A conservative Catholic’s case for gay marriage

This will undoubtedly have the Catholic blogosphere buzzing this weekend.

In a dramatic turnabout, Joseph Bottum comes out for gay marriage in the new issue of Commonweal.  And he talks about it in an interview with the New York Times: 

Mr. Bottum’s change of heart is noteworthy. He makes several arguments. The first is pragmatic.

Basic democratic premises like fairness, equal rights and majority rule suggest that the time for same-sex marriage has come, he says. We can agree, Mr. Bottum argues, that Americans are turning in favor of same-sex marriage, and there “is no coherent jurisprudential against it — no principled legal view that can resist it.” Furthermore, the bishops’ campaigns against same-sex marriage “are hurting the church.” Especially for the young, Catholicism is coming to symbolize repression.

So this fight would only be worth fighting, for Catholics, if their theology required such a fight. Mr. Bottum now believes — here’s where the essay will really outrage fellow churchmen — that Catholics are mistaken to think that natural law requires them to oppose same-sex marriage.

Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“And if,” Mr. Bottum writes, “heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?”

Traditional-marriage activists would counter that we can at least begin a Christian renaissance by upholding marriage’s last connections to its Christian past. But Mr. Bottum says that’s the wrong starting point. “There are much better ways than opposing same-sex marriage for teaching the essential God-hauntedness, the enchantment, of the world,” he writes.

Better tactics might include “massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed,” and a churchwide effort to beautify the liturgy.

“I’ve given up on politics,” Mr. Bottum said, as we sat on his wide porch after lunch. “I’ll vote Republican, because I’m a Republican. But I don’t believe a change in culture can come from politics. It can only come from re-enchantment with the world.”

Read it all.