Tag Archives: marriage

Reform Jews Back Gay Marriage, Denounce Cardinal O’Brien

The Reform movement has branded as “inflammatory” an attack on same-sex marriage by one of Britain’s leading Catholic clerics.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, described plans to legalise gay marriage as “madness” and a “grotesque subvesion”.
But Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, movement rabbi for Reform Judaism, said that the cardinal’s comments were “inflammatory and incitement to homophobia which can have grave consequences”.

Jewish women under a Beverley Hills chuppah in 2008 

Reform welcomed the proposed legislation, she said. “A recognition of equality of marriage for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can only strengthen society and the institution of marriage.”
Rabbi Colin Eimer, who chaired a working party on the issue for the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, said: “Religious ceremonies exist in Jewish life for heterosexual couples to express their love, commitment, values and ideals. We believe that homosexual couples should have that same opportunity for a religious ceremony within the sanctity of Jewish community, tradition and practice.”
One commonly heard argument for opposition to equality is that it is an attack on freedom of religion. It is not, as this example and the one below clearly show. It in fact supports religious freedom – freedom for the increasing number of religious groups that wish to minister to all in their congregations, without discrimination.

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Gay Marriage: At London "Catholic Voices" Discussion, Gay Catholics NOT Welcome.

At a Catholic event in London next week,  specifically about Catholics and gay marriage, the people most directly affected – gay Catholics themselves- have been excluded.

In London next week,  “Catholic Voices” is hosting an event to discuss the public communication of the Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage. The advance material for this event made it clear that for security reasons , those wishing to attend needed to RSVP ahead of time, or they would be turned away.

Please note that, due to security policies at Notre Dame, nobody will be admitted who has not RSVP’d to the above email address by the date specified. If you are bringing a guest, you must give us their name and email by then.
-Catholic Voices mailer
However, when I tried to RSVP as instructed, I received a prompt response from the organizer, Austen Ivereigh, stating in effect that I was not welcome. Excluded (and not for security reasons). I have never met Mr Ivereigh, who was presumably responding simply to my name. I soon discovered that two other gay Catholics hoping to attend, had been similarly excluded.
Catholic Voices states that they “began with a single aim: to ensure that Catholics and the Church were well represented in the media when Pope Benedict came to the UK in September 2010”. It is clear from this little kerfuffle that it is emphatically not all Catholics and the Church as a whole that they are aiming to represent, but purely and simply the bishops: not “Catholic” Voice, but “His Master’s Voice”.
And so, we have the curious position that, at a Catholic event specifically about Catholics and gay marriage, the people most directly affected – gay Catholics themselves- are excluded.
This morning, the Guardian has taken up the story:

Gay Catholics in partnerships have in effect been barred from an event about gay marriage, after organisers said it was aimed at developing “communication of church teaching” rather than debating it.

Catholic Voices, which was set up to train ordinary parishioners for media appearances, is holding an event next week called Gay Marriage and the Common Good. But it has informed those with diverging views they are not welcome.
In an email exchange, organiser Austen Ivereigh asks Martin Pendergast, a gay man who is in a civil partnership and wishes to attend: “What is your position on gay marriage? Are you in favour? I ask because CV [Catholic Voices] Academy is not a debating chamber but a means for developing the communication of the church’s settled positions; and both Rome and the bishops are firmly and publicly against gay marriage.
“Therefore, if your purpose is to put an opposing point of view, this is not the appropriate forum.”
In fact, as Martin made clear in his email exchange, his interest in attending was not to put an opposing point of view. Although in a civil partnership himself, he does not want that to become a legal marriage (as he has noted in a comment here at QTC), and is not a supporter of gay marriage. But no matter – he remains persona emphatically non grata at Catholic Voices.
I am personally in favour of legal recognition of civil marriages without discrimination, and believe that there is a real need for rational discussion of this, and of liturgical recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions in church. The problem is that when the popular presentation of the bishops’  opposition is made using the ridiculous arguments that have been presented thus far, it becomes all too easy for the opponents of the Catholic church to make us into a public laughing stock, and for gay and lesbian Catholics to simply walk away from the Church in despair.
My interest in attending was not to oppose teaching (not at this event), but to suggest rather that we need to consider the bishops’ teaching against the broader background of the Church’s full teaching, including other considerations. Otherwise, there is a real risk of the bishops and their loyalists simply shooting the Church in the foot, as I explained to the Guardian:

 “I wanted to go and say: how are we going to promote the full teaching of the church? They are only interested in developing the communication of one part. There is another part that says gay people should be treated with respect, dignity and understanding. If you’re going to promote this narrow perspective, people will use it as a weapon against the church.”
“Understanding” another is not possible without active listening. There is not nearly enough listening by Catholic bishops to the voices of LGBT Catholics – and similarly not by “Catholic” Voice.
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Pope Benedict’s Strong Argument for Gay Marriage, Queer Families.

Last Sunday, I picked up a little book at the Soho Masses bookstall called “Christians and Sexuality in the Time of AIDS“, a useful little book, which I bought at a ridiculously low bargain price. Some of the insights have little to do directly with the main theme, and it is one of these that is relevant here, an observation made by James Alison in his introduction, writing about Pope Benedict XVI and the nature of his theology.  James has frequently observed that when we respond too quickly or too superficially to the pope’s reported remarks, we often underestimate his thinking, which is substantially more nuanced than we usually recognize. In his position, he argues, Benedict cannot do other than repeat the well-worn, established magisterial positions on topical issues.

