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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Yes, but is it true?

I saw this story on the Google news page today - Same-Sex Marriage Setback in Massachusetts .....

Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, took a first step toward possibly banning it Tuesday when legislators voted to advance a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman ....

Seeing this news story made me think about a question raised recently in the comments section of my blog ... what responsibility do we heterosexual Christians have in regards to our gay/lesbian siblings ... what should we do in the face of assertions that they are "defective heterosexuals"? Maybe the answer is given in the title of an article from which I've posted bits below ... let us at least keep asking, "Is it true?"

The article, by Catholic theologian, Fr. James Alison, was originally a talk given in response to the UK government's proposals concerning same-sex partnership rights ...


Since the government announced its proposals, and this meeting was set up, the Vatican came out with its document last Thursday (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons. Vatican City, July 31, 2003), which was supposed to cast light on, or a shadow over, any deliberations such as these ....

The Vatican officials who published this letter clearly think that the movement towards legislative proposals for same-sex partnership or marriage which is growing all over the world is a sign that we are going to hell in a handcart. And the only response that is worthy of us is not to get worked up about the tone, the style and so on, but simply to ask “Yes, but is it true?” .....

This is the view of the Roman congregations that there is no such thing as gay and lesbian people as a class, merely individually defective heterosexual persons with a more or less strong tendency towards certain gravely immoral acts .....

So, the only question before us is: “Is it true that lesbian and gay people are defective heterosexuals”? According to how we answer this question, everything else follows. I myself, and I guess all of us here, take it for granted that it is not true, and that we are discovering that there just is such a thing as being lesbian or gay, in itself a matter of no great signficance, something capable of properly human flourishing or of dehumanising corruption – you can be a good gay man or a bad gay man, but it is not that you are gay, but how you live your life including how you develop and exercise being gay, that determines your goodness or badness. In this I am quite simply in disagreement with the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith on a question of truth.

I would like to point out how everything else in the document flows from the same starting point: all the observations about the common good of human society make no claim to be reasoned deductions drawn from the evidence of what we have learned in places where same-sex marriages or partnerships have a track record capable of being studied ....

There is one place in the document where, curiously, reference is made to experience, to empirically measurable fact. I say “curiously” since, although evidence of experience is absolutely indispensable for any real “natural law” argument, such appeal to experience is very rare in Vatican documents in this sphere:

“As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.” (Considerations 7,3)

The important point here is that an empirical claim is being made. At last!

Yes, but is it true? Is it true that experience has shown that kids brought up by same-sex partners fail to flourish appropriately because of this? There are long-term studies concerning this. As far as I am aware, most such studies have indicated that there is no measurable defect in flourishing in such children .... (I note that there is no footnote at this point in the Vatican's document to indicate the source of the claim “As experience has shown…”. Should not someone expressing serious concern about what might happen to infants do better than that?) ....

The Church's hierarchy does not recognise lesbian and gay people as a class of people with rights and responsabilities just as we are. It can recognise us as humans, but not as humans who are humans as gay or lesbian .... our hierarchy can say “Yes of course we recognise gay and lesbian people as humans, and they should be protected from attack, harassment and unjust discrimination, but, No, we can't recognise them as a class capable of living in a way which might suggest that they have typical patterns of behaviour and living which are either no threat to society, or may, given peace and development, be positively beneficial.” ....

However, I'd like to suggest that we should treat this business of our not being considered reasonable subjects of discourse not as a burden to be groaned about resentfully, but as an opportunity .... instead of arguing about “Should the Church allow gay marriage?”, we should instead be asking a more classic question. Given the existence, present and future, of committed, long term, partnerships recognised by civil law between adults of the same-sex who happen to be baptised, what should we call these? To what forms of flourishing can they contribute? What might their relationship be to the creation of forms of hospitality to the vulnerable, whether children or other precarious people? Please remember that in the classic understanding of marriage, it is the fact that the two partners are baptised which is what gives the marriage its sacramentality. They are living out a secular reality, marriage, in a way which is elevated by the fact that each is acting out the role of Christ loving his Church by giving his life, even unto death, for the other ....

That the clerical witnesses to our ceremonies are likely to be invited friends rather than official signatories should not put us off from developing the rites. We are also in a much freer position from which to start than many straight people .... So, we have both a carte blanche and a lot of work to do in developing our understanding of what seems like an appropriate period of solidification of partnerships, creating the space in which people who may not have had a chance to develop the habits of fidelity which make commitment possible, are empowered to do so before their partnership is celebrated in a liturgy ....

I'd like to conclude by going back to the beginning. We are all of us, over the next few weeks and months, likely to be in conversations with friends, family, press, Church officials and others about this issue. May I beg you not to yield to the temptation of being provoked, not to allow yourselves to be fascinated by the violence of the language in the recent document, not to indulge in the easy critique of the Vatican which our culture and our press offer us, but instead to keep raising this little question: “Yes, but is it true?” The only issue at stake for the Church in discussions of gay and lesbian anything is the issue of truth. Thank you.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Crystal -

This is a really fine article, Crystal, and I appreciate your posting it. It prompts me to follow up with checking out those studies refered to -- studies that show that children of same-sex couples show no significant ill effects from the experience. If you happen to know of studies like this, I'd love it if you would point me in that direction.

Thanks again.

7:26 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


one thing I'm aware of is a document - New Position Statement Adopted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)
Adoption and Co-Parenting of Children by Same-Sex Couples (2002) - which says at the beginning ...

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees and Assembly in
November approved a position statement on Adoption and Co-Parenting of Children by Same-Sex
Couples. The statement was drafted and proposed by the APA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and
Bisexual Issues and supported by APA’s Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities.
The position statement says, “The APA supports initiatives, which allow same-sex couples to adopt
and co-parent children, and supports all the associated legal rights, benefits, and responsibilities, which
arise from such initiatives.”
Research over the past 30 years has consistently demonstrated that children raised by gay or lesbian
parents exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as children raised
by heterosexual parents. The research also indicates that optimal development for children is not
based on the sexual orientation of the parents, but on stable attachments to committed and nurturing
This is the first resolution approved by the APA surrounding the issues of gay co-parenting but is
consistent with earlier APA positions, such as the 2000 position statement supporting the legal
recognition of same sex unions and their associated legal rights, benefits, and responsibilities. The
APA supports legislation that strengthens family ties.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Association
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, and the American Association of Family Physicians have all
adopted similar positions.
... pdf file ...

There's this page by the American Academy of Pediatrics ...

And here's a CBS News report that cites some studies ... link which says in part ...

Researchers looked at information gleaned from 15 studies on more than 500 children, evaluating possible stigma, teasing and social isolation, adjustment and self-esteem, opposite gender role models, sexual orientation, and strengths.

Studies from 1981 to 1994, including 260 children reared by either heterosexual mothers or same-sex mothers after divorce, found no differences in intelligence, type or prevalence of psychiatric disorders, self-esteem, well-being, peer relationships, couple relationships, or parental stress.

"Some studies showed that single heterosexual parents' children have more difficulties than children who have parents of the same sex," Perrin says. "They did better in discipline, self-esteem, and had less psychosocial difficulties at home and at school."

Another study of 37 children of 27 divorced lesbian mothers and a similar number of children of heterosexual mothers found no differences in behavior, adjustment, gender identity, and peer relationships.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- that's really very good, Crystal. Thank you. That gives me a lot to chew on.


11:04 PM  

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