How to be a Good, Gay-Catholic and STILL Miss the Mark
This week the Supreme Court will rule on some pretty significant decisions affecting the future of Same Sex Marriages.
Reflecting on those decisions, and also having just recently listened to this podcast from the show Unbelievable with Justin Brierley (a recent favorite of mine) which featured a debate on Same Sex Marriage between the well known gay activist Peter Tatchell and Catholic apologist Peter D Williams, my mind has mused on the following.
(Disclosure: I am about to tread in to some waters dealing with the “Catholic” position. While I have engaged several Catholics on this issue, and while the debater from the above podcast who supported the traditional view of marriage was a Catholic (Peter D Williams), I by no means claim to have an exhaustive understanding of this viewpoint. So I welcome any correction, or clarification. Furthermore, it is not my desire to “pick on” the Catholic church. If you’ve read my blog, you know I pick similar bones with my evangelical/protestant friends. This post does not, as it were, create a full picture of how I feel about the Catholic Church or about Catholics. I love my friends who are Catholic, I support them being Catholic, and I think Catholicism has just as many good/bad things about it as my own particular brand of religion, etc etc etc. Basically, I’m not Catholic-bashing.)
Why the Church is Against Same Sex Marriage
One of the primary arguments against redefining marriage to include people of the same sex is because of the (negative) effect it will have on the family, and then, by extension, society as a whole. Marriage must be protected because, as Peter D Williams says, “Marriage is a fundamental element of what the Church calls, the “common good”, by which we mean those institutions and conditions that lead to the flourishing of all human beings.” (Peter's full article can be found here. I'll be referencing it several times.)
This is reasoned out by establishing an “ideal context” into which children should be born and raised.
Putting it plainly (as I understand it), children benefit most and have the best chance at becoming healthy and whole people if they have a mother and a father in their lives to raise them. And this is not just "quality of life" speaking, this is morally speaking as well. This is because the father provides things that the mother cannot, and vice versa. Men are, for example, more daring risk takers. Whereas women are more cautious and reserved. Men are more wired for provision and protection, while women are more nurturing and caring. I could go on, but I think you get the gist. Having both sexes represented, then, provides the perfect balance, the ideal environment, for a child to be exposed to the whole spectrum of human expression. Growing up in this ideal situation, it is argued, best prepares children to know how to relate to men and women, and to know how to, essentially, be good citizens in a good society. Peter D Williams puts it thus,
“our society has already begun to affirm the view that one or other of a child’s parents are dispensable to their upbringing. This is thoroughly wrong, and contrary to the best interests of children, who should have the chance to be brought up with, and have access to, the masculinity of their father and the femininity of their mother. As the columnist Matthew Parris once wrote: “I am glad I had both a mother and a father, and that after childhood I was to spend my life among both men and women, and as men and women are not the same, I would have missed something if I had not learned first about the world from, and with, both a woman and a man, and in the love of both.”
Therefore, if one side of that equation is missing (no mother, or no father) then the ideal is no longer realized. The child will grow up not knowing how to relate to one gender. Or the child will grow up and be too heavily slanted toward taking risks, or too heavily slanted towards being nurturing and caring. So on and so forth.
Again, this all hinges on the assumption (probably the wrong word… I’m sure they would not say it like this) that there exists an ideal environment to grow up a child, and this provides then an ideal environment to grow and maintain society. The government is there to help protect this ideal primarily because it is in their best interest. Again from Williams, “Marriage forms the bedrock of the family – the basic unit of society – and it is therefore in the interests of the state to support and promote it.”
Destroy the family, and the society is surely to follow.
Sucks To Be You
I could take the rest of this post in several different directions.
- Addressing the assumptions behind gender-based characteristics would be interesting. Why are we STILL saying things like, “males are ___________, while females are ___________.” I mean, I get it. Sort of. There is plenty of research I’m sure that supports the idea that men are generally more like this, and women are typically more like that. But I think that notion is being (rightfully so) challenged. There are, quite frankly, too many “exceptions” to these rules to really allow them to be “rules” any more. Men can be nurturing and women can be risk takers. Why is this disputed? Anyways, interesting stuff, but I won’t go there.
- Pushing back on what the Catholic Church means by “best interest of the children” would be interesting. What if they are wrong, or out of date, on what it looks like to raise happy, healthy, wise, and good humans? Does society actually suffer if there are people being raised too heavily slanted toward taking risks, while others are being raised to be super extremely cautious? In other words, what are the assumptions behind “best interest” and who gets to decide that? Anyways, interesting, but I won’t go there.
- Arguing against the idea that the government should be responsible for protecting some sort of religious “ideal environment” could be a lot of fun. But not this time around.
- Attempting to demonstrate how often “the ideal” is not met, and thereby questioning the validity of even having an ideal could be fascinating. The Catholic Church (according to Williams) says that “Marriage exists to provide the stability of formalized monogamous fidelity, which not only benefits the man and woman who enter into it, but forms the best atmosphere in which the children who result from their union can best be brought up...The nature of marriage, then, is a result of human nature, as our species has evolved to pair sexually as male and female, and in such a way that will result in the next generation being born and raised.” ... Marriage, in other words, is for making babies, and raising them in the ideal environment. People often attempt to argue things like, “well then should impotent people not get married?” or “elderly people, who are past child-bearing age?” Perhaps interesting (if not, ultimately, a non-sequitur, in my mind), but not where I want to go.
