Monday, September 17, 2012

The Marriage Amendment: Unjustifiable from a Secular, Rational Basis

By Phil Byrne

The Marriage Amendment is a major threat to a bedrock American constitutional principle – the separation of church and state. Our Founders did not permit any religion to have its own beliefs enforced by the coercive power of civil law.

Catholics do have a right under the First Amendment to express their views publicly on matters of public importance. They can speak to anyone who will listen, whether it is from a pulpit, using DVDs paid for by their wealthiest members, in letters to the editor, or in media ads paid for by $650 million from the investment income of the Archdiocese.

But religions, Catholic or otherwise, do not have the right to use the muscle of civil law to enforce their own religious beliefs. They cannot require “Caesar” to enforce their own version of “God’s” law.

We all agree that it is not permissible to seek the passage of a state constitutional amendment to: (i) require that no one eat meat on Friday; (ii) require that all females wear a headscarf in public; or (iii) require that no one eat pork.

We all agree that it is permissible to enact into civil law a prohibition against killing. So what is the difference? Why is one permissible and not the other?

The difference is this: There must be, for every civil law, an independent basis resting on secular facts, which justifies the existence of that law. Even if my motive in proposing or supporting a law is religious, I must advance a rational, secular basis for that law and justify its adoption on that basis. And, I must persuade people of many beliefs that the law makes sense. I cannot complain that others do not agree with my own religious beliefs or arguments. It is fairly easy to conclude that if civil society did not prevent people from killing each other, we would have no peace, no society at all. That is clearly a rational, secular basis for a law prohibiting killing, whether or not the Ten Commandments, the Koran, or another religious code, might also prohibit murder.

Today – in 2012 – the question is this: Is there any basis that would support adoption of the Marriage Amendment other than religious? If there is such a rationale, the case has not been made for it at this point.

For example, the local Catholic Archbishop submitted a letter to the Star Tribune, a secular newspaper (October 8, 2011). He said that he was not acting to enforce religious doctrine or principles in calling for the passage of the Marriage Amendment. However, he had previously written, in his own local religious newspaper, that the reasons supporting the Marriage Amendment were theological, biological/spiritual, and pastoral. Clearly, he was then, and still is, articulating religious arguments.

What is the secular evidence about the Marriage Amendment? The secular evidence today is that the greatest threat to marriage, and the well-being and security of children who are born of a marriage, is divorce. Yet there is no request by that Archbishop for a constitutional amendment to prevent divorce.

The secular evidence relating to GLBT marriages or partnerships is that their children do just as well, or even better than, those in broken, single-family, or other marriages. The determining quality is the love, commitment and parenting skills of their parents.

The Catholic Archbishop says that the reality he defends predates religions or governments. It is hard to know what his particular reality is, given the nature of human sexual and family relationships over the ages, ranging from polygamy, to concubinage, to polyandry, to making women the property of their husbands, and even to sexual slavery. Whatever his reality is, today he chooses not to make the secular case for his constitutional amendment to a secular state constitution.

The truth, and the secular case today, is that love and commitment by parents will help children the most. Not a constitutional amendment. Religions may speak to their own congregations, but the primacy of the individual conscience is the essence of the U.S. First Amendment. Because of the First Amendment, religions cannot impose their religious beliefs on others of differing beliefs, unless we all agree (by a majority) on a valid, secular and civil reason for that law. There is no such secular, civil reason for the Marriage Amendment.

Phil Byrne is a retired attorney, active in volunteering, particularly for those groups/activities that have a goal that would fit right in with Catholic Social Teachings, such as helping teach English to adult immigrant learners, and working on housing and the provision of furniture/household goods to those in need of it.

