From Sex to Sexual Politics: The Problem with Gay Marriage

Last year, Joseph Bottum wrote an essay for Commonweal entitled, “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” With a title like this coming from the pen of a former editor of First Things, Bottum’s article was almost certain to generate voluminous commentary. And it did.

One year later, the commentary continues, with the most recent issue of Commonweal including responses to Bottum’s thesis from two high-profile Catholic journalists. Ross Douthat—a columnist for the New York Timescriticizes Bottum for going too far. Douthat argues that if Catholics “are to continue contending in the American public square,” then “there is no honest way for the church to avoid stating its position on what the legal definition of marriage ought to be.” Jamie L. Manson, on the other hand, thinks that Bottum does not go far enough. She argues that gay couples should not only be allowed by the secular government to contract civil marriages, but that Catholic teaching should change to recognize “the potential of a gay or lesbian couple to fulfill the requirements of sacramental marriage.”

Bottum’s response to his critics from both sides of the political spectrum is cogent (more cogent, I think, than his essay last year):

Jamie L. Manson wants to bring the current social regime into the church, and Ross Douthat wants to bring the church into the current social regime. I have enormous sympathy for the motives behind both these views. But they each begin with the late modern premise that the supernatural enchantment of reality is primarily a political thing. For that matter, they both begin with the notion that homosexuality—and the issue of same-sex marriage in particular—ought to be near the center of Catholicism’s public moral concern. That’s bad politics and bad metaphysics, in just about equal measure.

Both sides of the gay marriage debate, Bottum argues, have been “caught by the modern trap in which everything seems politicized, and our cultural understandings, our spiritualized experiences of the world, become political battles.” Conservatives within the Church have therefore read Bottum’s essay as calling for a Catholic retreat from public life because they have collapsed the public and cultural spheres entirely into the political. One benefit of trying to separate the political question from the cultural is that political debates always call for immediate answers to immediate questions. What Bottum seems to be saying is that the more expansive view necessary for dealing with complex cultural questions is not easily adopted when you are accustomed to seeing with the tunnel vision necessary for tackling pressing political problems. For as long as the Church is entangled in an exhausting (and arguably inequitable) battle against same-sex civil marriage, it will lack the intellectual energy to think about the theological and cultural dimensions of marriage and sexuality.

Culturally, one of the most distressing things about the current gay marriage discussion is the way it has been framed as a “gays vs. Christians” debate—as if these were mutually exclusive. As Matthew Schmitz of First Things points out in a recent debate with Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, contemporary gay activism “very unfortunately divide[s] gay people from people of faith” and suggests “that the twain never meet.” In reality, Schmitz argues, there are a number of people who are “out, gay Christians who nonetheless ascribe to the Church’s teaching that marriage is necessarily between a man and a woman” and who “abide by this in their own lives as best they can.” Schmitz’s comments are correct as far as they go. But we do not even necessarily have to point to the (admittedly small) number of gay Christians who choose to remain celibate to realize that the “pro-gay marriage LGBT community vs. homophobic Church” meme is a stereotype with little grounding in reality.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

In the English-speaking world, the modern gay and lesbian movement begins not with the Stonewall riots in 1969, but with Oscar Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for “gross indecency,” and in particular with the famous speech Wilde gave at his trial on “the love that dare not speak its name.” His speech caused the public gallery in the courtroom to burst into spontaneous applause, much to the chagrin of the judge and prosecutors. It was this trial, and the public witness that Wilde gave to a particular vision of homosexuality, which turned the issue of homosexuality into a public controversy that rages to this day. It was the Wilde trial which—not solely, but certainly more than any other single event—first imparted to queer people in large numbers both a place in the public consciousness and a consciousness of their own queer identity without which the later Stonewall riots would in fact have been impossible.

Modern, professional gay activists often quote a line from a letter Wilde wrote to a friend shortly after his release from prison—“I have no doubt that we shall win,” Wilde said, “but the road is long, and red with monstrous martyrdoms.” When quoted by modern activists, the implication is always that the “win” Wilde was talking about is the same “win” that the activists seek—assimilation of queer people into traditional heterosexual patterns of behavior such as getting married, having children, getting a mortgage, and so on.  Yet a cursory glance at Wilde’s views on homosexuality shows he hardly fits the role contemporary activists have tried to give him as a proto-martyr for the modern gay rights movement.

