Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Message for NOM (and the Catholic Hierarchy)


On Wednesday, some Catholic friends and I participated in OutFront Minnesota's Day of Action against the "intolerance and discrimination" of the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality group known as the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

Noted OutFront MN in a July 27 e-mail alert:

This month the National Organization for Marriage kicked off their nationwide summer tour of intolerance and discrimination. They're visiting a number of cities to foment opposition to GLBT equality. This week they will be in Saint Paul, Saint Cloud, and Rochester on July 28, 29, and 30.

Counter-demonstrations were planned and held in all three Minnesota cities, and, as far as I know, in each case those supportive of gay rights and marriage equality outnumbered those who turned out in support of NOM. This seems to be the case wherever NOM's "Summer Tour of Marriage" goes. In Madison, WI, for instance, only 54 NOM supporters showed up compared to over 400 pro-marriage equality supporters!

Given the woefully simplistic and often idiotic message NOM is spouting, it's really not that surprising that the organization is failing to attract many people. Yet on Wednesday, the big NOM bus rolled into St. Paul - complete with circus music (ironic, or what?!) and plastered with stock photos supposedly depicting straight couples and families.

The group's overall message is that the modern expression of marriage is ordained by God - a fearsome God, it should be said, who resides far above and beyond us. Who are we to question this God's unchangeable design for marriage? Never mind the long tradition of polygamy during biblical times, or the treatment of women as chattel. Such historical realities are conveniently overlooked. No, for NOM and, sad to say, at least one member of the local Roman Catholic clerical leadership who came out (so to speak) to
support the organization, marriage always has been and must remain one man, one woman, forever! Divinely-wrought chaos and destruction will ensue if we dare meddle with God's unchangeable plans! Hey, weren't similar fears conjured in the South about racially "mixed" marriages?

The god of NOM is a petulant old ogre. There's nothing in the NOM's theology of the loving and transforming presence of the sacred discerned, mediated, and embodied in and through the diverse range of human experience. Accordingly, there's no sense of evolution in our understanding of God's presence and action in our lives - all of our lives, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It's such a narrow, impoverished, and brittle way that NOM has of talking about what so many of us experience and celebrate as inclusive, abundant, and enriching.

Of course, the Roman Catholic clerical contingent likes to add the whole "every sex act must be open to procreation" piece to the agenda, a piece that I'm always curious to know how is received by the many non-Catholic members of NOM. I guess that's just another aspect of this bizarre circus-of-a-movement that gets to be conveniently overlooked. Intolerance makes not only for weak arguments and narrow theology, but for strange bed-fellows as well.

Anyway, James Sanna has a well-written report on Wednesday's events at the St. Paul Capitol here, while following are some photos I took of those who came out to counter the message of NOM.

Above: The t-shirt that this guy is wearing is available here.

Above: I was happy to see this reference to Sts. Sergius and Bacchus!

Recommended Off-site Links:
NOM Speakers Claim Victimhood at St. Paul Rally - James Sanna (, July 29. 2010).
NOM in St. Paul: A Disturbing Perversion of Christianity - Timothy Kincaid (Box Turtle Bulletin, July 28, 2010).
Guess Who is NOT Showing Up to NOM Rallies? - Timothy Kincaid (Box Turtle Bulletin, July 29, 2010).
NOM's Rally in Wackadoodle St. Cloud Church Proves Uneventful - Timothy Kincaid (Box Turtle Bulletin, July 29, 2010).
NOM in Rochester: "We'll Be Treated as Bigots" - Timothy Kincaid (Box Turtle Bulletin, July 30, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Display of Support for Marriage Equality

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


Mareczku said...

Excellent pictures, Michael. Another good article. I read what Father Becker had to say. It is interesting to hear what a strong supporter he is of hetero sex. It is interesting to read comments in regard to priests not knowing what they are talking about when it comes to sex beause priests are celibate but according to studies half of priests aren't so many do have experience in this it seems. However, a large proportion of the priests who are active are active with men so that puts it in another perspective.

Anonymous said...

Michael - what do you make of this (by Robert George)

"It's a redefinition of marriage"

Andrew Sullivan used to argue, and some people still do, that recognizing same-sex partnerships as legally valid marriages would not harm the institution of marriage, understood as a monogamous and sexually exclusive relationship, and would, indeed, result in greater monogamy among actively homosexual men. The argument always struck me as implausible because the abandonment of the conjugal (or "one-flesh union") conception of marriage leaves no ground of principle for supposing that marriages should be monogamous. I've presented my reasons for believing this in "What's Sex Got to Do With It? Marriage, Morality, and Rationality," in Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain (eds.), The Meaning of Marriage (Spence, 2006).

