Friday, June 17, 2011

Who decides what is legal in New York (& the USA)?

The New York Times reports,

Several Republican senators in New York are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to consider changing his proposed same-sex marriage bill to better protect religious institutions, addressing a concern that has emerged as one of the bill’s chief obstacles as the legislative session comes to an end.

Conservative religious leaders and representatives of the New York State Catholic Conference made the rounds of the Capitol on Thursday seeking to press their case against the measure.

“We are relaying our very serious concerns to members of the Legislature regarding the religious liberty implications of Governor Cuomo’s bill,” said Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the conference. “It should be noted that we will continue to strongly oppose any redefinition of the historic understanding of marriage, regardless of the strength of the religious liberty protections. However, should the bill pass without adequate protection, it will have potentially far-reaching consequences for our ministries, both in terms of contracts to provide services and potentially to challenges to not-for-profit status.”

Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, says it has a network of more than 60,000 people across the state emailing and making thousands of phone calls to senators' offices.
"We're trying to convince them, this is not right for the state," he said.

The bill does not compel any member of the clergy to conduct same-sex marriages, but some Republican lawmakers are concerned the legal protection is not strong enough.

New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Wednesday equated the actions of lawmakers to restrictive Communist regimes.

Actually, Dolan has far more in common with those dictatorial despots who use the power of the State to impose their vision of right and wrong involuntarily on powerless citizens. Make no mistake, this is not about "morality" it is about raw naked political and social power. It is about the power of individuals to live freely versus the power of institutions, like the Catholic hierarchy, to dictate how those individuals may live. Dolan's assertion is not merely absurd, it is an unsophisticated inversion of the truth meant to seduce and deceive the public and intimidate politicians. In his own words,

"Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America - not in China or North Korea," he wrote on his blog. "In those countries, government presumes daily to 'redefine' rights, relationships, values, and natural law."

So the question is: what's "natural" or "unnatural?" That, in turns, leads to a more overarching question: Is homosexuality a status or a choice?

Some thinkers, including several members of the Supreme Court, seem to reason that homosexuality is an inborn status.
Catholicism--and, indeed most religions--teach that while homosexuality exists, homosexual activity is a "disordered" choice against the laws of nature.
If homosexuality is indeed a status rooted in biology or genetics, then homosexuals, like left-handed people, act according to their nature. But if homosexuality is a choice rooted in behavior, then homosexuals act against nature.

Stay with me, because here the argument splits even further. Are we talking about civil rights or morality?

In terms of civil rights, individuals deserve and are afforded protections for both status (say, skin color) and choice (for example, religious affiliation).
In terms of morality, status is neutral, while choice has implications and consequences.

Catholicism argues that homosexuals deserve legal protections, but not because homosexuality is a status. Catholicism says homosexual activity is a choice. So while bishops support non-discrimination policies, they won't agree that homosexuals are protected because of their genetic makeup.

Catholic thinkers have grappled with this question for ages. Creighton University professors Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler are the latest voices on the Catholic circuit. Their 2008 book, "The Sexual Person," just earned a rebuke from the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee.

Salzman and Lawler's dense academic argument turns traditional Catholic teaching on natural law on its head. They redefine natural law, saying "nature" is personal and individual, and that sexual activity need not be directed at procreation (contrary to what the Catholic Church has always said).

Salzman and Lawler argue that what is "natural" for a heterosexual is not "natural" for a homosexual, and therefore homosexuals and heterosexuals must act in accord with their personal "natures".

In other words, if it's "natural" for a homosexual to perform homosexual acts, then--for that person--heterosexual acts would be "unnatural" and immoral. For the two professors, homosexual activity is only immoral for the heterosexual acting against his or her nature.

Bottom line: Salzman and Lawler are arguing that homosexuality is a status, not a choice. If that's the case, then everyone--including the Catholic Church--should line up in support of an entire rainbow of gay-related arguments and ideas.

Taken to their logical conclusion, Salzman and Lawler's arguments would mean that Catholic moral teaching must do a complete about-face and disconnect sex from marriage--even from procreation--altogether.

Brooklyn Diocese' Monsignor Kieran Harrington says every diocese is now aggressively getting the word out to Catholics across New York, which make up 38 percent of the state population, to encourage parishioners to contact senators.

“Every diocese is speaking out to congregations to realize how significant this is,” he said.

Harrington also accuses Gov. Andrew Cuomo and liberal lawmakers of misrepresenting not only the issue, but also those who would oppose it.
"They're trying to say people of faith are bigots, and we think that's offensive," he said. "If they are convinced we were bigots they wouldn't be giving a religious exemption. How can they be proposing an exemption for bigotry?...They can't have it both ways."

What the “good Monsignor,” (I am reminded of an old seminary saying regarding Monsignors, “You have to kiss purple to wear purple.”) conveniently omits is that the majority of “Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall.”

State Senate GOP Majority Leader Dean Skelos just said there is no decision to bring gay marriage out for a vote, our Glenn Blain told me. Skelos said they were still deliberating the religious exemption issue and working on changes to the bill. Staffs will continue to work on the issue during the weekend but since Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will be observing the Sabbath, not much official can be done until Sunday.

This is not a “cliffhanger” in the sense of loved ones waiting to hear from surgeons operating on a loved one. In that case, it is a question of skilled physicians and staff working feverishly to preserve life. In this case, it is a question of pope Benedict and archbishop Dolan working feverishly to preserve bigotry.

