Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Gay Catholic's Thoughts on the DOMA Ruling

Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. -- Jesus of Nazareth

Ugh, fine, I'll talk about it. I had originally determined to say as little as possible on the DOMA/Prop. 8 ruling, but my Twitter and Facebook are awash in triumphalism from my gay friends, paranoia from traditionalist Christians, and mutual hatred from all. My views are not a secret, yet I don't relish them, and discussing them now will convince nobody. But I'd like to address both my progressive and my traditional readers, gay and straight, Christian and secularist, and beg for a better mode of discourse.

First of all, fellow Christians:

1. This ruling has not in fact removed any of your liberties. The Supreme Court has not declared not supporting gay marriage illegal; it has not even declared not supporting gay marriage unhip. Could it eventually introduce legal penalties for those who decline to recognize same-sex unions? Yes. But let's keep our hair on and take things one at a time. In particular, let's wait until we've actually, you know, suffered something, before crying out that we are a persecuted minority: Nazi America (only this time with The Gays) is not sending Christians to concentration camps. The only person who stands to be embarrassed by you losing your temper is you.

2. The Supreme Court has not ruled on, cannot rule on, and has no interest in ruling on, the sacrament of marriage. What it has ruled on is marriage as a civil institution. Now, you might argue, as the Catholic Church does, that marriage as a civil institution predates any state and that no state has the authority to recognize same-sex unions as marriages per se, on the basis of natural law. Go ahead and argue that by all means; call the ruling wrong if that is what you think; but don't make the DOMA ruling out to be some sort of persecution -- not even if it makes persecution in the future more possible; distinctions are important.

3. Keep in mind that whatever you say in public -- and the Internet does count -- can be heard by gay people. This is partly because it's public. It is also partly because your church has gay people in it. Even if you don't know them, even if you don't know who they are, they're there. This is not a reason to pretend that you don't hold the convictions you hold, but it is a reason to stop and think about how you say things, and where your heart is in saying them.

4. Many of the rights secured by marriage -- such as the right to visit loved ones in the hospital, the right to stay in the country, and a host of others -- are things that Christians really have no need to oppose for gay couples. I certainly don't, and I see no reason to; indeed, opposition to them seems pretty cruel. On the other hand, a lot of opponents of gay marriage have not thought the matter through, and don't realize these obstructions are in place; but it's the sort of thing you ought to realize before opening your mouth. If you oppose gay marriage but support those rights being extended to gay couples, say so out loud. It won't go without saying, not even if you think it should.

5. Realize that, historically, the churches have connived in the redefinition of marriage. The understanding of marriage as a solemnization of two people's love for one another, rather than for procreation -- which is the basis of the case in favor of gay marriage -- is something originally introduced, promoted, and believed by Christians, and that without Biblical backing. Jesus never addressed gay marriage, since it wasn't a current issue then and there, but He had some choice remarks to make about divorce which plenty of Catholics and Protestants prefer not to think about, or try to establish as legal norms. Blaming the redefinition of marriage on the LGBT movement is shabby scapegoating.

6. There is a scene in the movie A Man For All Seasons, about the martyrdom of St. Thomas More, in which a witness recounts a conversation he had with the saint while he was imprisoned in the Tower:
"I said, 'Suppose there were an Act of Parliament that I, Richard Rich, were to be king. Would you then take me for king?' 'That I would,' he said, 'for then you would be king.' Then he said, 'But I will put you a higher case. Suppose there were an Act of Parliament that God should not be God.'"
God is still God. And He will continue to be even if the evil American police state makes you gay marry on your lawn tomorrow.

7. If your politics, or, God forbid, your faith, make you despise someone for not sharing them, you're Jesus-ing wrong.

Equally, fellow LGBTQs:

1. You won; a mazeltov is in order. Unless you are, uh, one of the many LGBTQ people who doesn't support gay marriage. You should know better than anybody else that ideology does not always line up with personal disposition as we'd expect; keep in mind that there is diversity within the gay world on this topic -- as there is diversity in the Christian world. It is a disservice to everyone concerned, and, I'd argue, especially to those who are in the sometimes awkward position of being queer Christians, to turn this into a war between Christendom and glistendom.

2. Calling people bigots for the views they hold is not worth your energy. It isn't an argument, for one thing; for another, if you're right, the only result it has upon a bigot is to make them mad or disdainful (or both). Since the fight on this subject is supposed to be to defend love, that doesn't seem like a very consistent tack. And if they actually have a reason for what they think, it just makes you look bad.

