Friday, June 14, 2013

Government and Freedom

To those who protest the legalization of Same Sex Marriage, I ask the question: What are you trying to accomplish?

The common answer (which I have seen marvelously expressed by people much smarter than I, see end of this post) is "To protect marriage for the sake of children, families, and society." A very laudable goal, and one that we should all pursue. But I don't think opposing the Federal legalization of gay marriage is the way to achieve it.

Look, I completely agree with Catholic teaching in this regard, and believe wholeheartedly in a lifelong union of one man and one woman for the purpose of creating a stable unit in which to raise their biological children. This is God's plan for us. The Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality represent the only approach that fully integrates body, soul, and spirit the way God intended us humans to operate.

HOWEVER, we live in a fallen world. Our technologies have already divorced sex from procreation, and our laws have already established that individuals have the right to bring children into their lives in any manner they choose. (Again, this is wrong. It is wrong to conceive a child from an affair; children deserve to live with both parents in a stable family unit. It is wrong to use a surrogate in India to gestate your biological children; women deserve more than to be used for their body parts. It is wrong to use contraception, abortion, IVF, or visit a sperm bank; children are a blessing, not a commodity to be acquired in the exact manner and timing we wish.) The Church has consistently spoken out against contraception, abortion, fetal stem cell research, divorce, premarital sex, and a host of other ills plaguing our society. Yet our government continues to prize individual freedom over morality or societal stability, and will continue to do so as long as we operate under our Constitution, because that is the system we have set up.

The fact is, same sex couples have access to all the same methods of procreation as infertile heterosexual couples or single parents. They can use a surrogate and DNA from one partner, they can visit a sperm bank, they can adopt both internationally and domestically, and they can bring biological children into the union from previous relationships. Children are a part of same sex marriages, period. And because this is the case, those children need the protection of law. 

I hear what you are saying. But the government should protect those children without redefining marriage and weakening the family structure that is BEST for children!

There really isn't a way for the government to do that. There's nothing that mimics marriage, which is precisely why we are having this fight. Contracts and wills do not protect the union itself, they just articulate the division of assets if the union ends (through death or otherwise.) Marriage is unique in its ability to provide for the protection of each individual in the relationship as well as those dependent upon it. Civil Unions do not afford tax breaks to promote raising children, or mandate that insurance companies and businesses provide coverage to spouses without paying jobs (either because they are disabled or taking care of dependents), or allow immigration protection for the partners. And only marriage prioritizes the couple as the primary guardians of the children in their care.

It's indisputable that it's best for children to be raised by their biological parents in a loving home. Children deserve that, and it's a tragedy when anything interferes with it. But same sex marriage is not the only impediment to the family unit. The family has been broken for a long, long time. In fact, just like adopted parents, step-parents, or single parents, same sex couples can actually be part of the solution. We can't come at this issue without acknowledging the reality of many situations where a same sex couple would be the better choice of parents for a child than his/her biological parent due to abuse, addiction, or abandonment. Reality does not always reflect the ideal, and government does a very poor job of providing for the emotional and spiritual needs of broken families. This is where the Church is so incredibly important, and where the government should be supporting Church efforts to build responsible and caring communities.

But it's important that Christians are free to express our beliefs. Our rights are protected under the First Amendment. The government can't make a law that takes away our rights in order to grant rights to another group.

Yes, and this is the real fight. The Church is not going to amend official teaching on God's plan for human relationships because it is the Truth. And it is GOOD for society to have strong religious influences that are active participants in government. The government needs to protect religious freedom and the ability of individuals to express their religious beliefs in the public square, without allowing that expression to take away the individual freedoms of other groups of people (like those with SSA.)

We must admit that the Church (and by Church I mean All People Who Love God) has not done a very good job of communicating Truth with Love on this issue. When we kick the children of a lesbian couple out of Catholic school, refuse to rent rooms in a Bed and Breakfast to a lesbian couple, or refuse to bake a cake for a same sex wedding, I have to ask again, what are we trying to accomplish?

Again, the common answer is that we are standing up for our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman and the choices of those with Same Sex Attraction (SSA) should not infringe upon our rights as Christians to practice our faith.

Friends, does anyone truly believe that refusing to allow a dying man's life-partner into his hospital room is showing the love of Christ? Or that by refusing to "celebrate" a gay couple's marriage, that we are in any way standing up for Christ, who ate at the home of sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes at a time when to do so was seen as legitimizing their sins and even being tarnished with them Himself? In His time, even talking to someone outside the established frame of the Judaic community was to soil Himself, yet he freely addressed the Woman at the Well to show us that interacting with sinners neither supports their sin nor makes us sinners ourselves. Providing flowers for a same-sex wedding is NOT equivalent to standing up at that wedding as a Christian witness. From what I've read about the florist, she is a faithful Christian and a very loving person. She is countersuing the State after being ordered to provide the flowers. I admire her, and yet I disagree with her choice in this instance.

There is a reason why the general consensus is that speaking out against same-sex marriage is hate speech. It's because those with SSA feel hated. They are not welcome in our parishes or schools. They are called "disordered." They are shamed, and subject to slurs and violence. Doesn't this sound like a group of people who require the protection of our government?