The really interesting questions surrounding what a pope is doing are never the politically immediate headline grabbers, but always the small, apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges which are either going to make change possible over time, or try to block it.
When I read these words, they brought into focus for me the speech that Benedict  gave to a group of Italian politicians and public officials last Friday, which has been widely interpreted as an attack on gay marriage. This is not the way I interpreted the speech: instead, I wrote (in the post below) that the reference to “marriage between a man and a woman”, and to the forces undermining it, were curiously minor. The main thrust of the speech was more usefully seen as in praise of strong families – which could equally well apply to the families of same sex parents as to any other.   After reading James Alison, I thought how perfectly his warning applies to the present case: well, of course he made the obligatory noises about marriage between a man and a woman (how could he not?) – but the headline writers have missed the main points. With just a little “apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges”, this attack on gay marriage can instead be read as a statement in praise of all families – including those which are queer. 
I submit my original post below, just as I wrote it Sunday — with profound apologies to my colleague Bart, who very generously responded to my request for preliminary comment with some very useful and helpful suggestions, which I have duly ignored. This is not in any way a reflection on his contribution – but just on my acute lack of time this week.  (I am writing this close to midnight, as it is). I will revise and refine this text later, to incorporate the additional links, Bart’s contribution – and possibly later thought as well (both my own and that of readers’ comments).

No, Pope Benedict didn’t come right out and say he supports gay marriage and adoption – nor did he even intend to imply it (quite the reverse). As usual, many headline writers will have a field day stating unequivocally that he has opposed same sex marriage. EWTN, for instance has a headline proclaiming that

Push for same-sex ‘marriage’ perverts essence and goal of family, says Pope

and continues:

As efforts to legalize same-sex “marriage” proceed in the United States and countries around the world, Pope Benedict issued strong remarks on Jan. 14, saying that gay “marriage” perverts the “essence and goal of the family.”  
Addressing officials from the city of Rome and the Italian region of Lazio, Pope Benedict said that legislation and policies that promote same-sex unions end up “penalizing” heterosexual couples,  “who, not without effort, seek to maintain stable emotional ties which are juridically guaranteed and publicly recognized.”
In fact, he did not say explicitly anything of the sort, although it was the superficial implication. To get to the real significance of the words, we need to get to what he said, not just to what was reported. A close reading of his actual words shows that indirectly, he has contributed to the case in favour.

Thee are the key passages:

the Pope noted how “it is in the family that children learn the human and Christian values which enable constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that we learn solidarity between generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and acceptance of others”. In this context he also noted how “the family must, then, be supported by policies … which aim at its consolidation and development, accompanied by appropriate educational efforts”.
the Church looks with favour upon all initiatives which seek to educate young people to experience love as a giving of self, with an exalted and oblational view of sexuality. To this end the various components of society must agree on the objectives of education, in order for human love not to be reduced to an article of consumption, but to be seen and lived as a fundamental experience which gives existence meaning and a goal”.

How is this an attack on gay marriage? Well, to be fair, I have so far omitted two key statements of Benedict:

on the subject of the family, which he described as the “the primary cell of society, … founded on marriage between a man and a woman”,
“The approval of forms of union which pervert the essence and goal of the family ends up penalising those people who, not without effort, seek to maintain stable emotional ties which are juridically guaranteed and publicly recognised.

So, the reasoning goes, society is founded on strong families, which spring from marriage between a man and a woman, and that other forms of union pervert the goal and essence of the family, and so must be opposed. This appears to be a case against same sex marriage, but to accept the conclusion, we must also accept all the premises – some of which are patently false. But note how the reference to “a man and a woman” is almost a throwaway line. The bit about other forms of union “penalizing” those who seek to maintain stable emotional ties appears highly offensive and unjustified, unsubstantiated – but wait: are the “other forms of union” necessarily marriages of same-sex couples? Could they not also refer to heterosexual cohabitation, or to conventional civil marriage? And those who seek to maintain stable emotional ties: could they not include some who happen to be of the same sex? Do not we too, aim to maintain stable ties for the good of our children, and wish to have them strengthened by judicial, public (and ecclesiastical) approval?
I accept without reservation that always and everywhere, strong societies have depended on strong families. However, it is simply not true that these are necessarily founded on marriage  between “a man and a woman”. That is the primary model in the modern West, but it has not always been so. In earlier times, and in many non-Western societies still, family structures take on a bewildering variety of forms. Polygamous marriages between a man and several women are the best known, but many others are known – including same sex marriages (in classical times and traditional cultures as well as the modern variety), extended families, and gender separated social structures, with young boys and men living separately from the females, and boys receiving their first sexual experiences from older males.  When Benedict says that marriage is between a man and a woman, he is stating a social pattern from a single culture (albeit a dominant one), not a fundamental, inviolable rule. Even in Western Europe and associated cultures, forms of marriage have evolved constantly over the centuries, and will no doubt continue to evolve.
Continuing the assumption that Benedict’s statements make a case against marriage for same sex couples, we need to accept also that other forms of union for such couples pervert the essence and goal of the family. Do they?  Apart from the false assumption that the essence of the family includes marriage between a man and a woman, he does not spell out quite what this essence is, but from his observations about children, I assume that he is thinking of marriage as an institution in which two adults give each other in mutual love and support, for the purpose of raising children. Does this exclude other forms of union?
The orthodox Catholic view of course, is unequivocally “yes”, because it is obsessed with homosexual acts, which it sees as nothing more than indulgent self-gratification, and is completely blind to the reality of peoples lives, in which same – sex couples are as capable of mutual self-giving in loving commitment as any others. (This was confirmed in recent neurological research, which showed that brain responses of research subjects to their loved partners were essentially the same, irrespective of the gender variations of the couples). There is also an assumption in the orthodox reasoning that same – sex couples are somehow unsuited to raising children. This is hogwash. Adoption and child welfare professionals overwhelmingly agree, and empirical research confirms, that the crucial factor in the quality of childrearing is the quality of the love, not the gender or orientation of the parents. In a recent interview, one noted adoption expert put it succinctly. Those who argue that gay men or lesbians are unsuited to parenthood are either ignorant, or homophobic.
We are repeatedly told by the opponents of gay marriage and gay adoption that the interests of the children must come first. Well, quite. In matters of adoption, the professionals tell us, the beneficiaries of gay adoption are the children. But queer people do not becomes parents only by adoption. Many (like myself) are parents by traditional means. Here, I want to introduce the view of my daughter Robynn, taken from her post on the subject here at QTC:

I was raised mainly by my mother. However, I spent a lot of time (including one full year as a teenager) with my father and his then partner, Bruce, with whom he shared an 18-year relationship. I consider myself entirely unscarred by the experience. In fact, to confirm Dad’s report, I do feel that I was privileged to be part of this unusual family.
It’s hard to explain why, without sounding terribly patronising – not my intention. But in high school, particularly, I was very aware of having a different perspective to my peers. I enjoyed this and I believe it was very valuable in forming my worldview, a view perhaps less limited than that of many suburban kids. My family was unusual, but stable, and very supportive. Gay parents: I recommend them.
(Follow the link for her full post).
So the facts of gay families do not support, but completely contradict the assumptions in Benedict’s thesis that permitting same sex marriage will undermine society. This is the first part of my conclusion that Benedict’s observations on family make a case for, not against, gay marriage. It’s in the best interests of the children, and by supporting the moral formation and education of children, will strengthen society. 
There is another strand to the argument which also follows from his observations. To see this, we first need to step back. In the Garden of Eden, we read in Genesis 2, the Lord saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and so he made for him a companion: “I will make him a helper as his partner” (2:18 NRSV). In the 3rd century, Augustine agreed, and described two of the three goods of marriage as the mutual help and support given to each other by the spouses, and the sacramental value that this represented, as reflecting the marriage between God and God’s people. Much later, Aquinas said much the same thing. In the twentieth century, Pope Pius XI and then Vatican II confirmed that procreation is not the only, nor even the primary reason for marriage: the benefits of marriage are explicitly stated not to form a hierarchy of value. This is confirmed in practice by the encouragement of the early church of virginity even within marriage, and in modern times by the  obvious willingness of the church to celebrate marriages of the elderly or sterile, for whom reproduction is impossible.
Mutual love and support – essential human needs of us all, and especially as we grow old and infirm, which the orthodox rules would exclude for gay men and lesbians by denying them the possibility of marriage (even the strictly orthodox Catholics no longer recommend that we should enter heterosexual marriage. It may even be grounds for annulment of a marriage that has been contracted).
In the same audience in which Pope Benedict spoke about the importance of family, he also spoke about other social issues, including the plight of the elderly:
Benedict XVI then went on to explain how
“the ageing population raises new problems. … Although many old people can reply on the support and care of their own families, growing numbers are alone and have need of medical and healthcare assistance”. In this context he also expressed his joy at the collaboration that exists “with the great Catholic healthcare institutions such as, for example, in the field of paediatrics, the ‘Bambino Gesu’ hospital. I hope these structures may continue to collaborate with local organisations in order to guarantee their services to everyone who needs them, at the same time renewing my call to promote a culture of respect for life until its natural end”.
He has noted here the “problem” that growing numbers of people are facing the difficulties of ageing alone, without the benefit of family. Can he not see that he is exacerbating that problem by depriving gay men and lesbians of the possibility of marriage and family?
So it is that I conclude: although the orthodox Catholic commentariat will rejoice at Pope Benedict’s apparent attack on same sex marriage, I welcome his actual words. He will not have intended it, but he has in fact made a strong case in favour of gay marriage and gay adoption. They are  in the interests of the children and strengthens families – and so will help to support the elderly in their time of need.

Queer families: they strengthen society.

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Gay Adoption, Gay Marriage as Moral Obligations: Two Jewish Views (and one Christian)

Here’s a refreshing change: instead of the spurious, religious arguments against gay adoption and gay marriage, two more voices (this time, from Jewish perspectives)  speaking out on the positive faith-based reasons in favour of each.
In the first of these, at the Jerusalem Post, the orthodox Rabbi, television host and author of religious books on relationships Shmuley Boteach argues strongly in favour of gay adoption. Last month, he participated with Rosie O’Donnell in a New Jersey public discussion on the subject. In an article published before this event, he reflected on these issues, and especially on an aspect that I see as the most important of all. When a friend he spoke to expressed regret that Rosie’s four adopted children would never have a father (the standard, theoretical argument against gay adoption), Rabbi Shmuley replied with the obvious and important, reality-based response:
that without Rosie they wouldn’t have a mother either.