See also the previous PCV posts:
The Marriage Amendment
Addressing the Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage Offered by the Catholic Bishops of Washington State
Homosexual Relationships: Another Look
Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Message to Priests: "The Stakes Could Not Be Higher"
What is “Marriage Itself”?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homosexual Relationships: Another Look

By Bill Hunt

The controversy over the moral status of homosexual relationships is tearing the churches apart. Whole regions of the worldwide Anglican Communion are threatening to withdraw over the ordination of openly gay or lesbian priests and bishops. (i)  Protestant synods have put pastors on trial for having homosexual partners. (ii)  Priests refuse communion to people just for sympathizing with gay Catholics, (iii) and the Vatican has provoked a debate over whether homosexual persons are “intrinsically disordered.” (iv)  The issue of legal recognition of gay marriage crosses denominational lines and causes divisions within congregations.

The main reason that many Christians see homosexual relationships as problematic is that they are sincerely convinced that homosexual activity is gravely immoral. They contend that the biblical condemnation of homosexual activity continues to bind all Christians.

It is important to understand that these Christians are taking a principled stance. Many oppose discrimination against lesbian and gay individuals in secular employment and public accommodations. (v)  However, since they believe that homosexual activity is sinful, they contend that it is not permissible for their leaders to be lesbian or gay. Moreover, since in their eyes homosexual activity is against the natural law, they see secular recognition of gay marriage as destructive to the fabric of society.

What stance should those who support civil rights for lesbian and gay persons, including legal marriage, take? Should they concede that all forms of homosexual activity are immoral but that for the greater good in a pluralistic society gay and lesbian persons should be allowed to enter into same sex unions? Or, should they argue that committed, adult, consensual, loving relationships are holy and good and deserving of societal recognition and church blessing? If the latter, how does one deal with the biblical condemnations?

In my estimation, it comes down to looking at Christian moral teaching, including the teaching in passages from the Bible, in a developmental perspective. This means looking at scriptural passages in their historical and cultural context and taking into account developments in the intervening millennia. It means considering the taken-for-granted presuppositions of the biblical era and examining them in the light of subsequent discoveries. We have to ask why the biblical authors condemned homosexual activity and see if those reasons still apply.

The Biblical Condemnation

Although it is restricted to male homosexual activity, it is important to understand the full force of the biblical condemnation. Leviticus 18.22 states: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Leviticus 20.13 repeats: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

These passages come from the Torah, the core of the Hebrew Bible and thus carry particular authority. Moreover, the prohibition is on a par with each of the Ten Commandments (except for coveting) insofar as it carries the sanction of the death penalty. (vi)

It is true that Christians have set aside many condemnations of the Torah, including some of the Ten Commandments, because they are not repeated in the New Testament. But, that is not the case here. Even though Jesus does not repeat the condemnation (and thus it has no “dominical warrant”), in Romans 1.26-27 St. Paul reiterates the Levitical prohibition: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for this error.” (vii)

In addition to the argument from Scripture, these same Christians appeal to the Church’s natural law tradition. Although no Ecumenical Council ever condemned homosexual activity, they point to great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas (viii) and Dante (ix) who considered it to be “contra naturam.” True, in recent years the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has distinguished between homosexual orientation and activity, (x) but it still condemns the latter.

This approach is summarized in section 2357 of the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” (xi)

Some would say that this settles the issue. The Church can never change. However, there is a similar case where the teaching of the Church has clearly changed - a moral practice widely condemned in the Hebrew Bible, alluded to by Jesus himself in the Gospel of Luke, condemned by an ecumenical council, and banned for more than a millennium as contrary to the natural law. Yet, today the Church approves many forms of this practice. If the Church could change its condemnation on that issue, isn’t it possible, or even likely, that it could at least modify its blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity?

The Example of Usury (xii)

More than a dozen texts from all three parts of the Hebrew Bible (Law, Prophets, and Writings) condemn taking interest on a loan - not just exorbitant rates of interest, but any interest at all. The same Book of Leviticus that condemns male same sex activity also says: “Do not extract interest from your [poor] countryman either in money or in kind . . . You are to lend him neither money at interest nor food at a profit.” (Leviticus 25.36-37) And Exodus 22.25 reads: “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”

In four texts within a few chapters the prophet Ezekiel praises the person who does not take either advance or accrued interest and condemns the one who does so. (18.8, 13, 17; 22.12) The Psalmist states that those “who do not lend money at interest” are among those who shall be admitted to the worshiping congregation. (Psalm 15.5)