It is as much a violation of freedom to force a Christian baker to make a cake for a same sex wedding as it is to force a Christian Scientist to vaccinate their children, or an OB/GYN to perform abortions when that's against his beliefs. People have to be free to refuse to participate in an activity they find objectionable.

Yes, to an extent. It's helpful here to explore what we're talking about. In the case of Christian Scientists, the government has rightfully determined that children are the responsibility of their parents. So even the law mandating education is tempered by State laws that allow for homeschooling, religious-based schools, and the like.  The government allows parents to direct their children's care as long as the children's lives and individual human rights are not being threatened. (Ideally. There are plenty of errors and instances where the government WAY oversteps its bounds.) But gay couples are not children. We have no jurisdiction to govern the choices they make. In the case of an OB/GYN who does not want to perform abortions, we are talking about ending a human life, which is far different than baking a cake. Let's compare apples to apples.

How about this scenario? Someone comes to a baker wanting an erotic cake, or a cake soaked with rum or other alcohol. Say the baker objects to erotic cakes on moral grounds, or is a recovering alcoholic and does not want to use alcohol in their store. Is that different than refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple? Shouldn't those bakers have the right to define the terms of their service?

Or what about a photographer who does not want to photograph a same sex wedding? If someone wanted a professional to photograph them defiling a religious statue, or giving birth, or having sex, does the photographer have to participate no matter what his/her personal feelings?

Again, to an extent, the professional must have the right to refuse. However, in the case of erotic or alcoholic cakes, the baker can make a blanket policy and never bake those kind of cakes. That's different than a wedding cake baker who says "I make wedding cakes, but only for weddings I approve of." Does the photographer take pictures of births, but refuse to do out-of-wedlock births or interracial births? The difference is when the professional objects to the activity itself vs the persons who are conducting the activity. That's why the government has consistently defined this as discrimination, and has fined or otherwise penalized professionals who refuse their services to same sex couples.

But two people of the same gender cannot make a marriage, so it IS the action to which these professionals are objecting and not the people who are doing it. The florist served the individual members of the gay couple by selling flowers to them on previous occasions, she just declined to do their wedding because the wedding went against her beliefs.

Back to the question I've asked twice now: What are we trying to accomplish? Because we are NOT accomplishing it by opposing Federal legalization of same sex marriage or refusing to bake cakes for same sex weddings. In states with referendums upholding traditional marriage, legislators are overturning the will of the people to grant protections to same sex couples, precisely because we Christians are creating a hostile environment.

Yes, I say "we Christians" because there are no other groups opposing same sex marriage. I am very familiar with Christ's teachings on how the world will hate us, and twist everything we say, and reject us, and persecute us. It is not to avoid persecution that I am advocating a switch in our focus. I still expect great persecution because our message will not change. But surely we can see that the tactics we have tried (influencing government policy, advocating for laws that protect marriage, protesting gay rights) are not only NOT WORKING but are actually working against our ability to show love, hospitality, compassion, and caring to those who struggle with SSA?  

This is one of the primary challenges we face as Christians. How do we speak the truth with love, stand up for our beliefs without oppressing others, and live in the world without being a part of it? Honestly, I find living my beliefs to be the easiest part of being a Christian. It's the interacting with those who don't share those beliefs that is so tricky, and such a balancing act.

I'm sure we all have friends who have used IVF. We all know someone who is divorced. We all have people in our families who oppose Christian values. How do we treat these people? How do we love them?

These are weighty matters that require us to exercise thought, prayer, patience, gentleness, and humility. None of us has the right answer for every circumstance, but hopefully over the course of our lives we strike the proper balance and prove ourselves faithful to God's plan for us.

These are some of the best posts I've read on this subject:

Meaning and Purpose of Marriage - Catholic Register
The Difficulty of Engaging Gay Marriage - Bad Catholic
A Defense of Marriage, Or Not - LetLoveBeSincere
A Conversation With my Gay Friend - Conversion Diary
If it's Broken Why Defend it? - VoxNova
A Question on Temptation - Catholic Register
SSM and Infertility - Catholic Moral Theology
Marriage and Historical Inevitability Parts 1-3 - Ross Douthat for the NYT

Good sites for explaining the value of Traditional Marriage:
USCCB page on Same Sex Unions
Ruth Institute
Manhattan Declaration


Guy said...

This is a great article, and well thought-out - I am now rethinking some of my positions. Thanks for posting it.

Lizzie said...

Brilliant thoughts and writing- this articulates so well why I've been uneasy about all the 'anti-gay marriage' rhetoric even though I am a faithful Catholic committed to Church teaching and the Church's teaching on marriage and family. I was saying to someone recently that it seems disingenuous for all these hordes of people to protest against same sex marriage unless they have also been on their knees outside abortion clinics, have looked for opportunities to explain the Church's teaching on IVF, contraception etc. although even here I run the risk of sounding dogmatic- I hope you understand the sentiment!
As you say,it's about finding the balance between being in the world and not of the world yet speaking with love and treating others as Christ would and does!
God bless you.

Libby said...

Thank you for sharing this!! It is SO helpful to me to know that there are other Catholics who accept the Church teaching on this but struggle with the way it is playing out in the world right now. You might be interested in the work of The Marin Foundation if you are not already familiar with it -