A View from the Gentler Foothills

My post refuting a Facebook meme on same-sex marriage continues to draw comments from people who challenge my right to say anything about this topic, even though I prefaced my remarks with quite a bit of personal history that contributes to my own ambiguity on the topic. I understand that I come across as doctrinaire and unfeeling, just as the Church does when she defines marriage. I understand that if it is your life that is being questioned or limited in some way, you don’t want to hear about it. As a woman who once believed herself sincerely called to priesthood in a Church that defines priesthood as essentially and exclusively male, believe me, I know.

But no matter how much I wanted to be a priest, no matter how deeply I experienced the call, no matter how “unfair” and discriminatory the Church’s understanding of priesthood felt to me, no matter how weak and illogical and not-the-way-Jesus-would-have-done-it the theological arguments against admission of women to priesthood struck me, the truth is I am not a Catholic priest. I have no claim on Catholic priesthood. It is a state of life not open to me, even if I were to work for some constitutional amendment requiring equal ministry under the law, or sue the Church for discrimination. This truth does not mean I cannot and do not minister, preach, bless, pray for, counsel, and admonish in the ways that are open to me through my baptismal priesthood. It does not mean I am bad or evil or less-than. It acknowledges—and I acknowledge, by assent of will to the teaching—that states of life are not enntitlements, but gifts, and that each has a unique meaning and value. Vocations are not interchangeable.

Marriage, according to that same teaching to which I assent, is defined as the lifelong union of a man and a woman who are open to the gift of life as they are capable of receiving it. Outside of that definition, there are a whole range of relationships that may be loving, stable, fruitful, and happy. But they are not marriage. I don’t say that to hurt anyone, or imply that anyone outside that definition is bad or evil or less-than.

This whole question of the meaning and value of marriage for family and society and religion—and even for the two individuals involved, which is where most people start and end, though marriage, as an institution, is ordered to the common good, not individual happiness alone—is too important to degenerate into sniping. And since I can’t seem to find ways to say what I say without ramping up the snipe, I’m giving you a gift today.

While I’m in my West Coast lull, take the time to read the reflections of my wise and kind online friend Will Duquette, who began posting a series of reflections on how to talk about the meaning of marriage here at his blog, The View from the Foothills. You can thread your way from the beginning through a number of followup posts, each of which manages more sense and respect than I can in a year of twaddling. The foothills that Will writes from are the San Gabriels, the same sleeping-lion mountains that I am looking at now from my getaway office on my sister’s Pasadena patio. They remind me that sometimes the only way to continue a conversation that has the potential to be painful is to lift it to a new level. As the psalmist says, in my guilty-pleasure King James Version of Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
whence cometh my help.

Read Will. Lift your eyes. And accept my apologies for not always acknowledging sufficiently the soreness of the subject.

  • Mary

    Thank you for this.

  • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

    Thank you for this thoughtful explanation of your position—and for your courage to relate it to your personal experience in such an open and honest way.

    I do, however, have a question. And it is sincerely a question—not an argument—because I honestly don’t understand some of the Church’s reasoning on this topic. I get the idea that marriage should be about orientation towards the common good—and, by extension, towards children. I guess where I get lost is when that orientation towards children is necessarily a biological one. Couldn’t a gay couple—or an infertile or postmenopausal couple, for that matter—make their relationship about more than just themselves and, by extension, about the common good by adopting and caring for children that might not otherwise have a home? Is there a step that I’m missing here that would explain why the Church doesn’t categorize that—at least in the case of gay couples—as an “openness to the gift of life”? (My apologies if this is already addressed in one of Mr. Duquette’s posts, which I haven’t had time to read yet).

    • joannemcportland

      Bernadette, your question is one I share. The Church’s position is rooted in natural law, which says that gender differences are not accidents to be overcome and erased, but essentials designed to complement each other. I have said in previous posts that I have witnessed strong, loving, prayerful same-sex partnerships in which the children are as nurtured as any I know, but the Church would say that there is something vitally important missing from these relationships. It’s not a message I entirely understand, and it’s certainly lost in our society today . . . but I wonder if that doesn’t make it even more important to examine. The NY Times this week featured a piece entitled “Are men necessary?” so it’s not just Catholics who are puzzling over this.

      • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

        Thanks for your reply—I suspected that this might have something to do with natural law, which I will confess a woeful ignorance of (though I’ve been trying to rectify that). I take (and share) your point that having a real public conversation about the nature of gender is important and the Church is, perhaps, at a certain disadvantage here since its concept of gender and sexuality doesn’t lend itself terribly well to sound bites.

  • Donald McBee

    [Edited to remove lengthy quotations from original post]
    I looked at your list and am somewhat unimpressed, I will only refute the ones I feel are inaccurate or misunderstood, the others are religious opinions that are impossible to prove or disprove, so useless to the discussion.
    2. I think in this case, its a misunderstanding, no one is saying that the Church is persecuting homosexuals when it doesn’t sanctify marriage, but when it tries to influence laws outside of the church. Churches are not considered business of public accomodation, so are exempt from ALL civil rights laws. In addition, it is persecution to deny a Baptist a business license to open a store for simply being a Baptist, but the government could fine or sanction him/her if they fail to comply with local, national, or state anti-discrimination laws in hiring or conducting business, IF they are a business of public accomodation. This is not persecution, and shouldn’t be claimed as such.
    4. Again, this inaccurate claim that GLBT people want to sue churches(which are exempt from civil rights laws) to force them to preside over their marriages borders on bearing false witness. However, I’m more concerned with this inaccurate view that no society views marriage as a civil right, well, I don’t know about others, but the United States does, at least according to the Supreme Court, in its 1967 decision, wrote: “Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
    Note that despite this decision, which governed government recognition of marriage, that Churches are, to this day, still free to refuse to sanctify mixed race marriages, and quite a few do, free from legal if not societal sanctions. Same would and does hold true for same-sex marriage.
    5. I agree, this is rather like fourth grade, but its more like you laughing at the kid you just punched on the playground, and saying they are weak, not very nice for a bully, don’t you think?
    Number 6 is same as number 4, which I already refuted, so no need to countinue on this one.
    Numbers 1, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10 are mosty opinions that I feel I can’t even attempt to change, nor necessarily need to, I do find it curious, though, that you claim thath GLBT people aren’t discriminated against for who they are, on what basis to you substantiate this claim?

    • Ted Seeber

      ” Again, this inaccurate claim that GLBT people want to sue churches(which are exempt from civil rights laws) to force them to preside over their marriages borders on bearing false witness. ”

      Then why have they? True, the only successful cases I know of have been in Canada (so far) but it seems to me to be quite ridiculous to say what we already know, that GLBT terrorists have attacked a Christian political group with intent to kill, but would refrain from using the court system to attack Christians.

      • Leslie

        To my knowledge, the incident you are talking about is one mentally ill gay man with a gun going into an anti-gay Christian political group – one person, not GLBT terrorist(s). Compare that to the number of hate crimes against gays and lesbians and this statement looks ridiculous. There are no GLBT terrorists and there is not now nor will there ever be a successful court case in the U.S.

        The legal rights of marriage accrue from a civil contract. Let’s take the church out of that civil (legal) contract and the problem is solved. The church can continue to handle religious marriages.

        • Ted Seeber

          It’s more than that. I’ve seen churches attacked by gay groups for the last 20 years, often with little or no comment from the media, and even when they do comment, cheering it on.

      • Donald McBee

        From what I can tell, after a brief search, there was one case in Canada involving a Catholic church and a gay man who was kicked out of being a volunteer for altar service because he got married. Which is stupid on his part, the Church has every right to forbid him from being a volunteer, and I haven’t seen any updates to that since 2009, so it probably went nowhere. If you have further information, please tell me. The only other related case I can find has to do with marriage commissioners in Canada, people employed by the state, who aren’t allowed to use religious objections to refuse to perform marriages for same sex couples.

        I don’t see the problem with these types of cases, they are employees of the state, and need to follow the rules of the state. Allowing them to have religious exemptions can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.

        The only other case I can think of that you may think is a cause for concern is the one where a lesbian couple filed a complaint against an association owned by a church that owned off-church property that served the greater public. Again, don’t understand why people were up in arms about it, it was a place of public accommodation, they rented to anyone, hence should follow standard local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws.

        • Ted Seeber

          There was also the Lesbian Couple and the Knights of Columbus. Plus a plethora of other less famous cases thanks to the “Human Rights Commissions” all over Canada.