For more than a millennium, theologians appealed to Luke 6.35 (“Lend expecting nothing back”) as an indication that Jesus himself condemned usury. (xiii)  Moreover, both the Jewish and the Christian traditions condemned usury as against the natural law. Both St Thomas Aquinas (xiv) and Dante (xv) felt that way. Even the ecumenical Council of Vienne (1312) condemned usury. (xvi)

Why did prophets and theologians, councils and bishops condemn usury for so many centuries? There were three main reasons. First, in an overwhelmingly agrarian society where coinage was scarce, there was a strong bias against merchants and trade. Merchants had a reputation for driving hard bargains and taking advantage of peasants in sales. A merchant was also suspect because while traveling about the countryside he was often away from home at night. Thus, he was unable to guard the virtue of his wife and daughters, as an honorable man should.

Second, ancient Israelites saw charging interest on a loan as taking advantage of a desperately poor person. Interest rates of fifty percent per year were common. (xvii) All too often, borrowing started a spiral of debt leading to the peasant’s loss of his land.

Finally, ancient Israelites understood money to be only an inert indicator of value with no use other than to provide a means of exchange. (xviii) If one lent someone a cow that produced milk, one could charge that person for the use of that cow. But, money didn’t produce anything; it had no use. So, to charge interest was to go against the nature of money and treat it as though it had a use. Hence, the term “usury” and the contention that charging interest was against the natural law.

As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, commerce increased, paper money became much more common, and the attitude toward merchants changed. Cities prospered from trade and commerce, and merchants were often considered benefactors and elected to public office.

Also, it became increasingly evident that money could stand for productive assets like cargo on a sea voyage. A loan with interest could actually help a merchant finance an enterprise or lift a person out of poverty. Money did have uses after all - and good ones. As the awareness of the legitimate uses of money grew, the condemnation of charging any interest changed to the condemnation of charging excessive interest to take advantage of the poor. Hence today, our condemnation of usurious interest on a loan.

The point is that the cultural understanding of money, which lay under the prohibition of charging any interest at all, had changed. With it changed the absolute condemnation of usury in any form and the permission of usury in some forms.

One must ask: Is a similar development going on with respect to homosexual activity? What happens if we delve even deeper into the biblical texts and ask: Why did the biblical authors condemn all forms of homosexual activity?

Another Look: Honor, Reproductivity, and Purity (xix)

Biblical studies over the last century or so have clarified the basic underlying rationale for the condemnation of same sex sexual activity in the context of ancient Israelite society and its core social values.

In the ancient society from which the Bible emerged the supreme value was honor - public esteem enjoyed by a person or group. (xx)   Honor was primarily a male attribute. Ancient biblical society was patriarchal, and it was taken for granted that men were superior to women. Honor was also visible, concrete, and tangible - even spatial. The honorable man controlled all the important enclosures: his city, his home, the wombs of his women, and his own body. A man lost honor or was shamed when someone penetrated these spaces against his will or wrested them from his control.

The second fundamental social value was reproductivity. (xxi)  In contemporary American society parents are proud if their children surpass them in education, wealth, or success. Not so in ancient Israelite society. It was considered shameful for a man to rise above the status of his father. To surpass one’s father was to dishonor one’s father. A man’s role was to reproduce his father by begetting and raising sons to carry on his father's name. He began this project by planting his “seed” in the hopefully fruitful “soil” of his wife’s womb.

The third core value was purity (xxii) (also known as cleanliness or holiness) in the sense of being separate or apart. The leaders of Israel were convinced that idolatry had led to the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BCE) and the subsequent Babylonian Exile. The restored nation, therefore, had to be pure of any trace of idolatry and any practices associated with the idolatrous peoples surrounding them. Images of God or the gods were forbidden, of course, but so were practices thought to be associated with idolatry.

