Saturday, October 19, 2013

To the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court determined yesterday that there is no reason to stand in the way of same-sex couples who want to marry.   Protests from Republicans and conservative religious organizations notwithstanding, new freedom is coming to New Jersey.

Because the sea change in attitudes toward LGBT people is so heartening, I probably ought to focus on the positive and simply pop another champagne cork.  But I also know this is only the latest battle won and the war rages on.  For that reason, I stopped to read the arguments from both sides that went into making the decision.  One in particular caught my attention.  It’s from the National Catholic Register from January of last year, a statement signed by all five Roman Catholic Bishops running the Roman Catholic churches in New Jersey plus the Byzantine and Syriac Catholic bishops, all of whom take the line there is something wrong with homosexuality which justifies limiting the civil rights of LGBT people.

Both those with a vested interest in the status quo and those seeking progressive changes have made their cases almost to the point of exhaustion, and I doubt I can say anything that has not been said before.   But who knows?   Sometimes people think things over and change their views.  One can always hope.

So here’s what I have to say to the good Catholic bishops of New Jersey.  It’s a draft.  If you can think of ways to make it better, please chime in.  I may get around to sending it.

 *     *     *

Dear Bishops Myers, O’Connell, Galante, Serratelli, Bootkoski, Skurla, and Habash:

I have just read your collective statement arguing against extending the right of LGBT people to marry, and I take issue with what you have to say.   I have put your original letter in italics and written between your lines.

A Statement by the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey
On Marriage as a Union of One Man and One Woman
January 20, 2012

Marriage as a union of a man and a woman has its roots in natural law. Throughout all of human history marriage has been held to be a union of man and woman.   Marriage as a union of man and woman existed long before any nation, religion, or law was established.

The conservative argument that "things have always been this way" sounds good in a general abstract way, but it falls down when it comes to particulars.  Men have historically dominated over women, brutalized people outside their tribe, taken what they wanted.  “The way it always has been” would justify slavery, genocide, racism, sexism and homophobia.  People of good will seek a better world than the one that “always has been.”

Marriage which unites mothers and fathers in the work of childrearing is the foundation of the family and the family is the basic unit of society.

And that marriage will continue.  You are thinking in terms of “either/or” when you could just as readily think in terms of “both/and.”

Sadly, the institution of marriage is being challenged by a society so concerned with individual freedom that some view marriage as a temporary or disposable convenience.

You can’t blame us LGBT people for that.  The real challenge to the kind of relationships we in our society label “traditional” came when women decided it was time to get out from under patriarchal control.  It was women, not gays and lesbians, who shook up the status quo with the notion of individual freedom.

But you’ve got it wrong when you suggest the desire for individual freedom redefined marriage as a “temporary or disposable convenience.”   You are in an untenable position if you suggest marriage is or ought to be an institution without individual freedom.  The goal of most people who marry in modern times is to create a union of equals, not of master and slave.

Now, there is even an attempt in the New Jersey legislature to pass a law that would change the very definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Yes.  It is fast becoming accepted around the world that a marriage can be a union of two people of the same sex.

As citizens, we must protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

What exactly are you “protecting”?  You are trying to prevent change for the better.  You are not protecting anything.

Same sex unions may represent a new and a different type of institution – but it is not marriage and should not be treated as marriage.

No.  It’s the same institution.  It is simply more inclusive.  You say it’s not marriage; I say it is still marriage.  We differ over whether the institution can expand.  Time is on our side.  Marriage is still a strong institution and will get stronger as people who want to embrace it enter it and make it their own.

What can you do to help protect marriage? Today, we ask all people of good will to do three simple things. First, pray for all married couples and all families.

Most people would have no problem with that.

 Second, reflect on this important question, “How can I help my family and the families I touch to grow in hope, love, peace and joy.”

That is something I believe we can all endorse.

Third, we ask everyone to reach out to your neighbors, your legislators and the Governor with a simple message: “Preserve the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.”

No.  If you do that we lose the right to live our lives as married people and you gain nothing.  You are fighting a battle to keep us as a class of second-class citizens.  One wonders where this animus really comes from.

To help everyone understand why marriage can only be a union between one man and one woman, we offer the following facts.


Why should citizens care about the state’s definition of marriage?
Citizens must care about the government’s treatment of marriage because civil authorities are charged with protecting children and the common good, and marriage is indispensable to both purposes.

This is the point where you stop being simply mistaken about who LGBT people are (we are your sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors and not some “other” beings) and begin committing the sin (by your own definition) of false witness.  You speak of “protecting children” as if gay and lesbian people, as a class, would do damage to children.  It is a bold and ugly lie you spread through innuendo.  It makes you hateful people.

Citizens have the right and the responsibility to hold civil authorities accountable for their stewardship of the institution of marriage.

We agree with you on that.

