Friday, February 26, 2010

Bishops take 'strong exception' to marriage ruling

The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland’s Catholic bishops are taking “strong exception” to the ruling Wednesday by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler that the state may recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. In a joint statement, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Del., said the following:

We take strong exception to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler’s opinion that the state may recognize same-sex “marriages” performed in other jurisdictions. We trust our legislature and the people of Maryland will also object, and will act accordingly to counteract this opinion.

The General Assembly has repeatedly and explicitly upheld Maryland’s definition of marriage “between a man and a woman” even as certain limited benefits have been extended to same-sex couples. The opinion correctly notes that federal law does not require Maryland to recognize such marriages. We see a strong possibility that legal avenues to circumvent the legitimate legislative process on a serious public policy issue could be opened. Allowing the decisions of out-of-state jurisdictions or courts to dictate public policy in Maryland undermines the proper role of the legislature and the citizens they represent.

Most importantly, the opinion chips away at our society’s foundational institution. The equality of men and women and the dignity of their coming together as husband and wife is not merely a fact of religious faith or an institution established by civil authorities, but a fundamental reality rooted in our human nature and experience. Civil marriage is not simply a union of two people who love and are committed to each other. Marriage is invariably reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world, thus forming a stable and secure foundation for our society.

We respect the dignity of homosexual persons and roundly reject all unjust discrimination against them. Nonetheless, the clear words of Maryland’s marriage statute – “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” – reflect the convictions of Maryland’s citizens and their legislators. This definition has been reaffirmed in recent acts of the General Assembly. The attorney general’s opinion demonstrates a fundamental disregard for the nature and purpose of marriage and its impact on society, as well as for the expressed will of the legislature and previous attorney general opinions. We urge lawmakers, the governor, and the courts to uphold the definition of marriage through all appropriate means.

Lets take a closer look at some of their arguments. They claim “Marriage is reserved to the union of one man and one bring children into the world,” i.e. reproduce. If marriage is to be reserved ONLY to those who may reproduce, then the Catholic hierarchy needs to immediately change its own laws and practices. Actually, there are TWO ends to marriage: 1) Unitive and 2) Procreative. The unitive end of marriage is simply a union of love and life. The Procreative end is, of course, to create new life. It is important to understand that the unitive end of marriage is sufficient for a valid marriage. The Church sanctions, and considers a sacrament, the marriage of elderly heterosexual couples who are biologically incapable of reproduction. So, if two people of different genders who are incapable of reproduction can enter into a valid marriage, then why is it that two people of the same gender, who are incapable of reproduction, cannot enter into a valid marriage?

If the biological ability to physically reproduce is to be required for ALL couples who wish to marry, then no post menopausal woman would be able to marry in the Catholic Church. Additionally, this would raise the question of the “morality” of sexual acts between a married male and female after the female became biologically infertile. You would also need to add to this list of people incapable of marriage, or the marriage act (sex), infertile males. Since, according to the bishops, marriage is “reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world.”

A verbal slight of hand is also employed by the bishops “We respect the dignity of homosexual persons and roundly reject all unjust discrimination against them.” Re-read their very carefully chosen phrase “UNJUST discrimination.” They imply that there exist “JUST discrimination” against people with same sex orientation. What might be some examples of the bishop’s “JUST” discrimination? The immediate form of discrimination which they both advocate and actively use their special rights to sway voters to support, is to strip same sex people of their right to a CIVIL LAW marriage.

In effect, the bishops are asking gay and lesbian people to live their lives alone. Why? Who does this benefit? How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? What is accomplished by this? Worse still, is to intimidate a gay or lesbian person into a heterosexual marriage, which is doomed from its inception, and makes two victims instead of one by this hurtful “theology.” This “theology,” which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society that they claim to abhor.

The statement made by the bishop reaffirms the feelings of exclusion and alienation that are suffered by individuals and their loved ones who have left the Church over this very issue. Imagine what hearing such damaging words does to an adolescent who has just discovered that he/she is gay/lesbian? What is the hierarchy saying to him/her? What are they demanding from that individual? What would it have meant to you personally to be told that you could never date? Never fall in love, never kiss or hold hands with another person? Never be able to marry? How would you view yourself? How would others hearing those same words be directed to view you? How would you view your life and your future?

The bishops with careful premeditation state: “We respect the dignity of homosexual persons and roundly reject all unjust discrimination against them.”

Imagine if they said that of ANY other minority group in our society! Imagine the outrage that would be expressed by African Americans, Latinos, the JDL, etc, if the bishops said that of any of those groups could be the target of “JUST discrimination.” Imagine the media reaction and yet, the bishops can say this blithely of people with same sex orientation, because their still exists legally sanctioned bigotry against this minority. The bishops should be ashamed of their bigotry, especially since they claim to speak in the name of God.

In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” Of course, that statement was made under Pope Paul VI, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have/are backpedaling furiously on that statement. But, since the “Church” (pope/bishops) can never admit a mistake, they simply ignore “inconvenient” statements or, “reinterpret” them away.

The bishops also carefully state: “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” – reflect the convictions of Maryland’s citizens and their legislators. This definition has been reaffirmed in recent acts of the General Assembly. The idea behind which the bishops are hiding their bigotry is that the “voters” want to exclude same sex couples from civil law marriages. California Supreme Court Justice Moreno explains why this is a basically flawed line of argument. In his view, the issue of marriage equality involves “the core of the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment,” and thus was not properly the subject of a voter initiative under the California state constitution.

Essentially, the Equal Protection Clause of our National Constitution trumps the majority from stripping any minority group of their rights. This is precisely the role of the justice department and of our Courts. Imagine if civil rights for African Americans had to be “voted in” in the 1960’s. Segregation, employment discrimination, laws forbidding interracial marriage, would all still exist in many places in our country today.