Israelite purity also involved culturally conditioned decisions about what was appropriate. Water creatures should have fins and scales, making crawfish and shrimp unclean. One shouldn’t weave a fabric from two kinds of thread, or sow two kinds of seeds in the same field. Animals with cloven hooves should chew their cud, thus making swine unclean. Blood should stay in its place under the skin, so bloody sores that pierced the skin were impure or unclean.

Likewise males, whether animal or human, should mate with females. Moreover, heterosexual intercourse was considered unnatural in any position other than face to face with the male on top. (This may well be what Paul is referring to in Romans 1.26 when he says: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural . . . .” Almost certainly Paul is not referring to lesbian relationships.)

Given this male-dominated culture of honor, reproductivity, and purity, it is not hard to see why the ancient Israelites condemned same sex sexual activity. For a man to be penetrated by another man was considered a violent invasion of his most personal space. It was a loss of honor because he had been reduced to the status of a woman. Male homosexual activity was also a violation of the value of reproductivity. It made no sense to try to reproduce one’s father by sowing seed in a barren field. Finally, it was unclean or impure because it led to confusion of male and female roles and was associated with the practice of pagans.

Questions Raised by the Behavior of Jesus

Although the gospel writers do not directly refer to homosexual activity, they do present a picture of Jesus that calls into question the cultural presuppositions that led to the biblical prohibition. Let’s take these core social values in reverse order.

The Gospels relate the conflict of Jesus with Jewish authorities over matters of purity or cleanliness. Jesus instructs the disciples who have been sent out two by two to “remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide . . .” (Luke 10. 8) In other words, they were to eat what was put before them and not ask questions about the purity of the food. In John’s Gospel Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink even though “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” (John 4.9) Mark depicts Jesus as healing an impure leper by touching the man. (Mark 1.41) In the eyes of his contemporaries this would have rendered Jesus impure.

In the wake of the successful mission to Israelites in the Diaspora and later to gentiles, most, if not all, of the purity rules were abandoned. Even the prohibitions of the so-called Council of Jerusalem do not seem to have been absolute. (Acts 15.28-29) For example, Paul allows eating food sacrificed to idols. (See 1 Corinthians 8.)

Jesus also radically undermined the value of reproductivity. Nowhere in the canonical Gospels does Jesus mention his earthly father. He abandons his home and his inherited social status as a construction wood worker to become a preacher who moved about from place to place. Jesus is at odds with his extended family (See Mark 6.1-6.), and he instructs his followers to turn their backs on the most sacred family obligations for the sake of the Kingdom. (See, for example, Matthew 8.21-22.) Jesus appears to have been unmarried, or at least to have had no son of his own to carry on his father's name. Nowhere in the Gospels does he encourage his followers to have children.

Jesus undercut the rigid distinction between the sexes that was so much a part of male honor at his time. There were women among his disciples and friends. Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as speaking with unrelated women in public; performing miracles on their behalf; and praising the wisdom of their responses. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection.

In the church that sprang from the ministry of Jesus, women were initiated by the same ritual of baptism as men were; women assumed active leadership roles; and women participated fully in the highest expression of the liturgical/sacramental life of the church - the Eucharist.

The ultimate indication that it was not shameful for a man to act like a woman comes in the story related in John’s Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Washing of feet was a job for a slave. However, ordinary peasants could not afford a slave, so the job fell to the least honorable person in the household, one of the women. (xxiii)  By depicting Jesus as washing his disciples’ feet, John portrays Jesus as deliberately setting aside one of the main tenets of male honor and taking on a distinctly female role – thus demolishing the predominant cultural rationale of his time for the prohibition of male same sex activity.


The biblical condemnation of male same sex sexual activity was based on ancient cultural presumptions of honor, reproductivity, and purity. The ministry and teaching of Jesus radically undercut those presuppositions. Today we no longer take it for granted that men are superior to women, that the main purpose of sexual activity is to beget male children to carry on one’s father’s name, or that all purity rules are mandatory.

What is the status of a moral condemnation when its cultural underpinnings have been removed? Given the “Copernican” revolution in our understanding of human sexuality during the past century, and given the radically changed circumstances of our time, it seems that the blanket condemnation of every kind of homosexual activity goes too far.