Evidence is now beginning to pour in that a vast number of persons in same-sex sexual partnerships, including those legally recognized as marriages, simply do not view monogamy or sexual exclusivity as part of the meaning of marriage. On January 28th of this year, the New York Times published an article previewing a San Francisco State University study documenting the huge percentage of male couples whose relationships are sexually "open." The reporter, Scott James, was "nonjudgmental" about this, even observing that "while [it] may sound counterintuitive, some experts say that boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage---one that might point the way to the survival of the institution." He quotes "relationships" expert Joe Quirk, who has no problem with sexually open marriages, saying that "[i]f innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages." Here is the link: In other words, recognition of same-sex partnerships as legally valid marriages is indeed likely to alter the social understanding and meaning of marriage in general, and reshape its norms.

This week the San Franciso State study was officially released. Here is the story about it from the San Francisco Chronicle. The story also reports on a study funded by a (non-monogamous) Bay area male couple (Lanz Lowen and Blake Spears). In the study, "three out of four people described non-monogamy as a positive thing, and said it gave them a sexual outlet without having to lie. Participants reported it helped relationships survive by providing honest options and minimizing deceit, tension and resentment. Some 'played' independently, others as a threesome, and about 80 percent agreed to tell all or some details of their encounters, the rest preferring a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."

According to Spears, "having an open partnership is not incompatible with same-sex marriage." In words that strike me, for all my moral differences with Mr. Spears, as incontrovertibly true, he said that "it is a redefinition of marriage." I appreciate his honesty and candor. The real question is not whether the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriages will alter the meaning of marriage and its norms. What seemed logically to follow has been borne out empirically. The real question is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to redefine marriage in a way that will render the norm of monogamy merely optional---a matter of subjective preference, a "lifestyle choice." People like Mr. Quirk and Mr. Spears are prepared to argue that it's a good thing. I think they're wrong---disastrously so. But even if their answer is wrong, at least it is an answer to the right question.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I don't think much of George's take on the issue. For a start, his comment that "a vast number of persons in same-sex sexual partnerships, including those legally recognized as marriages, simply do not view monogamy or sexual exclusivity as part of the meaning of marriage," could just as well apply to straights. Something like fifty-plus percent of heterosexual marriages end in divorce - many of them no doubt brought about by infidelity, by a lack of regard, in other words, for monogamy.

It seems to me that those gay men who opt for "open" marriages are mimicking in a very upfront way what goes on quite a bit in "traditional" marriage. This shouldn't be that surprising given that, in many ways, what we refer to today as "traditional marriage" remains a patriarchal way of being in relationship. It's a model in which, historically, the male is free to have sexual relations with others (both male or female) while the female is not. She is considered his property.

Now you might think that the modern manifestation of traditional marriage is different. In some ways it certainly is. But I wonder how many of the infidelities and divorces within straight marriages are the result of ingrained patriarchal (i.e., "traditional") attitudes of male sexual privilege.

Is in any surprise, then, that when two men enter into "traditional" marriage the likelihood of infidelity, i.e., of both of them demanding the patriarchal privilege of what it means to be "the man" in such a relationship increases?

The solution, to my mind, isn't to deny two men from marrying, but to dispense with the damaging patriarchal attitudes that undergird and in many ways continue to define the model of "traditional marriage" - a model that clearly isn't working very well for either straights or gays.

But what of those marriages that do work? I think you'd find that successful marriages - again, whether they be gay or straight - are ones that embody a degree of equality that has moveed them beyond the patriarchal limits of "traditional" marriage. Isn't it interesting that the red states in the U.S., those that most oppose gay marriage and uphold rigid gender roles and the notion of traditional (and thus patriarchal) marriage, have the highest rates of divorce (and no doubt infidelity)? Whereas those states that are open to less patriarchal models of marriage have lower rates of divorce.

I'll close with a couple of questions for you, Mark. Is it the use of the word "marriage" for same-sex unions that bothers you most? Would you be okay with civil unions for gay couples - unions that would grant these couples all the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of civil marriage but not the name "marriage"?



Anonymous said...

I just wrote a long post and I think Blogger ate it. I'll check back later to see if it shows up.

Michael J. Bayly said...

I hate when that happens!