Religion Remains At Center of Marriage Equality Debate
As marriage equality finds support in state after the next, with state lawmakers having taken on the role of supporting the civil rights of gay and lesbian families that the courts had previously played, religion remains at the center of the issue, with marriage opponents seeking to dominate the discussion with one view of morality, while others counter that civil rights, personal responsibility, and support for all families are also moral issues in need of recognition.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has remained opposed to legal recognition of gay and lesbian families of any faith, or no faith, characterizing homosexuality in pathological terms and issuing statements about the function of marriage that single out gay and lesbian couples but ignore heterosexual couples who do not meet the criteria that the church sets out.
A June 4 article carried at the Catholic News Agency Web site reported on the issue, placing quotation marks around the word marriage whenever it appeared in the context of gay and lesbian couples.
Even though six states currently honor family equality, the bishops declared that for New York to follow suit would be a "drastic measure" in a June 1 statement on the issue, reported CNA.
The New York bishops, led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, said in their statement that, "We face today the prospect of a law in New York which would radically change the timeless institution of marriage.
"As pastors of citizens from every corner of our great state, we stand unified in our strong opposition to such a drastic measure."
The statement reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage should be "the union of a man and a woman in an enduring bond, ordered for the procreation and stable rearing of children."
The statement did not appear to address the issue of couples in which at least one partner is sterile, or of couples past their child-bearing years.
However, the statement attempted to cast opposition to legal parity for gay and lesbian families as wider in scope than objections based in religion, asserting that denial of marriage equality "is based on reason, sound public policy, and plain common sense."
Moreover, the bishops made the argument that, "the state has a compelling legal interest in promoting marriage between men and women in order to create stable families and provide for the safety, health and well being of children," though they stopped short of saying that heterosexual divorce should be illegal.
Dismissing the needs of committed couples of the same gender, the bishops declared that, "the state has no such compelling legal interest in recognizing a relationship between two people of the same sex."
The bishops added that their "firm beliefs about marriage... must not be misconstrued to be in any way a condemnation of homosexual people or an attack on their human dignity," CNA reported.
A June 5 article at Catholic Online bearing a byline of "Deacon Keith Fournier" pathologized same-sex couples, quoting from the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, who has said that gays and lesbians suffer from "a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."
The diagnosis of a "disordered sexual inclination," also referred to in the article as a "disordered appetite," was cited throughout, even though Pope Benedict XVI is not a practicing mental health professional.
The American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its listing of metal illnesses in 1973.
However, the author of the essay couched the Pope’s non-professional diagnosis in doctrinal terms, claiming that the church was the sole arbiter of truth.
Wrote Deacon Fournier, "The Catholic Church will not change its position on the nature of marriage because it cannot. Truth is not up for grabs."
The Deacon also made a claim to an exclusive understanding of "Natural Law," a term that was not defined and that seemed to disregard scientific evidence that homosexuality is naturally occurring in many species, including but not limited to the human species.
Deacon Fournier quoted from Pope Benedict’s "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," which was written in 1986, before then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope.
Among the quotes selected for inclusion in Deacon Fournier’s article was one that stated that consensual sexual intimacy between committed partners of the same gender was immoral.
Read the quote, "It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good."
Proceeding then to assume that only heterosexual couples could or ought to be married, the text continued, "A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally."
The quotations continued with, "Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living.
"This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."
Moving from psychological diagnosis to ethical pronouncement, Benedict’s "Letter" added, "As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God."
Assuming any other understanding of human sexual diversity to be in error, the Letter continued, "The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood."
Suggesting that the legal contract of marriage bestowed by the countries and states where marriage equality is recognized is not in some way genuine, Deacon Fournier wrote, "Catholics who are faithful cannot and will not accept the effort to undermine authentic marriage.
"Thus, those who follow the teaching of the Church may be on a collision course with the current approach to this matter being embraced by the US Administration."
The article went on to cite President Obama’s declaration of June to be "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month," and to quote Obama as saying, "The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect."
Dismissing Obama’s words, and seeming to shrug aside guarantees in the United States prohibiting a state religion, Deacon Fournier’s article declared, "Homosexual sexual acts, even if engaged in with one partner for a long time, can never be the equivalent of a marriage, no matter what any court or legislature says."
Fournier’s article also denied that marriage equality was a civil rights issue; wrote the deacon, "Efforts of some within the homosexual movement to equate how one engages in non-marital sexual acts with a member of the same sex with being a member of a particular race, or gender and thereby a ’protected class’ for civil rights purposes is legally and socially dangerous.
"One is a status; the other involves behavior, a chosen behavior and a lifestyle."
Giving fleeting attention to one scientific theory of homosexuality, Deacon Fournier wrote, "Some maintain that same sex attraction is a genetic predisposition. This is disputed.
"Even if it were the case, that does not give homosexual activity any more of a claim to being given a special civil rights status.
"Should we really give disordered appetites civil rights status under the law?"
Fournier went on to compare homosexual "disordered appetites" to his own obesity, writing, "A very good argument can be made that obesity also has a genetic predisposition.