  • Dan Berger

    Since the other thread is closed, I would like to use this one to apologize for losing my temper.
    I can’t honestly say “it won’t happen again,” but it’s something I need to work on, probably by not posting until after sitting on what I want to say for a day.

  • Dan Berger

    By way of atonement, here is a complete list (so far) of the posts to which you point us, at least as near as I can find it:
    On Controversy, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2704
    On Coercion, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2711
    On Natural and Intentional Families, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2717
    On Communal Living, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2720
    On Loving What is Good, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2723
    On Being a Mish-Mosh, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2729
    On Foundational Sin, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2732
    On Responsibility to Others, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2735
    On Why Marriage is Controversial, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2739
    Four Kinds of Marriage, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2756
    On Sacramental Marriage, http://www.foothills.wjduquette.com/blog/archives/2767

  • DB

    Marriage, according to that same teaching to which I assent, is defined as the lifelong union of a man and a woman who are open to the gift of life as they are capable of receiving it. Outside of that definition, there are a whole range of relationships that may be loving, stable, fruitful, and happy. But they are not marriage.

    Why not? Can you back this assertion up with an argument, please? Or, perhaps what you meant to say was this: Marriage, according to that same teaching to which I assent, is defined as the lifelong union of a man and a woman who are open to the gift of life as they are capable of receiving it. Outside of that definition, there are a whole range of relationships that may be loving, stable, fruitful, and happy. But they are not marriage AS DEFINED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

    That’s fine, but other entities, like the secular state, have the power and prerogative to define it differently if they wish. Right?

    • joannemcportland

      Well, I’ll concede your revision, as long as you concede that this is the way marriage has been defined, to a greater or lesser degree, by the state for as long as it has been a civil institution. Perhaps that’s because it’s simply logical. If the state wishes to redefine marriage, the onus of providing logical reasons for doing so is on the state, not me.

      • Donald McBee

        But it hasn’t been defined as such, consistently, throughout human history, or in all places. Yes, if you confined it to the definition that’s been in place for approximately the past 200 years, and only in Western Europe, then you would be correct. Before that is was largely a property transaction betweeen the father of the bride and the husband, or two people “shacking up”(think common law marriages) as it were, depends on their economic class, mostly. In addition, marriage wasn’t necessarily confined to one man and one woman either, you can find examples throughout human history and all over the world of marriages of all different comindations, most polygamous in some nature.
        Our current understanding of marriage, evolved mostly from Victorian era romanticism and the increase in human rights for women, before this, women were no more than property, at least in Western Civilization.

        • Dan Berger

          @ Donald McBee
          wasn’t necessarily confined to one man and one woman either
          Citations, please? Leave polygyny out of it. Polygyny was not a negation of the “one man, one woman” archetype but an arrangement that we would call bigamy: one man is allowed to be married to more than one woman at a time. The women are not married to each other, and some traditions — e.g. Islam — recommend or require that they have separate domiciles.

          Other than that, I know of very few exceptions to the one-man/one-woman pattern, and none to the male/female pattern.

          I am aware that certain American Indian tribes allowed “berdaches,” who took on female roles, to marry — but the sex they married seems to have been a function of whether or not they were viewed as “men wearing dresses” or as women. I am also aware that in at least one place and time in India, women were married (forcibly?) to more than one man — apparently all siblings. I know of no other examples.

          I know of no historical precedent for two people of the same social gender to marry. Can you supply one?

          • Dan Berger

            By the way, please don’t cite Boswell; his interpretation is strained, and strongly disputed.
            According to Wikipedia, a couple of the decadent Roman emperors — not my word, the word of their contemporaries — married men. It does not appear to have been a culturally accepted practice, but an “emperors will be emperors” thing.

          • Donald McBee

            To Dan Berger, well you mentioned the ones I was going to mention, but then again, I find the line of argument I was making, on further reflection, to be rather weak, so won’t bother. I will say that Bigamy and polygamy, as mentioned, aren’t really “one man, one woman” marriages, the nature of the women’s relationship to each other is rather irrelevant because he’s still married to more than one at once.

            I will even concede that there’s isn’t a whole lot of historical precedent for same sex marriage, but then again, I don’t see why there should be. I shall quote my fiancee in her infinite wisdom on this subject, because we talked about it recently, where’s the harm in allowing same sex couples to legally marry?

