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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tom Reese SJ on same-sex marriage

As mentioned in a previous post, I think the recent ruling by the California State Supreme Court overturning the ban on same-sex marriage is a good thing, I was therefore interested to see that the latest On Faith question was about that issue. Many responded to the question - The California Supreme Court has overturned that state's ban on gay marriage. Is marriage a legal right or a sacred rite? Should the state be involved in marriage? Should religious institutions? - including Jesuit and senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center, Tom Reese. I thought his asnwer was an example of his practice of looking at both sides of issues. He upheld the Church's teaching but also expressed the opinion that same-sex marriage is no threat to traditional marriage and that churches have better things to do with their time and money than opposing it .....

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Right or Rite, Civil Discussion in Order

For almost 2,000 years, Christianity has considered any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman to be sinful. This included prostitution, bigamy, adultery, fornication and homosexual activity. In many societies formed by Christianity, these activities and divorce were illegal, although enforcement of the laws was spotty.

The separation of church and state, as well as the desire to free private moral decisions from state control, has led to the legalization of divorce and the decriminalization of birth control, adultery, fornication and homosexual activity (but not prostitution and bigamy). Societal views of homosexuality have changed as we have become aware that homosexuality is an orientation that is not chosen.

While few Americans support the criminalization of homosexual activity, a majority still opposes state-sanctioned homosexual marriages (see Pew Forum survey). Caught in the middle of this emotion-filled issue, politicians came up with “domestic partnerships” as a compromise that gives many or all of the rights of married couples to gay partners but continued to reserve the “m” word for heterosexuals.

Recently some Christian churches have changed their view of homosexual activity. These churches argue that if God made a person a homosexual then it would not be wrong for that person to establish a committed and loving homosexual relationship that included sexual activity. Some churches have gone so far as to celebrate these relationships as Christian marriages, even if these marriages are not recognized by the state. Such decisions have been controversial even within the churches that have approved homosexual marriages.

The Catholic hierarchy does not support ecclesial or state-sponsored homosexual marriage and still argues that sex outside of marriage, including homosexual activity, is sinful. It no longer supports the criminalization of homosexual activity, and it argues against discrimination against homosexuals. It teaches that homosexuals should be loved and respected (see “Always our Children,” 1997).

The California Supreme Court, like the Massachusetts Supreme Court, has ruled that the state constitution requires that the state recognize same-sex marriages. The court specifically said that churches would not be required to perform such weddings.

Many, even some who support gay marriage, believe that this was an unwise decision on the part of the court. California already allowed domestic partnerships with most of the rights of married couples. By rejecting what had been a political compromise, the court has made it inevitable that a state constitutional amendment will be put on the ballot in California. The amendment will not only overturn the decision but may also eliminate domestic partnerships.

I agree with those who believe that the California Supreme Court’s decision was unwise, but I would oppose a constitutional amendment that would forbid gay marriages. I believe that this issue should be dealt with by state legislatures, not by the courts or referendums.

Homosexual relationships exist in American society in not insignificant numbers. Even if you consider such relationships immoral, it can be argued that the state has an interest in encouraging these relationships to be stable and long term rather than multiple and short term. State legislatures are used to coming up with compromises that are acceptable to most of the people. They can also return to legislation to adjust it based on experience and future circumstances.

Some argue that gay marriage is a threat to marriage as a heterosexual institution. I have never understood this argument. In an apartment building filled with unmarried couples, both gay and hetero, if all the gay couples got married, it would seem to me that their example would inspire the heterosexuals to think about marriage. I would prefer to reserve the word “marriage” to heterosexuals, but I don’t think it is worth fighting over.

I think it is foolish for churches to expend their political capital opposing the legalization of gay marriage. There are many other issues of greater importance: abortion, hunger, global warming, peace, health care, etc. Pro-life churches and organizations should especially be suspicious when gay marriage is given more prominence as an issue than abortion. Money and resources that would have gone to pro-life work are being siphoned off to oppose gay marriage.

The issue of gay marriage is not going to go away quickly. It is a highly emotional issue that continues to divide our country. Everyone needs to step back, take a deep breath and count to ten before saying anything. Proponents and opponents need to respect each other and be civil in their debate. My guess is that those who are most civil will win the day.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Cura Animarum said...

For all the questions I might have about the complex conglomeration of genetic and psycho-social influences that may lead one into a same-sex relationship...I don't think my marriage is at risk because men and women might decide to marry each other.

Given that the statistics seem to remain constant regardless of sexual orientation, it seems to me that the biggest result may simply be more business for divorce lawyers and the like.

I'm with Reese, we have bigger, far more insidious issues to deal with than this.

10:43 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Cura,

Yes, I just don't understand the idea that same-sex marriage will damage traditional marriage.

11:51 AM  

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