So where WILL I go?
Well, basically I want to say, it feels like the Catholic Church essentially says to gay people, “Oh, so you’re gay? Hmmm… yeaaaaah, sorry about that. Sucks to be you.”
First, if you are gay, then the Church won’t bless you marrying someone of the same sex. Of course, this isn’t unique to the Catholic Church, but I found Peter D Williams’ response to Peter Tatchell, in the above referenced debate, pretty cold. He said, in response to charges of discrimination, that essentially no one is discriminating against him because he is gay. He is absolutely allowed to get married. “It just so happens,” Williams said, “that you aren’t interested in marrying the type of person that you are allowed to.”
In other words: Sucks to be you.
Secondly, if you are gay, then you are not allowed to have a relationship with a person of the same sex. If you cannot succeed in changing your orientation (quick sidenote: I don’t know where the Catholic church stands on this. Do they still maintain that people’s orientation can change? I don’t actually know..), and if you refuse to live like a straight person, then you must choose celibacy. (Cue the voice of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld: “No sex for you!”) But my problem with this is that this position seems to contradict how the Church has traditionally understood celibacy. The Catholic Church views celibacy in high regard. They view it so highly because those who choose such a life sacrifice the possibility of sex. And this is important because sex is understood to be one of the most precious treasures God has given humanity. So making a gift of it back to God is one of the most genuine expressions of thanksgiving for such a great gift. But they see this “lifestyle” (i.e. Celibacy) as a calling. All people are called to holiness, but only some are called to celibacy while others are called to marriage. Each person has been given a gift from God and they should respond to the gift they are given. Celibacy, then, is understood as a supremely unique and beautiful calling that some are gifted with. And yet, if you are gay, well then guess what: we (the Church) have decided for you that you must be celibate. What’s that, you say? The whole concept of calling and being gifted for it? Oh, right… well that doesn’t apply to you.
In other words: Sucks to be you.
And lastly, (this is perhaps the whole reason for this post) if you are gay, there is a very high probability that you could forsake your sexual orientation, choose to live as though you were straight, get married, procreate, raise a family, (basically aim to be a good Catholic) and yet still fail to live up to the ideal. Here's what I'm getting at, but to get to my point I have to engage in further stereotypes. And yet I think that generally speaking, and painting with broad enough strokes, I'm on fairly safe ground to proceed. Often times (though certainly not always) those who identify as gay or lesbian will, generally speaking, NOT fit the traditional gender norms as people like Peter D Williams and others would put forth. In other words, effeminate men who are gay likely don’t fit the typical “male/masculinity” stereotypes. And conversely, women who are gay likely wouldn’t fit the typical “female/femininity” stereotypes. So even if, let’s say, a lesbian (in this case, one who defies typical femininity) who is devoted to Catholicism decides to not live out her sexual orientation, but instead chooses to make the sacrifice and find a husband to marry and have a family with, then in the eyes of the Church she is still considered a failure. She is still raising her children in a less-than "ideal" environment. Because her kids will, essentially, have two parents of similar makeup. Two risk-takers. Two protectors. Two “insert-other-stereotypes-here.” This lesbian woman, who is trying to live out a faithful Catholicism, is still ultimately failing her church, failing her family, and failing society. You can imagine the same scenario for a gay man who shows to be far more on the "feminine" side of the spectrum. In these cases there is still the failure to achieve the "ideal environment."
In other words: Sucks to be you.
Do They Really Care?
Ultimately I find myself wondering if the Catholic church really, truly cares for their LGBT family members. And I realize how harsh that sounds, but I am sure you can see how it is far less harsh than how the Church's position sounds to those who identify as gay or lesbian!
It seems the Catholic Church's general posture towards the LGBT community is one that almost guarantees a life of misery.
Here is what I hear the Catholic Church say:
You have to be celibate. Even if you’re not called to it nor gifted for it.
Or, you can choose to just live like a straight person. Which will, of course, be unfulfilling in so many ways, and you’ll likely be miserable. But hey, at least you won’t have gay sex.
(sidenote: this reminds me of this infamous quote from the Blessed John Henry Newman, a Cardinal in the mid 1830’s: “The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.” ... In other words: it’s better for your life to be miserable and utterly devastating than for you to commit a sin like sex outside of traditional marriage.)
And finally, just so we are clear, even if you DO marry and raise a family, you will still be a letdown. A failure. You will swing and miss when it comes to providing the ideal environment for raising a family and creating a good society.
How does this proposition not feel like anything but a lose-lose-lose?
I find myself feeling very sad for gays in the Catholic Church.
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I invite comments, questions, push-back and other dialogue from anyone. Especially any Catholic readers. Would you agree with my three "sucks to be you" summaries? If not, why? If so, do you agree that, well, it sucks?