Gay Couple with child

The simple, obvious truth is that a child needs parents – period. Two are (usually) better than one, but one is better than none. There is no evidence that two opposite sex parents as a class are necessarily any better than two same sex parents – but even if such evidence did exist, it would be irrelevant, for children are not adopted by a collective class of parents, of any orientation. They area adopted by specific, real people. It is the personal qualities of those particular individuals, not those of a group average, that what matter. Some prospective parents, gay or straight, will make have the qualities to make terrific parents. Others will not.

Rabbi Shmuley goes on to observe that in Jewish tradition, there is no higher moral good than in giving a home to a child that otherwise would have none. Instead of opposing same sex couples (or single gay men or lesbians) who are prepared to make the enormous sacrifices that are required in doing so, straight couples should be commending them. And if they persist in their opposition, the obvious next question is, if you will not approve others adopting, are you willing to make these sacrifices yourself?
But to my fellow straight people I offer the following challenge. You have every right to oppose gay marriage. It’s a free country. We don’t suppress opinions. But aren’t you under a moral obligation to adopt the children in their stead? Surely leaving kids to drown without love is deeply immoral. But to stop others from rescuing them is an abomination.
I am the father of nine children, thank G-d. I have at times discussed with my wife the possibility of adopting a child. Every child is a child of G-d, not only our biological children. They should have a home and we should offer it. But my conversations have never gone past just that, conversations. I stand in awe of all those who actually do it. In my religion, Judaism, there is no higher mitzvah, G-dly deed, than raising a child with no parents as your own. This is G-d’s child and really He should have made provisions for him. But the Creator chooses, for reasons unknown to us, to hide behind the veil of nature and it is we humans who must fill in the seemingly empty spaces. Those who adopt are society’s and religion’s greatest heroes.

Please note, here, the deliberate use of that much maligned word “abomination”. For it is not “homosexuality” that is an abomination, but

leaving a child to grow up in an orphanage where nobody wants him might be an even greater act of sacrilege.

Rabbi Shhmuley here is approaching the issue from a specifically Jewish perspective, with Jewish vocabulary. The essence of the argument though is equally valid for any other faith. (Indeed, it is essentially the same argument that was presented some months ago by a Catholic lesbian adoptive mother. In response to Archbishop Chaput’s exclusion from a Catholic school of some children with two mothers,  I reported on a lesbian Catholic mother who had written at dot Commonweal that it was precisely because of her strong Catholic faith and commitment to Catholic theology, with its emphasis on support for the poor and needy and encouragement of adoption of orphans, that had led her to adopt her children.)

Meanwhile, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weintraub has contributed to what she calls a “welcome dialogue” in the Jewish Standard on the subject of gay marriage. As a sponsor of the unsuccessful state legislation last year to approve legal recognition for marriage equality, she engaged in serious discussion with orthodox religious leaders on the bill – which was quite specifically named, and intended as, religious freedom as much as it was about marriage equality. While she acknowledged that some orthodox Jews (on religious grounds) were strongly against same sex marriage, others have a different view:
In crafting the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act legislation, I was compelled to wonder why should the Rabbi leading the congregation to which I belong be prevented from legally sanctioning same gender marriages if he feels they fit into our Jewish religious beliefs, values and commitment to building family?  Any religious group in our country is entitled to practice their beliefs and to not be compelled to do anything they find in contradiction within their houses of worship.
Legislatively, I know we respect these differences. Personally, I know I respect the differences within my own Jewish community. But it is sad and hurtful when those differences cause pain and isolation to other members of our community.   Without this conversation we will be contributing to that isolation and pain which has led to the high rate of suicide among gay youth in our nation and in our state.
I know that most of our Orthodox Rabbis and some of our political leaders believe that same sex unions are against G-d’s law.  But I also know that many others believe that we are born into our sexual identity and that love and commitment to another human being should be cherished, not isolated.  That making a public commitment to another person should be celebrated and enjoyed on our simcha pages.  I look forward to these differences being acknowledged, but most important accepted, so that we can live comfortably within our religious institutions while recognizing who each of us really is as a distinct human being.
This divergence of the Jewish religious views on marriage is also evident in the Christian churches. (It is the argument that the British Quakers used in arguing for the removal of the restrictions in the UK Civil Partnerships on conducting the procedures in religious premises or with religious language.  The Quakers argued that the established legal principle of religious freedom should mean that they should not be prevented by other denominations beliefs against same sex marriages, from conducting marriages that did not conflict with their own beliefs).

Writing in the Huffington Post, the pastor Candace Chellew-Hodge has yet another religious based argument in favour of gay marriage. She says, let gay people rehabilitate marriage:

perhaps gays and lesbians can be the savior for marriage. Just as many old neighborhoods in my hometown of Atlanta were saved by gays and lesbians buying dilapidated houses and renovating them, why can’t gays and lesbians rehab marriage?
Gays and lesbians are clamoring for the right to get married. Obviously, within our community the idea of “’til death do us part” is not a hackneyed phrase or something to be avoided at all costs. We want to walk down the aisle and have our happily ever after. For those gays and lesbians who agree … that marriage is “an institution central to human happiness and flourishing,” we want the ability to flourish together as married couples, and yes, even to raise children together.
The early discussions on gay marriage and LGBT equality mostly pitted “religious” arguments against, matched with secular “civil rights” arguments in favour. This is usually as sterile debate, with the two sides simply speaking past each other. As the public discourse has progressed, it is becoming clear that secular opinion has largely been settled in support, especially among young people, whose support is overwhelming. Simultaneously, the traditional “religious” sentiment against is fragmenting, with increasingly vocal voices speaking up in support of the religious arguments in favour. This greater visibility of the disagreements between people of faith is important: as both Senator Weintraub and the British Quakers have observed, the principle of religious freedom makes it difficult for those who opposed to queer equality to impose their religious views on those of other faiths, whose own religious beliefs lead them to a different conclusion.

