Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Ironic Truth

To strengthen “traditional” marriage,
the U.S. Catholic Bishops need to smarten-up and
support marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are working on a proposed pastoral letter on marriage. Tom Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter has seen a leaked copy – and he and the newspaper’s editors are not impressed. Indeed, a recent NCR editorial states that because the draft seems so heavy-handed, full of “sweeping denunciations,” and lacking in “pastoral solicitude,” the bishops should simply “scrap the entire text . . . and start fresh.” Ouch!

From what I can gather, the proposed pastoral letter (entitled “Marriage: Love and Live in the Divine Plan”) doesn’t seem particularly interested in extolling the joys and virtues of marriage but rather in issuing dire warnings against four “fundamental challenges” to marriage. Two of these – cohabitation and contraception – are described as intrinsically evil.” (Hmm . . . now where have we gay folks heard that one before!?)

Of course, according to the bishops, same-gender unions (i.e., gay civil marriage/unions) comprise another supposed “challenge” to marriage. I mean, come on, we all know that if same-gender marriage was legal there would be a mass exodus of straight individuals from their heterosexual marriages, all clamoring to tie the knot with someone of the same sex! See how ridiculous this is? And yet still the bishops pontificate in all seriousness that same-gender marriage, because it “redefines the nature of marriage and the family . . . harms both the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society.”

The idea that heterosexual marriage is somehow threatened by gay marriage is a crock. And here’s why: In a recent article in The Gay and Lesbian Review, Carol Booth notes that, given that the heterosexual marriage bond is viewed by opponents of gay marriage as the “epicenter” of the “sound functioning of the family,” then the divorce rate “should be one of the most substantial indicators of gay marriage’s destructive force.” Well, guess what? The states that recognize gay marriage have some of the highest rates of family stability. Massachusetts, for instance, has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. “Other states that have legalized same-sex marriage more recently,” notes Booth, “have similarly low divorce rates, suggesting that states where marriage as an institution is the strongest are the ones most likely to accept same-sex marriage.” Concludes Booth:

While not every state’s individual statistics fall within this pattern, the highest divorce rates are found in the states with constitutional and statutory bans on gay marriage, and the lowest rates are found among the states that have granted marriage rights to their gay citizens. The states that have gilded their discriminatory laws with the allowance of some form of domestic partnership benefits fall in between.

Booth then proceeds to explore why exactly “the states with gay marriage have stronger family bonds than those that have refused to grant marriage equality.” And why is this? Well, Booth believes that the answer may be found in “another common thread running through the states which recognize same-sex marriage: their citizens appear to be smarter than those in the anti-marriage equality states, or at least better educated.”

Writes Booth:

According to the Education State Rankings 2008-2009 published by CQ Press (2009), the four smartest states in the U.S. are, in order, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, and Connecticut, all of which recognize the legitimacy of same sex marriage or at least (in the case of New Jersey) civil unions. The evidence is in: the smartest people hold the values that really hold families together, and that includes the value of marriage equality.

Of course, the only way our bishops are going to be among those “smartest people” who “hold the values that really hold families together” is by taking the time to actually listen to real married couples (gay and straight), to the experts who compile the stats that writers like Carol Booth so succinctly articulate, and to professionals like Dr. Erik Steele, who notes:

Marriage does not need protection from gays; it needs protection from the things I see in my office every day that tear half of American marriages apart. Nothing, in my experience, corrodes love and marriage like the grind of existence on the margins of economic survival. Drug and alcohol addiction will ruin more marriages than gays’ access to civil marriage ever will.

Sadly, I can’t see such education of the bishops taking place any time soon. The vast majority simply lack the humility for it to occur – entrenched as they are in a clerical caste system that traps them in armor-like hubris. Plus, in order to “succeed” in this caste system, they must commit to unquestioningly supporting and advancing a discriminatory ideology that pathetically attempts to pass as an actual theology of human sexuality.

In an October 6 New Catholic Times article, Ted Schmidt contends that the bishops have “missed a fundamental truth of modern ecclesiology, the teaching on the sensus fidelium, that the Spirit is given to the entire church and not an ordained rump of clerical celibates. They are so fixated on the idea that they are ‘the teachers’ that they have forgotten that they must first be the listeners and learners.”

The few bishops who do take the time to actually listen and learn - and who, as a result, develop and convey genuine humility and wisdom - are treated far from kindly by their brother bishops – as attested by the recent banning of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton from speaking publicly.

Truly it’s up to the entire body of the baptized (and that means you and me) to gently yet firmly rebuke the bishop’s lack of education, humility, compassion, and trust in the Spirit present and active within and throughout the entire church. Of course, the most obvious way this rebuke will be seen will be in the total rejection of the bishops’ diatribe on the “challenges to marriage.” And it will be an understandable rejection because 1) the faithful aren’t children but thinking adults; and 2) the bishops lack the genuine pastoral ability and intellectual prowess to seek to grasp the realities that truly threaten marriage and truly strengthen marriage – regardless of whether we’re talking about opposite-gender marriage or same-gender marriage.

In any other sphere such willful ignorance and incompetence would not be tolerated from those in positions of authority. Why should it be tolerated from our Roman Catholic bishops?