  • SteveP

    Donald McBee: When you quote the decision of Loving v. Virginia, you must include context – the lawsuit was leveled at Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Your interpretation is incorrect: the decision relays that the right to marry is the right to breed.

    • Donald McBee

      That would only hold true if breeding (or willingness to breed) is required for a marriage to be legally recognized. It is not.

      • SteveP

        Donald McBee: You are suggesting that Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act was not motivated by eugenics. I find that to be a significant historical revision. Please make your case.

        • Donald McBee

          Frankly I don’t know, most likely it was motivated by good old fashioned racism, which was quite common in this regard all the way up till the 1990s. Until then, interracial marriage didn’t gain majority approval, after all.

          Indeed, I find eugenics to be the worst combination of ignorance, bad science, and social policy all rolled into one. I don’t doubt, given the timing, that the law could have been partially motivated by the racism pervasive in the eugenics movement, but frankly its not like such beliefs that motivated anti-miscegenation laws were based solely on eugenics, it was a movement of the very late 19th and early 20th century, and racism far predates that, I’m afraid.

          In addition, Virginia was far from an outlier when it came to these sorts of laws, many states had them at the time, some for much longer than others. In addition, most of them generally were there to protect so called white purity rather than to prevent other races from mixing. Indeed, the definitions of the races were also rather arbitrary, for example, in California, for the purposes of such laws, those of Mexican or Hispanic heritage were classified as white(still are on many government and private forms throughout the country), leading to the case, Perez v. Sharp which overturned California’s anti-miscegenation laws.

          Most of the laws of the sort in Virginia and California, as I mentioned, date back to all the way to the colonial era in North America.

  • Bill M.

    I had to smile at your reference to “I will lift mine eyes unto the hills . . .”. That verse is inscribed on the tower of the Lutheran Church in the Foothills, just west of Pasadena in La Cañada Flintridge. The statue (and the San Gabriels, which it faces) was a feature of my childhood.

  • Joanne

    “though marriage, as an institution, is ordered to the common good, not individual happiness alone—”

    This is a great point. imo the onus is on same sex marriage proponents to demonstrate that the common good would be served by changing the male-female nature of marriage. That would be difficult to do, however, since never in the supposed “continuous redefinition” of marriage which we hear so much about has any civilization ever defined “marriage” as two (or more) males or two (or more) females.

    If I honestly believed marriage were a “civil right,” I would have to be, reluctantly, okay with same sex marriage. But I don’t believe it is, and even if one believes it is in the US based on the Loving decision, what’s noticable to me as I read the quotes above from the Loving decision is that there is no mention of the sexual orientation of the parties involved.

    • Donald McBee

      That’s because sexual orientation wasn’t the issue in the case, I also don’t understand this need to shift the burden to same sex marriage proponents. Given the lack of historical precedence for same sex marriage shouldn’t be a reason to forbid it in the current day. Just because something is tradition doesn’t make it automatically good, and I would say that its same sex marriage opponents that need to justify their position, they would have to demonstrate some harm done to either society or individuals involved to justify allowing same sex marriage to remain illegal.

    • bob

      It seems self-evident that the “common good would be served” by the reduction of legalized bigotry. Since no legitimate basis for the denying same-sex couples the right to marry has held up to more than moment’s scrutiny, traditionalists are left to say, “Well, the onus is on YOU to prove that it would be a GOOD thing to lift the discrimination, not on US to prove a legitimate basis for our discrimination. And since we’ve ALWAYS discriminated in this way, it’s theoretically impossible for you to PROVE that would it be a good thing if we stopped. Ha! Ha! We win!”
      It’s a classic circular argument.

  • http://www.Appearance-ism.com Anya Cordell

    Sorry, don’t have time at the moment to read all the previous comments, but, to the author, and readers:

    You need to consider the continuum of gender. You assume a perfect dichotomy of male/female, masculinity/femininity which is not real, though we speak/write as if it is. Please read my piece, “Regarding Marriage Equality; Who’s On God’s Team?” and the incredible comment thread including many from someone who is intersex. The issue of intersex is just the easiest way to re-evaluate your point of view. But remember; we don’t measure body parts, hormone levels, etc. of everyone we deem male or female. We talk in broad strokes that do not actually pertain, in reality, in specifics, in the continuum of human variation.

    • Ted Seeber

      Intersex people are such a small minority that it isn’t worth changing all of society to deal with them.