Just as over the centuries the Church found a way to distinguish between different kinds of interest-taking, so also it seems that contemporary Christians are in a position to review the condemnation of homosexual activity found in the biblical passages and to distinguish violent, exploitative sexual activities from those that are loving, adult, and free. This enables us to see homosexual relationships in a positive light and even envisage same gender unions blessed by the Church.

William Coughlin Hunt is a witness of the Second Vatican Council, having attended the sessions of the second period (1963) as a peritus (theological expert). He holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America. For ten years he taught a graduate theology course entitled “Christian Perspectives on Biomedical and Sexual Ethics.”

(i) See, for example, “Africans Threaten Split from Anglican Church,” New York Amsterdam News, August 27, 2009.
(ii) See, for example, “Ousted Gay Pastor Leads New Lutheran Church” posted March 29, 2012 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
(iii) See, for example, “Same-sex Marriage Supporters Denied Communion,” Minnesota Public Radio, October 31, 2010.
(iv) See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” October 1, 1986, n.3.
(v) See, for example, Angelo Lopez, “Evangelicals for Gay Rights,” Everyday Citizen, May 16, 2012.
(vi) See Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 404.
(vii) The passages from Leviticus and Romans are the key texts. For a critical analysis of all the biblical texts relating homosexual activity (or thought by some to do so) see John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 91-117.
(viii) Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 154, articles 11 and 12.
(ix) Inferno, especially Cantos 15 and 16.
(x) Loc. cit.
(xi) Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 625.
(xii) On the subject of usury see John T. Noonan, Jr., The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957); idem. A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 127-142. See also Noonan’s perceptive comment on page 212 that for many scholastic moralists usury was “the mirror opposite of sodomy.”
(xiii) See, for example, the letter “Consulit nos” of Pope Urban III (1185-1187) in Henricus Denzinger and Adolfus Schoenmetzer, Eds. Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, Editio XXXIII (New York: Herder, 1965) [=Denzinger, 13th ed.], section 764, page 243, where the Latin version of Luke 6.35 is: “Date mutuum, nihil inde sperantes.”
(xiv) See, for example, Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 78.
(xv) See The Divine Commedy, Hell, Canto 11, lines 94 – 111 and Canto 17 in The Comedy of Dante Alighieri The Florentine, Cantica I Hell (L’inferno) translated by Dorothy L. Sayers (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1949) pp. 136-141; 174-179.
(xvi) See Decree 29, “Ex gravi ad nos,” in Centro di Documentazione Istituto per le Scienze Religiose – Bologna, Ed., Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, (Freiburg: Herder 1962) [COD 1962], 360-361. "If indeed someone has fallen into the error of presuming to affirm pertinaciously that the practice of usury is not sinful, we decree that he is to be punished as a heretic." (David J. Palm Translation. See: See also Canon 25 of Lateran Council III (1179) in COD 1962, 199, and Canon 13 of Lateran Council II (1139) in COD 1962, 176.
(xvii) “The elites used their wealth to make loans to peasant farmers so that the farmers could plant the crops. Interest rates were high; estimates range to 60 percent and perhaps as high as 200 percent for loans on crops. The purpose of making such loans was not so much to make a large profit, at least by the standards of the ancient world, but to accept land as collateral so that the elites could foreclose on their loans in years when the crops could not cover the incurred indebtedness.” William R. Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speach: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 161.
(xviii) “As Aristotle reasoned, coined money had originated as a store of value and a medium of exchange; although coins struck in precious metals had an intrinsic worth, they served chiefly as a standard to make other goods commensurable.” Bruce W. Frier, “Interest and Usury in the Greco-Roman Period” in David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Six Volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992), Volume 3, p. 423b.
(xix) For this threefold scheme I am particularly indebted to Leland J. White, “Does the Bible Speak about Gays or Same-Sex Orientation? A Test Case in Biblical Ethics: Part I,” Biblical Theology Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring 1995), 14-23.
(xx) On honor see, for example, Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Third Edition, Revised and Expanded (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 27-57; Jerome H. Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1998); Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 369-372; and White, op. cit., 16-17.
(xxi) White, op. cit., 17-18.
(xxii) On purity or holiness or cleanliness see White, op. cit., 18-20; Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Third Edition, Revised and Expanded (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 161-197; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume Four: Law and Love (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 342-415; and Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 395-398.
(xxiii) A possible reference to this is found in 1 Timothy 5.9-10 where one of the “good works” that serve as a qualification for putting a widow on the list of Christian workers who serve the community is that she “washed the saints’ feet.” See Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, Editors, The New Oxford Annotated Bible [with the Apocrypha] containing the Old and New Testaments. New Revised Standard Version. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) ad loc. including footnote.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Addressing the Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage Offered by the Catholic Bishops of Washington State

