I Agree With Douthat, Church Can’t Accept Gay Marriage

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will decide whether to renew the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty for another three-year term when they meet in New Orleans later this week for their semi-annual general assembly.

The Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty has been the USCCB’s main vehicle for opposing same-sex marriage and the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Whether or not the bishops renew the conference’s mandate will say a lot about its political direction. Will it hear the message of Pope Francis and stop “obsessing” over “gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” or will the conference continue in culture-warrior mode epitomized by committee chair Bishop Lori, who presumably will argue for its continuation?

That discussion is part of a larger debate going on among Catholics about what should be “done” about society’s seeming acquiescence to same-sex marriage. Should faithful Catholics accept that it’s a done deal and move on or should they continue to fight?

In a forum on Commonweal in response to Joseph Bottum’s essay last year suggesting that Catholics should embrace same-sex marriage as good for marriage in general and for gay couples, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues against retreat on the issue:

For the Catholic Church to explicitly support the disentanglement of civil and religious marriage, and to cease to make any kind of public argument against treating same-sex unions the same way opposite-sex ones are treated in law and policy, would be a very serious withdrawal from political and cultural engagement. It is one thing to urge the church to prepare for political defeat on this issue—such preparations are obviously necessary, more obviously so now even than when Bottum’s essay first appeared. But it is quite another—more separatist, more sectarian, and thus more problematic—to say that the church should preemptively cease to even make the argument.

Douthat argues that such a withdrawal would be “a statement not of prudence but of cultural despair” and says that the church’s definition of marriage is too core to its central identity on all sexuality-related issues to acquiesce.

Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter argues, however, that “American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics”:

The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true….Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.

Manson says a more sophisticated notion of “fruitfulness” wouldn’t focus on “conceiving and raising children” but on “bring[ing] the life of God into the world by caring for one another, nourishing other relationships, working to mend our broken world, and being a sign of faithfulness to their community.”

I hate to admit to agreeing with Douthat, but he’s right. The church can’t retreat from its fight on gay marriage because to do so would take it back nearly 50 years to when it was on the brink of approving the use of contraception but backed down because it would codify the idea, which it had already tacitly accepted, that the purpose of marriage wasn’t limited to reproduction.

This, in turn, would negate much of the church’s biological determinism around the role of women. Many of the doctrinal developments on issues related to sex and women since then have been ever-more elaborate constructions to shore up this theologically weak underpinning. But like any structure built on a shaky foundation, you can’t start moving pieces around without the whole thing tumbling down. To give up the fight on same-sex marriage would be to cast doubt on the entire Pope John Paul II-Benedict moral framework around sexuality and that’s a house of cards the church can’t mess with.

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church. Her work on the intersection of sex, religion, and politics has appeared in The Nation, Ms., and Huffington Post. She was the editor of Conscience magazine and the editor-in-chief of the National Journal’s health care briefings.

  • NelsonRobison

    That discussion is part of a larger debate going on among Catholics about what should be “done” about society’s seeming acquiescence to same-sex marriage. Firstly there is no such thing as acquiescence when it regards the equal rights of others. The fact is that “same-sex” marriage is not “same-sex” but it’s just marriage. Why do people believe that voting on another’s rights is something that can and should be done? No one voted on the rights of African-Americans when the 14th Amendment came into being, no one continued to vote on whether the Jim Crow laws were a base and violent assault on the rights of minorities. Yet here we are, voting on someone else’s rights to marriage? That is unconscionable in a free and democratic society.

    If as some religious people want, that LGBT people become second class citizens, not equal to all the rest of society because they’re unable to marry then we need to shut down the discourse of a society built on freedom of conscience and declare this nation an authoritarian regime that decides who can marry and what the definition of marriage is based on religious ideals.

    This nation was not founded on religious notions, this nation should be and is based on secular ideals, ideals which celebrate diversity, which celebrate the ideals of equality for ciall and not just for some. America is a nation which does not or should not discriminate against any person or class of people based solely on the way that they identify themselves. Sexuality is not a reason for discrimination, it’s sexuality not the end of the world. No one is going to die because LGBT citizens can marry, none can aver that heterosexual marriage as an institution will disappear because LGBT citizens can marry. No one is forcing a heterosexual to marry an LGBT citizen, no church will be forced to solemnize the marriage of an LGBT citizen. The only thing that any person should have is the right to marry and be recognized by the state, which is what is happening right now.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    To tell the truth, “NelsonRobison”, I agree with you, to a point; that is, in our society marriage is evolving at a mind-bending rate, and I suppose opposition to the concept of same-sex marriage is a losing proposition. Fine.But…I would remind everyone that same-sex marriage is NOT a Biblical concept, and as a servant of God in Christ, I’m not confident that the churches who reject the claims that they ought to become”affirming and accepting”will be able to escape efforts to force them to do so; in fact, given the extremely litigious nature of our society, I have no doubt that that day is coming.

  • NelsonRobison

    The only thing that I ask is that you speak to someone who is an LGBT member of our society. Ask them if they would actually force someone who is anti-gay marriage, if the LGBT community would force them to solemnize their marriages. The fact is that anyone of my friends who is gay would not force themselves on others who don’t want them to give their blessings on their marriage. Sir I truly believe that you’re a man who has a heart and is a caring person who would not turn away anyone based on their sexuality or orientation.

    You epitomize the true ideal of Christian and are someone who shows the love of God in all he does.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Thank you for saying that, Nelson, I deeply appreciate you saying that. I do strive to emulate Christ in my life and my dealings with my fellow-man, and I do have friends who are same-sex, and I love them dearly; I would defend them against any attacks inre who they are. They know that I am a God-fearing, God-loving person, and as of yet we’ve had any discussions on this issue. I am a 59 year old African-American, and the issue of same-sex marriage is very, very sensitive in my community. I’d like to think I’m not lacking in courage, but…how to approach is fraught with difficulties and possible unintended offense, so…well, there it is.Pray for us, Nelson, and again, thanks.

  • NelsonRobison

    Laurence what you see as fraught with difficulties is what I see is a mountain of problematic issues. I too face difficulty in the community I live in, I am a resident of a community with only 2500+ people and the church I go to is solidly neoconservative in nature. The priest though is open minded and has a very giving heart. I am disabled, I’ve had 9 spinal surgeries though I can walk some but not allot. It is hard to interact in my community because the populace is very strict in their interpretation of scripture, they see the issue of “same-sex” marriage as something that they cannot back because of the injunction against homosexuality. You might say it’s the red meat base of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, and me a overtly liberal person. So yes I too feel the difficulty in my community. Thanks for your kind words and I will be thinking good thoughts for you on your journey through the landmines of “same-sex” marriage.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “I would remind everyone that same-sex marriage is NOT a Biblical concept”

    Neither is democracy or civil rights.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    And your point is…what,exactly Mr.Dowling?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Meaning that because an idea is not found in the Bible shouldn’t lead one to immediately discount it.