The religious arguments for maintaining legal restrictions on equality then become simply indefensible. They will have to go – as they surely will do.

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DC Bishop’s Christian Case for Gay Marriage.

In the ongoing brouhaha in DC over the forthcoming recognition of same gender marriages, with the rather odd position of the Catholic archdiocese that this will somehow force them to either become ineligible for the city’s contracts, or to compromise on their religious principles, it is great to see one bishop arguing from Christian principles and history that the archdiocese is, quite simply, dead wrong. The bishop in question is of the Episcopal  Diocese of Washington DC, John Bryson Chane (pictured below), who has a powerful commentary in the Washington Post.
Bishop John Chane of Washington
Here are some extracts, followed by my commentary:

A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage

Most media coverage of the D.C. Council’s steps toward civil marriage equality for same-sex couples has followed a worn-out script that gives the role of speaking for God to clergy who are opposed to equality. As the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, I would say respectfully to my fellow Christians that people who deny others the blessings they claim for themselves should not assume they speak for the Almighty.

(Hear, hear!)

And to journalists I would offer a short history of changing Christian understandings of the institution of marriage.

Christians have always argued about marriage. Jesus criticized the Mosaic law on divorce, saying “What God has joined together let no man separate.” But we don’t see clergy demanding that the city council make divorce illegal.

(The inconsistency, and differential treatment of gay and other noncomforming Catholics, is breathtaking)

Some conservative Christian leaders claim that their understanding of marriage is central to Christian teaching. How do they square that claim with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that marriage is an inferior state, one reserved for people who are not able to stay singly celibate and resist the temptation to fornication?
As historian Stephanie Coontz points out, the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215. The church embraced many of the assumptions of the patriarchal culture, in which women and marriageable children were assets to be controlled and exploited to the advantage of the man who headed their household.
To see just how far this understanding has changed, note alongside the statement that “the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215”, John Boswell’s observation (in Same – sex Inions in Pre-Modern Europe) that for many centuries during this same period, the only people for whom it was required to consecrate their marriage in church, were the priests.

The theology of marriage was heavily influenced by economic and legal considerations; it emphasized procreation, and spoke only secondarily of the “mutual consolation of the spouses.”
In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the relationship of the spouses assumed new importance, as the church came to understand that marriage was a profoundly spiritual relationship in which partners experienced, through mutual affection and self-sacrifice, the unconditional love of God.

“In the 19th and 20th centuries”. That is the full extent of the time that our modern understanding of the institution of marriage has been dominant!  So-called “traditional” marriage is a modern invention.

The Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: “We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.”
Our evolving understanding of what marriage is leads, of necessity, to a re-examination of who it is for. Most Christian denominations no longer teach that all sex acts must be open to the possibility of procreation, and therefore contraception is permitted. Nor do they hold that infertility precludes marriage. The church has deepened its understanding of the way in which faithful couples experience and embody the love of the creator for creation. In so doing, it has put itself in a position to consider whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
Theologically, therefore, Christian support for same-sex marriage is not a dramatic break with tradition, but a recognition that the church’s understanding of marriage has changed dramatically over 2,000 years.
I have been addressing the sound theological foundation for a new religious understanding of marriage, because it disturbs me greatly to see opposition to marriage for same-sex couples portrayed as the only genuinely religious or Christian position. I am somewhat awed by the breadth of religious belief and life experience reflected among more than 200 clergy colleagues who are publicly supporting marriage equality in D.C. But it’s important to emphasize that the actions taken by the D.C. Council do not address the religious meaning of marriage at all. The proposed legislation would not force any congregation to change its religious teachings or bless any couple. Our current laws do not force any denomination to offer religious blessing to second marriages, yet those marriages, like interfaith marriages, are equal in the sight of the law even though some churches do not consider them religiously valid.
Existing laws require religious organizations that receive public funding to extend the same benefits to gay employees as to straight ones. In many instances, that includes health care for spouses. This has led some religious leaders, who believe same-sex marriage to be sinful, to threaten to get out of the social service business. I respect these individuals’ right to their convictions, but I do not follow their logic. The Catholic Church, for instance, teaches that remarriage without an annulment is sinful, yet it has not campaigned against extending health benefits to such couples. Additionally, several Catholic dioceses in states that permit same-sex marriage have found a way to accommodate themselves to such laws.
D.C.’s proposed marriage equality law explicitly protects the religious liberty of those who believe that God’s love can be reflected in the loving commitment between two people of the same sex and of those who do not find God there. This is as it should be in a society so deeply rooted in the principles of religious freedom and equality under the law.

And Amen to that.