3. If you are having a serious discussion with someone who opposes gay marriage, you have every right to demand that they examine both their own hearts and your arguments; but it's not fair to make such a demand if you aren't willing to do the same. Arguments that amount to "But gay stuff is icky!" can of course be treated with the contempt they deserve -- though I'd add that treating an argument with contempt is not the same as treating a person with contempt -- but there are arguments, notably those of natural law, that are not based on homophobia, and even not based necessarily on the premise that queer sex and relationships are wrong. (There are also arguments that, while perhaps not intrinsically irrational, rely on a confusion of the authorities of the state and the church; I am fiercely opposed to any such confusion, but that is a debate that has to be had on its own grounds, and has a wider application than this.)

4. For those of you who are also Christians: if your politics, or, God forbid, your faith, make you despise someone who doesn't share them -- especially if that person is a fellow believer -- you're Jesus-ing wrong.


  1. Couldn't have said it better myself :)

  2. Regarding #2 for Christians, do you have any opinions on whether religious institutions should conduct civil marriages at all? You can be married by the State in a way the Church doesn't recognize (after a divorce; without being open to life; and in about a quarter of states, to someone of the same sex), should the Church marry people according to her laws, civil laws notwithstanding? It works that way today in most non-U.S. countries.

    1. Whether the Church ought to conduct civil marriages I really don't know. It is harmonious with seventeen centuries of social structure, going from our own day back to Constantine, and that is nothing to shake a stick at. But dissociating sacramental from civil marriage might nonetheless be a strong move, especially for the sake of establishing what the Church really does believe in calling marriage a sacrament (when it is one); it might also help secure the Church's liberty in that regard. On the reverse side of the question, so to speak, I am given to understand that the Catholic Church conducted interracial marriages in this country before they gained legal recognition -- but I can't cite a source for that. Whether I'm remembering correctly or not, the Church does have the power, and the right, to conduct valid, sacramental marriages that the state may unjustly refuse to acknowledge.

    2. What is your understanding of the "justice" of "acknowledgement"?

      Are there benefits you believe the State HAS to grant married couples? What if the State "got out of the marriage business entirely" and only recognized private individuals and their private contracts? Would this be unjust?

    3. I am not wholly competent to address the question. What I know on the subject is gleaned mostly from the Catechism, which is good but fairly basic, and from my my own reflections thereupon, which are careful enough but amateur.

      However, with those qualifiers in place. I am extremely leery of the notion of the state not recognizing marriage at all. This is partly because, as far as I can tell, this notion is usually part and parcel of a libertarian/Austrian/minarchist theory of society about which I have a myriad of reservations, hesitations, and flat-out objections; it is also partly because the family is the normal building block of society, and marriage -- or at any rate sex plus some degree of care for the consequences thereof -- is the origin of the family. The Catholic Church has typically maintained that it is not only in the state's interest, but among the state's responsibilities, to encourage the family, which logically means encouraging marriage also. I don't know the exact implications, but this view seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    4. I agree, Gabriel. An attorney friend of mine identified a few legal decisions that outlined some of the benefits of marriage to the State beyond those to the couple (Perry v. Brown, California; Perry v. Schwarzenegger, same). This line of thinking may also be why numerous states (Texas and Minnesota I know for sure) offer discounted marriage licenses to couples who participate in premarital education: it's good for the State if couples *stay* married.

  3. Thoughtful, even-handed, and loving... and therefore completely inappropriate for this topic. No red meat?

    I'm kidding. I appreciated this whole post. Thanks for the great words.

  4. #4 If sperm/egg donation was banned for everyone, would their be less of a problem with this issue? Because marriage assumes paternity, even if paternity is an impossibility.

    The problem now comes down to birth certificates, for instance no matter how much a woman may love another person (male or female) only the father's name should be on the birth certificate. As a heterosexual woman, I can not deny my child the identity of his biological father if conceived by the conjugal act. A father also has rights to his child, even if we are not in a relationship.

    Up to recently, there use to be a lot of discussion from both left and right ideology on father absence in the homes. I would disagree with gay marriage, not our of social conservatism but out of social justice for the child to have a mother and father. Our rights as adults, ends at the rights of children. Our president was able to communicate this issue effectively, until recently. I live in a community in which some neighborhoods only 29% of children live with both parents.

    It's a serious public policy issue, that we would allowed to address and promote in our marriage laws. If we can no longer utilize our marriage laws to promote such stability for children, then how should we address them. It seems of little concern to people.

    Could you explain #5 The Sacrament of Matrimony literally means 'the act of being a mother' in Latin and based on the Commandment to Honor your mother and father.

  5. OK I'm new to your blog, so I have to read more of your posts.

    But to clarify my concerns for children.