Bigotry is a term that is bandied about much by people on both sides of this issue. A danger in this practice is that we become desensitized to its meaning. Bigotry means, you don’t get the job, or you lose it because of whom you are. Bigotry means you are emotionally and physically abused EVERY day at school, year after year. Bigotry means that you are afraid to speak the truth about yourself to your parents and siblings. Bigotry means that you have to lie about yourself, simply to survive. Bigotry means that you turn to alcohol, drugs, comfort foods for some temporary relief and these themselves become new demons that you must wrestle. Bigotry means that one third of gay adolescents attempt suicide and many of them—tragically, succeed.

Let me say it here very clearly and unmistakably, archbishop Dolan and pope Benedict are actively promoting bigotry.

Sheldon’s comment about not working on the Sabbath recalls a question from a young Rabbi, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath—or evil? To preserve life--- or destroy it?” [Luke 6:9]


wild hair said...

Archbishop Dolin says this: “Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America – not in China or North Korea. In those countries, government presumes daily to “redefine” rights, relationships, values, and natural law. There, communiqu├ęs from the government can dictate the size of families, who lives and who dies, and what the very definition of “family” and “marriage” means.”

I would just like to say that the archbishop seems to be losing touch with the people. Yes, it is the government in New York that is advancing gay marriage but not as some totalitarian government as the archbishop tries to imply. He tries to tarnish the advances the LGBT community has made in recent years by hollering and hinting that New York on this issue is some kind of communist country. No, archbishop, if you would come out of your palace, you might even find that the numbers are changing and that ordinary Catholics are the ones who may well be the ones behind the movement to recognize gay marriage.

I would offer the words of another New York Roman Catholic bishop, Joseph Sullivan the retired auxiliary of Brooklyn who has this to say: “What you would probably be surprised to learn is that Catholics are among those who increasingly are reaching out pastorally to the LGBT community. A recent study released by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Catholics believe that job discrimination against gay and lesbian people should be outlawed. By almost 2 to 1, Catholics believe that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to adopt children.”

Bishop Sullivan goes on to talk about ordinary Catholics who are engaging in conversation with the LGBT community. This is something that the bishops, and this includes Dolin, have not been able to do. Again here are the words of Bishop Sullivan. “We see these teachings play out as Catholics across the country engage in prayerful and meaningful dialogues about understanding and embracing the LGBT community. This dialogue is happening amongst faithful families, in student groups on the campuses of Catholic universities, and within church congregations. This dialogue is admittedly difficult, at times, but important.”

Bishop Sullivan’s comments can be found here:

Archbishop Dolin with all his posturing does not act much like a shepherd. He certainly does not seem interested in looking for lost sheep. Rather, it seems, his sheep are running away.

Sebastian said...

While faithful lay Catholics sit in shock at the abuse and misuse of sexual words and sexual actions by the bishops and some priests, the hierarchy makes in increasingly clear that they have only empty bromides to hurl at the LGBT community. There is no real theological engagement on the issues of sexual diversity, nor even on the subject of developing a coherent political theology.

Diane J Standiford said...

Science has never slept peacefully next to religion. Yet, science defines the words of God most clearly, when we finally understand both.

Tal said...

My fear is that the hierarchy is turning issues ultimately irrelevant to the question of salvation into points of doctrine. Homosexuality is increasingly one of those issues. After hopeful signs following Vatican II, the Church has retrenched and obsessed on the question of homosexuality in an almost unprecedented and unseemly way. In reacting against homosexuality, the Church has turned its harsh teachings into a cornerstone of its theology of the body and nature, such that to now advocate on behalf of homosexuals is considered next to heresy. I wonder how long it will take before all of us are excommunicated?

That point aside, I find the Church's continuing and deliberate confusion of civil with sacramental marriage nauseating. The Church has been very clear that civil marriage is not sacramental marriage. The Church won't recognize the validity of civil marriage (to the Church it's fornication) and denies the sacramental effect of civil divorce (the Church says you're still married and if you get remarried, its bigamy). That being the case, the Church's bigotry on this question is all the clearer.

So like all bigots who find themselves increasingly in the minority, the Church pulls the victim card. Incredibly, it's now arguing that civil marriage is a totalitarian effort to crush religion because it doesn't allow social conservatives to keep using the government to enforce their bigoted religious views. That patent nonsense needs no comment.

The bottom line is that the Church has been used to getting its way for far too long. The Body of the Christ, the faithful, are increasingly diverging from the hierarchy on many questions. Homosexuality merely underscores the fault lines the run through this increasingly inflexible and fragile institution.

When the Church started to care more about empty and logically fallacious rhetoric than the people that rhetoric harms, its ceased to preach Christ's message. How much more did Jesus have to complain about, scribes, Temple priests and hypocrites? They read the words but they do not hear them.

Tal said...

Father Geoff, your post struck a thought: Jesus had much to say about the wrongfulness of divorce, and never mentioned homosexuality once. Yet social conservatives have legalized divorce and look to ban homosexuality. Social conservatives are happy to take civil marriage as just that when it's applied to themselves, yet think it a religious institution when applied to others. Social conservatives complain about the dangers of socialism, yet are happy for gays to pay taxes to support benefits that social conservatives freely partake in. What am I missing here? How can social conservatives justify such blatant hypocrisy? (That's something else Jesus had a lot to say about.) This paradigm would be laughable if its results weren't often so tragic.

Mareczku said...

Excellent comments here. How unfortunate that Archbishop Dolan wants to stir up ill will against gay people. Other religions have a right to their religious freedom too, this includes those faiths that support same sex marriage.

Joe said...

Excellent posts, Tal.