I love what professor Christine Gudorf, a lay theologian and an internationally known scholar teaching at The International University in Miami, calls a “bracing walk in history” to make sense of the contradictions and nonsense often encountered in modern discussion of religion, especially Catholic religion. Far too much of what passes for “comment” simply amounts to tired repetition of  old mantras about blind obedience to the “authoritative” teaching of Holy Mother Church, with the associated assumptions that this has been fixed and unchanging over 200 years.   Any tour through history, even just a cursory stroll, shows how obviously false that assumption is.  Teaching has constantly changed, has seldom been uniform, has often been wrong, and will surely continue to change, just as it is in fact constantly changing imperceptibly under our nose right now. These changes have affected not only our understanding of marriage and sexuality, but also of the nature of authority itself, on teh importance, power and role of the papacy, on priestly celibacy, on the role of the laity, on lay access to Scripture and theology, and to the well – known examples of usury, slavery, the subjugation of women, and to the findings of science.  as I noted when I first wrote encountered and wrote about Professor Gudof’s useful phrase, this change through history has affected even the subject of abortion, on which the church position today appears so clear and solid. Just as teaching has evolved steadily over the centuries, we should expect that it will continue to evolve over the years to come.

One of the ways in which this process of change comes about, is through ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit, by reflection on the reality we see around us, by reading the signs of the times, and by taking account of the findings of modern science and new scholarship. We should note therefore the strong research evidence that much of the less savoury aspects of the popular stereotype of the so-called “gay life-style” are a result of social stigma and the impossibility of socially recognised unions. Modern evidence from Netherlands, where full marriage has been available for some years, is that same sex partnerships have become more stable and more faithful since then. Boswell also notes that in the classical world where gay marriage was legal and gay partnerships commonplace, that many people believed that such partnerships were more faithful and deeper in affection than conventional, opposite gender marriages. The conclusion is obvious. In addition to the theological points raised by Bishop Chane, there is a simple, practical one. To reduce the unsavoury “gay lifestyle”, work for gay marriage.

(Read the full commentary at the Wild Reed, , where I first saw it reported,  or at the  Washington Post. )

See also:

Recommended Books:

Bray, Alan: The Friend

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"Adultery", and the Problem of Heterosexuality, Revisited

My recent post, “The Problem Of Heterosexuality“, has drawn a comment from my reader David, who refers to the desire of the pope and bishops to protect the sanctity of sacramental marriage. In his response, he raises two important questions. The first, I think goes right to the heart of the matter:
“..how can the beauty and sacredness of the sexual relationship within the context of marriage, and the ability to produce children be promoted, and sex outside of a sacramental relationship be promoted without appearing to judge those outside of the relationship?”
How, indeed? Orthodox Catholic doctrine simply avoids this challenge entirely by falling into the binary trap of insisting that “sacramental marriage+ children = good” implies that “any other erotic relationships = bad”, which is a complete logical fallacy. The problem is that this simplistic thinking is not based on Scripture, which in fact contradicts it, as does the practice and teaching of the Church in history.