Perhaps the bishops would appreciate the role of the Court in protecting minority rights if we were suddenly to “vote” on tax-exempt status for the Catholic Church. I wonder how people in Utah, Alabama, South Carolina, etc would vote?


Joe said...

Great rebuttal to the bishops' statement, Fr. Geoff. I would add that their claim that, "the opinion correctly notes that federal law does not require Maryland to recognize such marriages," is false. Section 1 of Article IV of the U.S. Constitution is the Full Faith & Credit clause. Maryland & every other state is constitutionally bound to recognize marriages, including same-sex marriages, performed in other states. DOMA is unconstitional on its face since it allows states to not recognize valid marriages performed in other states. The reason why DOMA hasn't been challenged is b/c everyone is afraid of a negative ruling from a hostile judiciary.

Sebastian said...

I find it ironic that the bishops argue that the Maryland Attorney General's ruling is wrong and anti-democratic because it violates the will of Maryland voters. They are perfectly willing to argue that some democratic majorities should be ignored - as in the case of abortion - and that other democratic majorities must be respected, as in this case. This is not the sort of reasoning which converts people to Christ. This is the sort of political and lawyerly arguing that grasps for every possible argument to support a previously adopted position. The bishops increasingly sound like lawyers and politicians. The fact that they themselves believe such speech is an exercise in moral leadership reveals them to be spiritually vacuous.

Unknown said...

All I hear is intelect talking. It's is against the law of nature for people of the same sex to marry. I did not read anything on that rebuttal about pleasing GOD. This world has forgotten about our creator and it has adapted it's own laws that violate Gods commandments. It is obvious that the people who think gays should marry don't belive in God. I don't fear gay people dislike them, I pray that they convert back to faith in God and ask for his forgiveness of their sin.

Mareczku said...

Another excellent article, Father Geoff. I also get upset by the phrase "unjust discrimination." Why do they need to qualify this?Who gets to decide whether or not the discrimination is "unjust"? Those being discriminated against or those doing the discriminating?

matt said...

Not only are all your arguments sound, padre, but I'd argue that the church is also painting itself into a corner via such public denouncements of gay marriage from high-ranking clery. As you say, the church is not wont to admit it's wrong. And it is likely wrong here. Eventually, gay marriage will be legal throughout the united states and in most foreign countries. Rather than making these hard-to-reverse statements, the church should be looking to the future and contemplating how it will articulate church teaching on sexual/relationship issues once gay marriage is legal. If that means taking a hard line and stressing that all non-procreative sex is wrong, then the church should say that in reference to all people without singling out gays and lesbians. However, the church should say it with compassion while admitting that all people are sinners--and then be ready to move beyond that and embrace us all. If, instead, that means stressing the importance of the unitive aspect of sexuality and relationships, then the church should do that across all people.
The church is currently not choosing to lash out against non-procreative sex by straight married couples or even against straight couples having pre-marital or non-marital sex. Sure, the church teaches that it's wrong, but it isn't railing against it. That gays and lesbians are being singled out is hitting a dissonant chord with young people--straight and gay alike--who see that this is just plain mean and unfair. We can have nerdy "youth days" 'til the cows come home, but we will continue to lose young people if we do not show that we can lead with reason and credibility and without prejudice and mean-spiritedness.

Mareczku said...

Excellent points here. I am glad that I am not the only one who is upset by the term "Unjust Discrimination." Why can't they just say discrimination? Who gets to decide if the discrimination is unjust, the person being discriminated against or the person doing the discriminating.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Carlos,

Your love for God and God's commandments are laudable. I would respectfully point out that there are many good people of sincere faith who disagree with your interpretation and understanding of Sacred Scripture.

Among these are Reformed Jews, Episcopal USA, Metropolitan Community Church, several other mainline Protestant Churches, Unitarians, etc.

What we are speaking about here is CIVIL LAW. Any particular religious group attempting to impose it's narrow theological views on all Americans through Civil Law violates the very principles upon which our Republic is based. When Catholic bishops abuse their tax-exempt status to function as a Political Action Committee in order to rewrite CIVIL LAW, as they did in California and Maine, they undermine the very values which make freedom of religion possible for us all.

Cranes3 said...

Dear Father Geoff,
As a gay catholic, one subjugated and alienated from by church, I thank and applaud you for your outspoken advocacy on behalf of all all gay and lesbians.

Seems to me that Christ would be more inclusive than The Roman Catholic Church. In addition, there are many gay priests as well as many gay Catholics who walk in fear or simply accept rejection, persecution, and alienation from the very church that was intended to serve all, not just straight Catholics.

Given the massive amount of information and research contrary to Church teaching on homosexuality, it defies reason that the church remains so stubborn to make changes that would be inclusive. Although not a theologian, I believe Jesus desired an inclusive church for all. Apparently, the kingdom of God is best understood eschatologically - the belief that understanding of the kingdom of god is unfolding. In essence, maybe your outspoken stance is one of the preliminary eschatological events what will lead to a deeper understanding of inclusion when it comes to understanding and accepting all God's children, regardless of sexual orientation.

Whether, sexual orientation is innate or a choice still remains to be settled but the evidence is leaning towards the suggestion that gays are born gay. If this turn out to be true, the church will need to adapt current teaching. If not, it would mean that some have been predestined to eternal hell. Things move slow in the church and it took 500 years for the church to sidestep it's excommunication of Galileo when he proved the world was not the center of the universe. I suspect we shall wait on the church to reverse teaching to balance with truth and will see further rejection.