Citizens also have the responsibility to oppose laws and policies that unjustly target people as bigots or that subject people to charges of unlawful discrimination simply because they believe and teach that marriage is the union of man and a woman.

We agree with you on that, as well.  People should not be unjustly targeted.  But when you declare that discrimination against LGBT people is required by your religion, you forget that your religion does not determine civil law.  When you break civil laws, civil authorities have the responsibility to oppose you.

Why should two individuals of the same sex be treated any differently than married
couples who cannot conceive children?

Marriage benefits society by bringing men and women – the two complementary “halves” of the human race – together.

That is one thing that marriage does.  It also brings together two people of the same sex.

Regardless of whether they can conceive children, a man and a woman united in marriage reinforce the importance of this ideal.

Where did this come from?  What does the uniting of people of opposite sexes have to do with the uniting of people of the same sex?  One can stand beside the other.

By contrast, if the government insists that same-sex unions are “equal” to unions of a man and a woman, the government will be teaching not only that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary for children, but also that uniting the sexes is no longer an important ideal.

You have made a giant leap of illogic.  The claim that the union of same-sex couples teaches that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary for children is pure nonsense.

In the first place, not all people who marry raise children.  Those who do not should not be governed by a practice you claim is universal.  You have your facts wrong.  It is not universal.  Marriage between one man and one woman is very common, but it is not universal.  Polygamy and polyandry may not be to your liking, but it has always existed.   There are places where “the whole village” raises the children, where mothers’ brothers play a greater role in raising children than their biological fathers.  The solutions to the challenges of raising children have been varied throughout time and place.   By shunting LGBT people aside and trying to keep them outside the institution of marriage, you are missing an opportunity to find allies in the struggle for forms of marriage and child rearing that are beneficial.  We could be working together to improve the institution of marriage, if you would recognize our common interests.

Persons of same-sex orientation have the right to live as they choose but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone by altering the civil law.

They have every right to alter the civil law.  One would hope that when citizens find a law no longer reflects the values of the community, they change it.  And you should not suffer the mistaken notion that it is “persons of same-sex orientation” who are changing the law.  It is being changed by the entire community, most members of which are heterosexually inclined.

Don’t single parents make a valuable contribution to family life?
If so, why should same-sex partners not be viewed the same way?

The stable lifelong loving relationship of a mother and father, found only in marriage, provides the ideal conditions for raising and socializing children. Marriage represents the way we teach and reinforce this ideal.

No, the loving relationship of a mother and father is not found only in marriage.  No one seriously argues that a child is better with a single parent than with two.  Why are you making this connection between the right of LGBT people to marry and single parenting?  It is a red herring.  Are you unaware than when gays or lesbians raise their children they commonly (overwhelmingly) do it as a couple?  Raising the specter of single parenting is dishonest.

Of course, some children are raised in situations other than the traditional two-parent family, and responsible loving single parents and other family members make important and valuable contributions to the welfare of these children. But supporting single-parent families, as a just and compassionate society must do, is far different than deliberately creating motherless and fatherless families and holding them out to be the same as marriages.

Again, you are blurring the issues of marriage and child-rearing.  They are two separate issues.  You should not be limiting the right of one couple to marry because you don’t like the way another couple is raising their children.

Your way of describing a happy healthy home of a child with two daddies or two mommies  as “motherless” or “fatherless” not only reveals your unfortunate choice to view the glass as half empty; it reveals your lack of knowledge.  You really ought to get out and meet more gay and lesbian families and bear witness to the love.  Listen to children raised by same-sex parents.  Start with an open mind, and leave your ideology behind.  If you work with real people for a change, you will see things differently.

But isn’t prohibiting same-sex “marriage” unjust discrimination?
No. We must always remember that every person has an inherent dignity. Like all other human beings, our homosexual brothers and sisters are beloved children of God. As a result, the Catholic Church affirms that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard should be avoided” [Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2358].

Fine.  We all look forward to the day you practice what you preach.

Clearly, the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended, and everyone must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against homosexual persons.

Thank you.

But it is not “unjust discrimination” to treat different things differently. Same-sex unions are not, in fact, the same thing as the union of one man and one woman in marriage. One type of union may ever generate children, the other may never; one type of union respects and expresses the inherent complementarity of man and woman; the other does not. Therefore, treating one type of union as “marriage,” and the other not, is not only permitted, but required. Indeed, it is treating this differentiation as bigotry that constitutes an injustice.

Treat “different things” differently?  Doesn’t that depend on what those things are?  Would you treat black people different from white people?

Your insistence on tying marriage to child-rearing makes you look foolish.  We see all around us old people, well past the child-rearing age, choosing to marry.  We see couples who can’t have children deciding not to adopt and living contented lives without children.  And we see gay and lesbian people with children – more and more all the time.  The connection is bogus.  It does not match modern-day reality.