    I will defend a biological gay father, because he is in fact the dad. The man though has no right to claim, whoever he loves to be the parent if in fact that person is not the parent. I would also defend a gay relative raising a niece or nephew, if the parents were unable to parent.

    on the other end...

    Two people get married, yes out of free will, but with expectations of obligation to the whole community. That's why government got involved, initially we had expectations we wanted to promote. For instance without marriage, the mother becomes the gate keeper solely deciding the role if she wishes the dad to play. Dads are pushed out and fade away, not an equal parent.

    This doesn't just apply to Catholics, but for everyone.

    1. I don't think I understand the argument you're making. Can you restate it briefly? You seem to be addressing the DOMA decision entirely with respect to its implications for adoption; but I didn't address adoption in the post (I never intended to), and adoption by gay couples has been going on since long before now. I'm not asserting here whether that is good, bad, or indifferent -- I'm just not seeing how that matter is germane to what I wrote.

  6. Hey, I just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say thank you for such a balanced, generous and logical response. You managed to put all my "argh-angstiness-confusion" into a list and I always appreciate that! This is easily the best thing I've read on DOMA in the last few days. God bless. :)

  7. Well done with this post, Gabriel. I couldn't have said it any better. I particularly liked this part: "God is still God. And He will continue to be even if the evil American police state makes you gay marry on your lawn tomorrow." The major objections I usually hear concerning gay marriage are almost always slanted from a Christian perspective of marriage, and likewise seem to consistantly stem from fear. As a Christian, I can't say that I approve or would want our nation to become completely devoid of Christian thought, but I have to keep in mind, and remind other fellow Christians, that we do live in the land of the free, that not everyone is going to want to live their lives as Christians, or want (nor should) be forced to adhere to every Christian teaching. That's the beauty of this country, in that we allow people the opportunity to live their lives as they see fit and to believe as they see fit in most regards. Keeping this in mind, I see no reason not to allow gay marriage in this country. It doesn't and wouldn't harm Christianity, but simply allows others a greater opportunity to live their lives as they'd see fit. God would still be God by allowing this. The fear, however, I think stems from the wonder of what this country might really look like if we do go too far down a road of allowing everybody to do whatever they want, truly embracing to its fullest meaning the land of the free. I say that recognizing that the ultimate and purest form of freedom is complete anarchy, which I must myself admit to sometimes worrying about. History is my basis for that. However, on this one issue, I really do think we'd be okay, and civil discussion, I believe, would lead a great many other Christians to believe the same. As if marriage doesn't already exist amongst gays and lesbians anyway! It's just that now the state would recognize their marriages, giving them equal protection under the law. I fail to see how this is a bad thing.

  8. I agree with practically everything you said. But your first point is not factually correct. While the *federal* government is not persecuting anti-homosexuality folks, *state* governments are. Adoption agencies who do not give children to homosexual couples have been closed down, business owners who do not want to participate in the ceremonies are being fined for discrimination, as well as being sued, and non-profits are losing tax exemption. Only one state has encoded conscience protections for objectors.

    1. That may well be; I don't know. (Links would be appreciated.) However, I was addressing DOMA specifically. Insofar as that is a case concerning federal law, it is persecution at the federal level I had in mind. I have complaints to make about certain decisions at lower levels (in DC, for instance), but they aren't germane to my topic here.

  9. to 4.: Civil unions could take care of hospital visitation rights and similar items.

    t0 5: The Catholic Church never said that marriage was "a solemnization of two people's love for one another, RATHER THAN for procreation." (Emphasis supplied.)

    1. Perhaps civil unions could; I'm given to understand that in fact they haven't. I feel it would be a more elegant solution, personally, but I guess the question is academic at this point.

      As to what the Catholic Church has said, she absolutely has maintained her doctrine of marriage and of sex. I didn't have the Catholic Church particularly in mind, though; I was thinking of the various churches (or ecclesial communities, if we want to use the language of technical theology) in the west, especially America, that have contributed to or at least gone along with the solemnization-of-love concept of marriage -- not consistently in dogma, perhaps, but in mindset and language. And it must be said that while the Magisterium has not shifted an inch, the Catholic population (both lay and clerical) is by no means immune to the erotic fallacy, so to call it; and the Catholic Church's opposition to divorce and contraception, while firmly maintained in theory -- a laudable fact -- has nonetheless not produced a lot of ground-level impact. Out of a hundred people, say, ten don't know anything that Rome teaches about marriage, another seventy don't know why, and another fifteen do know why but can't articulate it. I don't know at whose door responsibility for this atrocious state of catechesis is to be laid, though the bishops and religious of the seventies and eighties seem to be the obvious candidates; regardless, I'm talking about cultural impact rather than institutional profession here.