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I have absolutely no quarrel with the value of sacramental marriage, with children. My own mother (“Doreen Weldon, RIP“) lived within just such a sacramental marriage with my father, in full accordance with the Catechism, and bore and raised seven children in defiance of severe warnings of her medical advisers. Not one of us would have wished the family any smaller. However, none of us has followed her in this strict observance either. My objection is to the idea that all alternative models of sexual behaviour must necessarily be rejected, ranging from occasional adolescent masturbation to full scale adult philandering, under the catch-all commandment on adultery.
As David puts it,
“On the other hand, unbridled sex is clearly a societal and moral problem. In fact, unbridled sex was undoubtedly one of the bases for the commandment not to commit adultery. Don’t lie, cheat, steal, and covet are still solid commands. Why does it seem that don’t commit adultery has become a debatable commandment?”
This is where the confusion begins – by extending a clear commandment much further than its original ambit.
I am not remotely suggesting that we should condone either adultery or unbridled sexual appetites. Just like other appetites which are important in sustaining our physical health but need to be exercised in moderation, at appropriate times, and in suitable places, the sexual drive is a natural human appetite which when used correctly, fosters physical as well as mental and emotional health: but it also needs to be restricted to use which is moderate and appropriate. The challenge is to locate exactly where that lies.
In biblical usage, “adultery” emphatically did not mean no sex at all outside sacramental marriage. In Jewish law, if referred only to sex with another man’s wife – a crime of property. It did not apply to sex between an unmarried woman and a married man – Hebrew patriarchs freely kept concubines as well as multiple wives, and were also free to have sex with slaves or prostitutes. Nor did it apply to sex between unmarried persons, although sex with an unmarried virgin was taboo, as a crime against her father, as it would reduce her value in the marriage stakes. There is nothing at all in the Jewish bible to restrict a young man from having sex, as long as he could find a partner who was not married, an unmarried virgin, or restricted by incest. Divorced women, prostitutes, or slaves were accessible to him sexually without restriction of the commandment.
The bible as a whole not only does not exclude sex outside procreation, it even celebrates it. The Song of Songs is an extended biblical elegy to the joys of sheer erotic, physical love between two people, with not even a suggestion that they are married, let alone intent on producing off-spring.
In the Gospels, Christ too has remarkably little to say on sexual matters, beyond a few words on adultery and divorce. He most certainly said nothing at all against sex between unmarried persons. Paul did write about sexual matters, but has frequently been misrepresented. (However, I am less familiar with Paul than I should be, and reserve comment for now.)
In Christian history, the emphasis on sacramental marriage is a relatively modern development. The earliest Church fathers did not even mention masturbation. For many centuries, there was not even a requirement for lay people to marry in church. Marriage was primarily a civil matter for the wealthy, in order to protect inheritance rights and confer legitimacy on any children. Even the prohibition on contraception and abortion was not always of concern to the early Church fathers. (One pope in his earlier career wrote a medical treatise recommending the best methods of both, as well as recipes for making aphrodisiacs.) The restriction on all sex outside of marriage was so flexible that at times the Church even promoted the founding of brothels, so that unmarried men could have sexual outlets without contravening the Old Testament prohibitions on relations with other men’s wives or daughters. The sexual appetites and foibles of several popes and cardinals through history are legendary. The indications are that even today, a sizeable proportion of the cardinals and bishops, just as ordinary priests, do not keep scrupulously to their vows of celibacy. As these are obviously not married, any sexual practices are obviously outside the bounds of sacramental marriage. For those clergy who do avoid sex with others, its a fair bet that many resort to masturbation to avoid more serious temptation – again, contravening formal teaching.
Within sacramental marriage, the emphasis on procreation has also been distorted, both to the detriment of the unitive value of sexual love, and to the detriment of some children. The obsession with procreation led Pope Paul VI to reject the findings of his own expert advisors, and to insist in Humanae Vitae that all sex must be open to procreation – while inconsistently conceding that “natural” contraception was acceptable.
Why do I say that this is may be detrimental to children? First, by the obvious consequences of avoiding reliable contraception, there will be many unplanned pregnancies, not all of them within marriage. Further, Salzmann and Lawler (in “The Sexual Person”) make an important point I have not seen elsewhere. “Procreation” means more than the simple biological production of offspring. It also implies their subsequent care and nurturing. Some of the children from unplanned pregnancies will indeed be raised with love and care, by their biological parents or adoptive ones, but not all will be so fortunate. In some cases, children will be deprived of suitable nurturing homes by the inexcusable hostility of Catholic bishops to any possibility of gay or lesbian adoption, in spite of abundant evidence, even from their own experts, that gay parents as a group are just as good at parenting as any other – and specific individuals will be superb parents. (My own daughters certainly think so.)
The obsession with sex as procreation is sometimes even detrimental to marriage itself. In the words of one comment to Andrew Sullivan’s post on masturbation, anxiety to exercise human sexuality only within church teaching, some young couples may rush into inappropriate, unsuitable early marriages. (This was certainly true in my own life. I do not believe that I was in any way unique in this.) Bad marriages are an obvious leading cause of divorce – and even the Catholic church recognizes that in some cases, these unsuitable marriages may have grounds for annulment.
So, let me now recap:
I fully accept the value of sacramental marriage, with children. I respect the interest of the Church in recommending and protecting it. However, I reject the idea that protecting one form of relationship means excluding all other erotic activity.
I do not endorse either unbridled sexual activity, nor adultery. However:
  • Married couples who choose contraception to avoid unwanted children, either for financial reasons or out of respect for the planet and fear of a population explosion, are not committing adultery, but are condemned by the Catechism.
  • Married couples who use condoms to reduce the risk of transmitting the HIV virus from one partner to the other, are not committing adultery, but are condemned by the Catechism.
  • Loving and committed young adults who express their love sexually prior to marriage, are not committing adultery, but are condemned by the Catechism.
  • Those who have neither spouses nor loving partners and practice masturbation, are not committing adultery, but are condemned by the Catechism.
  • Same sex couples in committed, loving relationships but denied the possibility of formal marriage, are also not committing adultery, but are condemned by the Catechism.
This discussion with a post on the “Problem of Adultery”. Here then, is a summary of that problem.
In extolling the virtues of marriage, with children, orthodox Catholic doctrine outlaws a wide range of practices which were accepted or even recommended in Scripture and in early Christian history, as they are today by the vast majority of ordinary Catholics and many clergy. Yet the public rhetoric about “protecting marriage” selectively picks out for public condemnation, discrimination, and even violence only those whose contraventions of the Catechism are publicly visible – those with the courage and honesty to live in open same sex relationships. All those whose departures from orthodoxy can be more discreetly hidden, are simply ignored.
The search for a sound sexual ethic is an important one, precisely because “unbridled sexuality” is unhealthy (I believe) for both the individual and for society. However, the simplistic approach of the Catechism is not helpful, and simply serves to bring Catholic ethics into disrepute, as does a simplistic dismissal of all unapproved sexual activity as “adultery”.
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Church Idiocy in Minnesota.