Is same sex “marriage” a civil right?
Same-sex “marriage” is not a civil right.

It is if we as citizens living in a democracy determine it is a right.

A strong desire does not make a civil right. Every man and every woman has a right to enter into marriage, but marriage as an institution can only be between a man and a woman.

You can repeat this mantra till the cows come home.  You might as well argue that only land-owners should have the right to vote, that a black man is only three-fifths of a white man, that only men can fly planes and become mathematicians.  The world has changed and in some ways become more just.  Extending marriage rights to LGBT people is one of those ways.

Governments do not have the power to define marriage otherwise, because it is a permanent human institution that does not owe its existence to governments.

On the contrary.  Marriage is defined in all modern states as a contract, and as such is subject to government control.  As much as your church would like to seize control of the notion, it is not yours.  It belongs to all of us.  As citizens.  Not as members of a church, mosque or synagogue.

In addition, same-sex “marriage” is not a civil right because same-sex couples cannot fulfill the core public purpose of marriage: bringing men and women into the only kind of union that can make new life and give children mothers and fathers.

You may continue to define the “core” public (public?) purpose of marriage as having children, and most people who marry will want to bring children into the world.  But unless you want to pull childless couples out of the institution, you cannot force your narrow “either/or” worldview on people who have come to understand the wisdom of “both/and”.

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I have no comments to make about the remainder of your statement, since your points are irrelevant to the discussion, now that New Jersey has determined the rights of its LGBT people are identical to the rights of the rest of its citizens.  I have put them in small print.

Would maintaining the definition of marriage as a union solely of one man and one woman deny hospital visitation privileges to civil union partners? Would defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman take away any benefits currently provided to civil union partners by employers?

No. In New Jersey, the Civil Union Act already provides practical rights, benefits, and
protections for persons who choose to establish non-marital unions. As clearly stated in the Act:

Civil union couples shall have all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage. [N.J. Statutes 37:1-31(a)]

The Act also provides that civil union couples are entitled to the benefits and protections of “laws relating to insurance, health and pension benefits.” [N.J. Statutes 37:1-32(e)] In addition, the Act prohibits an array of unlawful employment practices by employers who do not fully implement the Act.

The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Act, signed into law by Governor Christie in December 2011 guarantees by law that all adult patients have the right to designate a representative of their choice with the power to convey specifically how the patient would like to be treated including in the event the patient loses the capacity to express their preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments. The POLST Act even allows for a patient to authorize the patient’s representative to revoke or modify the patient’s decisions if the patient loses decisionmaking capacity.
Further, many organizations have approved Advanced Directives for Health Care that allow individuals to designate anyone they wish as a health care decision maker.

In short, there is no evidence for the claims that in New Jersey same sex couples are not able to assist in making health care decisions together with or for each other. That right is guaranteed by law.

Most Reverend John J. Myers
Archbishop, Diocese of Newark
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop, Diocese of Trenton
Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante
Bishop, Diocese of Camden
Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli
Bishop, Diocese of Paterson
Most Reverend Paul G. Bootkoski
Bishop, Diocese of Metuchen
Most Reverend William C. Skurla
Bishop, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of
Most Reverend Yousif B. Habash
Bishop, Our Lady of Deliverance
Syriac Catholic Diocese

I am not Catholic and I do not live in New Jersey, but I am writing to you because when you issue public statements such as the one above you are speaking not only to other Catholics who share your either/or view but to millions of us outside your faith.  And, I might add, the majority of Catholics who appear to share my both/and views.   I trust you will acknowledge my right to talk back.

I believe you are in error, and that your blinders keep your church a retrograde force.  Your new pope appears to understand the need for positive change.   Most Catholics, I believe, are behind him in his efforts to make your church more loving and compassionate.   Could you too not consider the possibility that some rethinking on your part is in order?

Yours sincerely,

Alan J. McCornick


William D. Lindsey said...

Alan, this is thoughtful, measured, eminently intelligent. I'd like to think they'd pay attention to your arguments, since they claim to represent a tradition that places high value on the role of reason in moral thinking.

I think you should definitely send the letter. I seriously doubt they'll listen.

But you've shared it in a public way on your blog, which is a great step, since, even if they don't listen, many others will hear what you have to say. And it deserves a good hearing~

Yewtree said...

Excellent article, succinctly put.

However, please don't throw single parents under the bus, with the bit about "raising the spectre" of single parents.

I suspect that the reason they mention single parents is because the anti same sex marriage lobby claim that children need a male and a female parent. So the pro same sex marriage lobby responded with, look at all the kids of single parents; they turned out fine.

Alan McCornick said...

Thank you for the reminder, Yewtree, that we all work with what we have and millions of children who had single parents have grown up healthy and happy. I should have been more careful to indicate that the "spectre" was a spectre only from the viewpoint of those with the bony pointing fingers of disapproval. Thanks for calling me on it.