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Friday, July 03, 2015

Thomas Reese SJ: the Bishops and marriage equality

A great article by Thomas Reese SJ on How the bishops should respond to the same-sex marriage decision. Here are some bits ...

The bishops' fight against gay marriage has been a waste of time and money. The bishops should get a new set of priorities and a new set of lawyers.


If bishops in the past could eventually accept civil divorce as the law of the land, why can't the current flock of bishops do the same for gay marriage?


Those who compare Obergefell v. Hodges to Roe v. Wade have not looked at the poll numbers. The U.S. population has stayed polarized over abortion for decades, but the support for gay marriage has continued to rise. There is absolutely no possibility of a constitutional amendment overturning the decision. Gay marriage is not a matter of life and death. While it may be an issue in this year's Republican primaries, it is not in the population as a whole.


Let's be perfectly clear. In Catholic morality, there is nothing to prohibit a Catholic judge or clerk from performing a same-sex marriage. Nor is there any moral obligation for a Catholic businessperson to refuse to provide flowers, food, space and other services to a same-sex wedding. Because of all the controversy over these issues in the media, the bishops need to be clear that these are not moral problems for Catholic government officials or Catholic businesspeople.


Catholic colleges and universities that provide housing for married couples are undoubtedly going to be approached for housing by same-sex couples. Unless the schools can get states to carve out an exception for them in anti-discrimination legislation, they could be forced to provide such housing.

But since they already provide housing to couples married illicitly according to the church, no one should see such housing as an endorsement of someone's lifestyle. And granted all the sex going on at Catholic colleges and universities, giving housing to a few gay people who have permanently committed themselves to each other in marriage would hardly be considered a great scandal.

A second issue will be the provision of spousal benefits to gay employees in Catholic institutions, especially universities and hospitals. Again, these institutions already give such benefits to divorced and remarried employees. No one considers this scandalous. The fact that the church considers health care a right should be the deciding factor, not the gender of the spouse.


Church officials, including the pope, have argued that every child deserves to have a mother and a father, with the inference that without a mother and a father, the child will somehow suffer. There are a number of problems with this position.

First, it casts doubt on the millions of single parents who are heroically raising their children without spousal support.

Second, it has a narrow vision of the family. The church has traditionally recognized the importance of uncles, aunts and grandparents in the raising of children. There will be other sexes in the extended families of these children.

Third, often, same-sex couples adopt children whom no one else wants. Would these children be better off in foster homes or orphanages?

Finally, there is no evidence that children of same-sex couples suffer as a result of their upbringing. The original study that argued that children raised by same-sex couples did not do as well as those raised by heterosexual couples has been proven faulty.

In a 2013 amicus brief opposing the Defense of Marriage Act, the American Sociological Association said, "The claim that same-sex parents produce less positive child outcomes than opposite-sex parents -- either because such families lack both a male and female parent or because both parents are not the biological parents of their children -- contradicts abundant social science research."

Rather, "positive child wellbeing is the product of stability in the relationship between the two parents, stability in the relationship between the parents and child, and greater parental socioeconomic resources."

The American Academy of Pediatrics agreed and supported same-sex marriage because marriage provides needed stability in children's lives:

Many studies have demonstrated that children's well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents' sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents. Lack of opportunity for same-gender couples to marry adds to families' stress, which affects the health and welfare of all household members. Because marriage strengthens families and, in so doing, benefits children's development, children should not be deprived of the opportunity for their parents to be married.


It is time for the U.S. bishops to pivot to the public policy priorities articulated by Pope Francis: care for the poor and the environment and the promotion of peace and interreligious harmony. Their fanatical opposition to the legalization of gay marriage has made young people look on the church as a bigoted institution with which they do not want to be associated. As pastors, they should be talking more about God's compassion and love rather than trying to regulate people's sexual conduct through laws.

Amen! :)


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