rather impatient with Bottum's long and somewhat tortured and inconclusive argument. As a progressive Catholic, i.e., a Catholic drawn to the church's capacity to grow and develop its understanding of a range of issues, I'm already quite familiar with more than one Catholic case for marriage equality. And, quite frankly, they are all much more concise and compelling than Bottum's.

Daniel Maguire, for instance, resolutely presents one such case here. Also, Daniel Helminiak, in my view, does a much better job than Joseph Bottum in both explaining and utilizing natural-law theory here and here. Margaret Farley, meanwhile, has written perhaps the definitive text on sexual relationships – including same-sex relationships – from the perspective of Christian ethics. Why, even I've helped write a "Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality" (see here and here.)

Of course, conservative Catholics readily dismiss all these writings as they are the products of progressives, which for many of them is code for "dissidents" and "not real Catholics." But when it's one of their own, someone like Joseph Bottum for instance, it's harder for many of them to be so sweepingly dismissive.

Bottum's lengthy commentary, I remind myself, isn't directed to me and Catholics like me. It's directed instead to Bottum's fellow conservative Catholics. Though many such Catholics are in an uproar and denouncing Bottum as a traitor, you can be sure that for many more, Bottum's honest musings and careful conclusions may well resonate deeply and help them on that long and often difficult journey from-disdain-to-tolerance-to-acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals, relationships and families. For this reason I welcome the conservative Joseph Bottum's "Catholic case" for same-sex marriage.

Related Off-site Links:
A Conservative Catholic Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage – Mark Oppenheimer (New York Times, August 23, 2013).
A Conservative Catholic Evolution on Gay Marriage – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, August 24, 2013).
Joseph Bottum Writes “The Long Goodbye” – Frank Weathers (Patheos, August 23, 2013).
Another Right-Wing Catholic Admits Defeat on Marriage Equality – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, August 24, 2013).
Catholic Right Loses It Over Joseph Bottum's Essay: "Stand Up and Spit in Their Face!" – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, August 25, 2013).

UPDATES: A Catholic Conservative Comes Out for Same-Sex Marriage – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, August 29, 2013).
A Reply to Joseph Bottum's Conservative Critics – Matthew Boudway (Commonweal, August 30, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Beyond Respectful Tolerance to Celebratory Acceptance
Quote of the Day – July 22, 2013
Joseph O'Leary Responds to Carson Holloway's Arguments Against Gay Marriage
Daniel Maguire on the Progressive Core of Catholicism

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