An Open Letter to the Washington State Catholic Conference: Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of the Archdiocese of Seattle; Bishop Blase J. Cupich of the Diocese of Spokane; Bishop Joseph J Tyson of the Diocese of Yakima; and Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Dear Bishops of the State of Washington:

We in Minnesota are facing the same issue you are facing in the state of Washington, with the difference that ours is framed as an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage and yours is framed as a referendum to affirm an action of your legislature. Those framings bring up different sets of questions, but we would like to address with you only the arguments you make.

We realize that you have addressed your people pastorally and that your recent letter is meant to show people a right path in their civic responsibility. We hope that a pastoral purpose does not preclude good reasoning, and we have some questions about that.

You, no doubt, are familiar with the Latin phrase in logical argumentation: Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. What is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied. We wonder if you haven’t drawn conclusions from many assertions that you presume to be true, but for which you have not made persuasive arguments. The position you intend to be reasonable and persuasive can, therefore, be easily dismissed.

1. The purpose of marriage: “Marriage is founded on sexual difference and ordered toward the fulfillment of husband and wife and the procreation and rearing of children. This basic understanding of marriage and family is ‘built in’ to the very nature of man and woman.” Isn’t this a gratuitous assertion? Why does marriage have to be founded on sexual difference and ordered toward procreation? Does civil marriage law require people to declare purposes when they apply for a marriage license? Aren’t there many civil marriages that are contracted for other purposes than the ones you mention? If this essentialist understanding is ‘built in’ to the very nature of man and woman, how is it so many men and women have different understandings? If there is a benefit, other than an economic one, in having the word “marriage” applied to a couple’s union, why should this benefit be denied to same-sex couples? You may believe your assertions about the purpose of marriage, but why should anyone else accept them?

2. Marriage and children: “Civil marriage law exists to promote the best environment for the health, welfare and education of children.” Isn’t this a gratuitous assertion? Where did you get this information about the purpose of civil marriage laws? Is there settled Washington case law that establishes this as the purpose of civil marriage law? May people get married in Washington if they do not intend to have children? May people beyond child-bearing years be married in Washington? If marriage is to benefit children, why exclude the many same-sex couples who are raising the biological children of one of them or the biological children others have put up for adoption? Why can’t state civil marriage laws extend to their benefit, not just economic benefits, but also the honor and prestige that we bestow upon the permanent and faithful bond of love connoted by the word “marriage”?

You assert that because of the state’s recognition of same-sex marriage the “foundational nature of marriage for the good and strength of human society will be harmed beyond repair.” What is the evidence for this assertion? It could be argued that the foundational nature of marriage—whatever that is—could be strengthened by including same-sex permanent and faithful families.

You assert that “social science has established that children do best when raised in homes with married mothers and fathers.” Even if this assertion were backed by evidence, is it a reason to disqualify children who are being raised in the homes of same-sex couples from whatever benefit accrues to the word “marriage” for their parents’ union? Are you saying, “It is not ideal; therefore, it should not be protected by law”? Is the protection of law only for people who live in ideal situations? Who decides what the ideal is? You seem to be on very shaky ground here.