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
A Surprising Finding Regarding Catholics and Gay Marriage
Dr. Erik Steele and the “Naked Truth of Same-Sex Marriage”
Scandalous News from Maine
James Nelson on “Sexual Rules” and “Openness to Life”
The “Ratzinger Letter” of 1986 as “Theological Pornography”
On Gay Issues, ELCA Elects to Embody a Living, Growing Faith
Will We See Change?
“If the People Don’t Believe It, It’s Not True”
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth
Liberated to Be Together

Recommended Off-site Links:
Bishops Aim for a Pastoral Way to Say ‘No’ - Cathy Lynn Grossman (USA Today, October 13, 2009).
Bishops’ Draft Pastoral Letter Warns of Dangers to Marriage - Tom Roberts (National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2009).
On Marriage, the Bishops Should Start Over - National Catholic Reporter (October 12, 2009).
The USCCB on Marriage and Family - zzzzzzzz - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, October 13, 2009).
News Flash: U.S. Catholic Bishops Forbid Marriage to Couples Who Cannot Conceive - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, October 13, 2009).
Smart Family Values - Carol Booth (National Gay and Lesbian Review, September-October 2009).

Image: Matt Groening.


Mark Andrews said...

Whats missing here is a definition, or better yet, definitions of marriage. There is secular marriage and for Roman Catholics, the Christian sacrament (other Christians see marriage differently - not as a "dominical (sic) sacrament" like baptism or eucharist). What is the proper relationship between secular marriage and the Christian sacrament in our time & place?

For most Roman Catholics in the U.S. marriage is the Christian sacrament as traditionally defined, with secular marriage as the legal piece that backs the Christian sacrament up.

When I hear the phrase "marriage equality" I hear the definition of Christian sacrament, secular marriage and the relationship between them are to change. It would be helpful to have something you could line up, almost catechetically (sic), that compares and contrasts these differing definitions, so people can see what the differences and similarities are:

Christian sacrament
Secular marriage
Relationship between Cs & Ca

Not a very good illustration but you get the idea.

Mark Andrews said...

Deferring to our host, Michael, re/whether to post this link, I think I've found a link to the draft pastoral letter here:

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Good questions. In a previous post I somewhat addressed them when I noted that:

“If members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy are that concerned about ‘marriage’ being redefined, then why don’t they push for that word to be reserved for religious use, and support ‘civil unions’ for both gay and straight people in the civil arena? For many, this would be a win/win situation. Gay folks get the same civil rights and responsibilities as their straight counterparts, and those Catholics and others concerned about the ‘sanctity’ of marriage, i.e., of ‘holy matrimony,’ get to keep and use that word for their religious purposes.”

Some members of the church hierarchy (though not in the U.S.) are considering such distinctions. As the editors of the National Catholic Reporter note:

“The current draft [does not] examine any approach beyond mere opposition to same-sex unions. In Latin America, some church leaders have proposed, with Vatican approval, that their governments enact laws that allow those with a ‘shared domicile’ to obtain health care and other benefits, whether it be a same-sex partner or an unemployed cousin or a retired aunt who share the domicile. After all, the church is in favor of the extension of social benefits to all, so when the church’s leaders find themselves opposing such an extension of benefits, they need to look harder to find creative ways to honor the integrity of the church’s teaching.”



kevin57 said...

I, too, have heard of some bishops in the U.S.--including Cardinal George here--supporting the idea of civil unions as a sort of "compromise." Like you, Michael, I think this holds some promise, but this pastoral letter could well be another missed opportunity. The bishops' pastoral office would be much better served by addressing issues like economic distress and unbridled materialism as threats to ALL human intimacy. Alas! They get fixated on who's doing what with their privates.

Mareczku said...

That was a very strong editorial and gave a lot of food for thought. I think it would be good if the bishops could support civil unions even if they don't support Sacramental marriages for gay people.

crystal said...

I don't know about reserving the term "marriage" just for Catholic marriages. It's not like Catholicism invented marriage or owns the trademark.

Michael J. Bayly said...

I see your point, Crystal.

Maybe the Church should revert back to using the term "holy matrimony" to describe what those beyond the church call "marriage." Then again, it's a bit much to announce: "I'm getting matrimonied!"

I'm not sure what the solution is, especially since the bishops seem incapable (or unwilling) to distinguish between sacramental marriage and civil marriage.



Phillip Clark said...

You're right Michael, it must not be tolerated! That's why as Gregory from Queering the Church reminded me it's our job to make our voices heard. We need to let the bishops know that the majority of the faithful finds this letter in poor taste, condescending, and in no way attempts to try to understand or sympathize with the lived, everyday realities of the lives of most of the laity. Even though it might not do much, except raise the prospect of excommunications for some, it's our duty to let the leaders of the Church hear our persepectives on these issues.

When has the USCCB ever made it a point to hear input from gay couples in loving committed relationships or married heterosexual couples who routinely use contraception?

Also, an idea just came to mind, if the LGBT community could organize the March on D.C. couldn't the progressive community within the Church do something of the same scale? While it might not get that much press attention it would at least let the bishops know that the faithful are not happy with they are shepherding their flocks.