Dunces and Scholars: Which Cap Fits Archbishop Nienstedt?
I’ve been wanting to write about the misdirected Catholic expenditure, by the Knights of Columbus and now by the diocese of Minneapolis St Paul, to fight gay marriage. Michael J. Bayly (who is right there in the Twin Cities) at The Wild Reed has correctly called the Minnesota campaign a scandal:

Perhaps, like me, you’re curious as to whether or not the DVD at the center of this expensive campaign explains just how preventing gay civil marriage reflects the Gospel mandate to minister to the least among us. And what was it again Jesus said about homosexuality and gay marriage? Oh, that’s right, absolutely nothing! (He did, of course, mention marriage and his words have been used by some to denounce same-sex marriage. For my take on this, see my 2009 Solidarity Sunday homily, Liberated to Be Together.)
And yet at this time when thousands of Minnesotans are suffering as the result of the economic down turn, and Catholic schools and parishes are threatened with closure, the local clerical leadership sees fit to spend a considerable amount of money on urging Catholics to support discrimination against a minority group in civil society. Yes, it’s a scandal.
And as for the argument that the bishops’ are simply doing their job and educating Catholics on what “the church” teaches about homosexuality and same-sex relationships, I can only say that I’m tired of the clerical leadership’s impoverished understanding of human sexuality being passed off as “Catholic belief” when clearly many of the teachings that comprise this closed-circuit belief system (be they concerned with contraception, masturbation, homosexuality, or the meaning and purpose of sex) have simply not been received and thus accepted by the faithful. We don’t believe what these teachings say. They need to be revisited, revised and updated in the light of science and human experience. Catholic thinking and teaching have changed around moral issues such as usury, slavery, nuclear arms, and labor standards. Our tradition is open, in other words, to its teachings being shaped by historical and scientific knowledge. Why should our understanding of sexuality be immune from such an openness, from such ongoing development? Why is the church’s clerical leadership so adamantly opposed to teachings on sexuality and sexual morality being shaped by new insights? Why is a historically conscious approach to some moral issues permitted but an absolutist approach to others strictly enforced? Such inconsistencies comprise yet another scandal, especially given their implications for the intellectual standing of the church and for ordinary Catholics trying to live lives of integrity.
(Michael has also commented on the KOC, linking to a fine analysis by Jesse Zwick at the Washington Independent.)
Now to look at some of Archbishop Nienstedt’s “arguments”. Attempting to justify the DVD distribution, he says:

……we all know the state of marriage in our society today — the fact that … four to five out of every ten marriages ends in divorce, the rate of cohabitation has gone from half a million in 1965 to over 5 million couples today. One out of every three Americans over the age of fifteen has never been married. And there are 19 million children being raised by single parents.

What he does not explain (because he cannot) is exactly how preventing marriage for same-sex couples will reduce the rate of divorce or cohabitation, or ensure that children with single parents will be provided with two. Nienstedt’s argument is pretty well identical to that used by the Prop 8 defendants in California: judicial scrutiny revealed this view for what it is – totally devoid of evidence. Instead, even the “expert witness” in that trial conceded that the more realistic view is the exact opposite: allowing gay marriage will strengthen the family. It will do so by ensuring that presently cohabiting same sex couples will instead be able to enter formal legal contracts, and by setting up a greater number of couples publicly committing to each other in permanent unions, will strengthen the public role models for commitment. Coupling marriage equality and full family equality will also reduce the number of children with single parents – by increasing the pool of available adopting couples. (Many adoption agencies have observed that same sex couples are sometimes the only ones willing to take on the most difficult kids for placement.)
Nienstedt also says

we intend to and have been teaching what we believe is the God-given reality of marriage. Marriage isn’t something that we create as human beings. It’s already a given from the work of creation by almighty God.

The archbishop is entitled to express and defend his theological view of sacramental marriage as a religious practice – but that is not what this legislation is about. This is civil marriage, which as a legal contract between two persons lies entirely outside the religious sphere. To intrude religious belief here is to confound what should be a sharp separation of church and state – especially as an increasing number of religious thinkers disagree on theological grounds with Nienstedt’s conclusions. Instead, there is a clear religious case in favour of same-sex marriage. No religion has the right to impose, or to seek to impose, its theological views over others in the political sphere.
This is the passage that I find most offensive:

We’ve been labeled as discriminating against gay people. There’s no discrimination when there isn’t a basic right to something. And those who have the right to marriage are men and women who want to enter into a life-long, mutually supportive and procreative relationship.

I agree that there is no “basic right” to marriage. However, there is a basic right to equal treatment under the law.  If the law provides a route to legal protection for a contract between two persons of opposite sex, it should equally provide for legal protection of same – sex couples seeking that same protection when they too want to enter “life-long, mutually supportive relationships”. (The introduction of the “procreative” qualifier is a red herring. Neither church nor state limits opposite sex marriage to couples capable of raising children, or desiring to do so.)  This is particularly offensive given the Church’s broader teaching, on social justice and inclusion of the marginalised, which is firmly based in the Gospels – unlike the bishops’ horror of same-sex relationships, which is not.
And finally:

(same-sex marriage) confuses the very notion of marriage and the complementarity which marriage has always been founded upon between the two sexes, the man and the woman, the husband and the wife. And by expanding the definition of marriage, I mean where do you begin to stop?

Yet again I must point out the fundamental flaw in this claim: it simply isn’t true. Marriage has not always been between one man and one woman. Frequently, in history and in some modern societies, it has been or is between one man and several women. In biblical times, the legal contract was between two men – the groom and the father of the bride. For many centuries in the early church, there existed liturgical provision for the church blessing of unions between same-sex couples. The expansion of the definition of marriage is not something that begins with civil marriage: that redefinition has been a constant process throughout history. The modern understanding of “traditional marriage£” is itself a redefinition of what preceded it – marriage as a primarily financial arrangement, of no interest to the church.
It is not “redefinition” of the family that should be resisted, but the attempts permanently to freeze in law one particular manifestation of it that developed for conditions of a particular period of history – the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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