3. Marriage Law and Religious Liberty: Your argument here depends on a right of religious people to discriminate in the name of their beliefs. You deny that it is discrimination, but you want to be able “to promote the unique value of children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers.” It will be hard to convince adopted children and children of single parents that their parental situation is not being held in less esteem than the one being promoted. How can you “promote” anything without distinguishing it from other less desirable alternatives? That is what discrimination means. We don’t think you can have this both ways: if you want to discriminate, you have to admit honestly that you are doing it and that your religious belief requires you to do it. Then you must courageously give up all the economic benefits and the respect that are denied to you by a society that values freedom and equality.

– The Editorial Team of The Progressive Catholic Voice

Michael Bayly
Mary Beckfeld
Paula Ruddy

See also the previous PCV posts:
The Marriage Amendment
Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Message to Priests: "The Stakes Could Not Be Higher"
Why the Catholic Church in America is Divided
What is "Marriage Itself"?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What's a Progressive Catholic?

By Phil Tanny

To me, Progressive Catholicism is grounded in the reality of the Catholic community. Let's explore that reality together.

A Huge Community

To start, a central fact of the Catholic community is that our congregation contains something like a billion members, and is thus one of the largest groups of people on Earth.

A Diverse Community

The next fact we can examine is that as one of the largest groups of human beings, the Catholic community is diverse, containing a rich variety of perspectives.

This diversity is an inevitable condition of human life.

Every ideology, group, club, nation or family etc eventually subdivides in to factions with competing points of view. Even two very close and committted dear friends will not agree on everything, and will sometimes argue.

As part of the rich diversity within the huge Catholic community, some Catholics may wish that this diversity did not exist. This group of Catholics are of course sincere Catholics just like the rest of us. They too are part of the diversity, a fraction of the whole.

However, even the most fervent passion for uniform universal agreement does not change the fact of diversity within the Catholic community, and the human family at large.

After all, even at the Vatican there are factions, and factions within factions. Surely all these factions are Catholic.

And if we look honestly at those sitting around us in Mass, we will come to accept that very few of our fellow Catholics agree exactly on every single issue. And yet they are still sitting next to us in Mass, and are still Catholic, just as we are.

To me, Progressive Catholicism recognizes the fact that diversity within the Church always has been and always will be, and it attempts to deal constructively with this reality of being Catholic.

Dealing Constructively With Diversity

From the Progressive Catholic point of view, at least as defined within myself, the diversity of opinion with the Church is not a problem to be solved, but a gift from God to be embraced.

The fact of diversity within our Catholic community strikes this Catholic as a challenge from God, a test of our faith, and a teaching.

Why this challenge? What's the teaching?

The reality of being human is that humanity at large contains a very wide range of perspectives. The main challenge we face as human beings is to successfully manage all these different ways of being human in a constructive peaceful manner.

We face this challenge for the simple reason that there is exactly zero chance that all these billions of human beings will ever all be persuaded to a single point of view. Diversity, a fact of human life, whether we like it or not.

And so, it seems to me that God is providing we Catholics with a rich diversity of opinion within our own congregation as a training ground. I believe we are being called to learn how to accept, embrace and lovingly manage the diversity within our own Catholic community.

And I believe that only when we succeed at this relatively easy task will we be ready to offer ourselves as role models to the larger and much more diverse human family.

There's Nothing To Fear

We need not fear diversity within the Catholic community so long as each of us declare our allegiance to the single word which lies at the heart of the teachings of Jesus Christ.


A single word.

A single word we can all agree on.

A single word which provides enough work to keep each of us busy for the rest of our lives.

A single, simple, and yet revolutionary word which we can all agree on, and can all act upon, together, as the Catholic community.

A single word.


If we focus on love, if we express this core point of agreement in action, we will be given enough faith in God, and find enough faith in our own faith, to bravely explore the rich diversity which is the Catholic community.

Progressive Catholicism, at least as defined within myself, recognizes the reality of the Church, and embraces it . . .

And has faith that God knows what He's doing.

See also the previous PCV post:
In What Sense Are We Progressive Catholics?