The defense Wilde gave of homosexual love at his trial—of a love such “as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare,” of an “intellectual” love, a “deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect”—hardly sits well with the “Same Love” memes of modern gay activism. Homosexual love for Wilde was obviously something categorically different from heterosexual love. My point, of course, is not that we must agree with everything Wilde said, but simply that it’s not possible to read anything he actually did say and come away with the impression that he would have supported the cozy, bourgeois activism of modern gay rights organizations. If Wilde thought—in the saccharine words of modern activism—that “all love is equal,” then why on earth did he argue that love between two men is the “most noble form of affection,” at a time when such a sentiment must surely have seemed even more outrageous than it does today?

The ideas expressed by Wilde were by no means unusual in the gay community prior to Stonewall. Unsurprisingly, when homosexuals thought about what it meant to flourish as homosexuals, they looked not to the heterosexual nuclear family, but to the history of homosexuality itself. So, for example, when the gay apologist Edward Carpenter wrote about homosexuality, he made a study of the place that homosexuality as a distinct passion had held in African, Polynesian, and above all ancient Greek and Roman society. He would likely have regarded the campaign for gay marriage as missing the point, since a society in which homosexuals are assimilated into heterosexual institutions would be less culturally rich insofar as it lacked the distinct contribution made by homosexuals as homosexuals.

Echoes of this attitude have survived into the twenty-first century. In France, for example (probably the most laissez-faire country in the world when it comes to matters sexual), some homosexuals joined the recent protests against gay marriage. In England, too, a number of prominent gay men spoke out against same-sex marriage. Brian Sewell denounced the “noisy nucleus” of activists “who are never satisfied and always ask for more,” while the atheist historian David Starkey argued that marriage was “part of the baggage of heterosexual society” and sneered at the idea that “gays need to call each other Mr and Mrs.” Even Stonewall, Britain’s biggest gay rights organization, for a long time refused to adopt any policy in support of same-sex marriage, citing a diversity of views among its members and supporters, some of whom even thought that civil unions were “heteronormative.”

Mainstream progressives have denounced such old-fashioned queer views as examples of “Stockholm Syndrome”—self-loathing gays kowtowing to polite heterosexual opinion. This seems about as textbook an example of projection as I can think of, given that progressives have relentlessly sought to erase the distinctiveness of homosexuality by arguing that gays must closely imitate the heterosexual family. It could even be argued that as a result of progressive sexual politics the “gay” community is ceasing to exist in any meaningful sense. The one thing, for example, that links the “monk-like chastity” (as Condivi famously said) of Michaelangelo chiseling away at his male sculptures, with the debauchery of someone like Oscar Wilde, is that both shared a particular way of relating to their own gender, and a capacity to realize the beauty of another of the same sex not simply as an abstract acknowledgement of a fact but as a felt experience. Now, we are confronted with the phenomenon of “allies,” who are sometimes even given a place in queer acronyms like LGBTQIAA. You may be as straight as the day is long, but these days, if you have trendy political opinions about gay issues and a marriage equality sticker on your car, you can be queer too.

The result of this drive to transform homosexuality from a sexual identity into a political identity—and a political identity in many ways defined in opposition to Christianity—has, as queer theorist Ellis Hanson argues, served to drive an even deeper wedge between the Church and the gay community, and to impoverish and truncate the possibilities for spiritual and religious flourishing within the gay community itself:

The lesbian-and-gay movement is eager to forget the number of Christians among its ranks, despite the fact that one of the largest and wealthiest gay organizations in the world is the Metropolitan Community Church … Aestheticism, once the hallmark of a certain gay sensibility, has suffered a similar decline in prestige. Beauty, belief, and sexual pleasure, insofar as they are distinct from the political, now appear simply quaint to those of a critical disposition … The aesthetic pleasures of sex have given way to the critical pleasures of sexual politics, the temptations of art are renounced in favor of a political demystification of art, and religion is held in contempt as an opiate of the masses.

As Hanson notes, there is “nothing essential to being postmodern or being gay” that must of itself “preclude a devotion to God.” Yet the saddest feature of the contemporary gay marriage debate is that this—the obvious fact that gay people, too, can be genuinely religious—is something that should even need to be said at all. There was once a time when it was almost expected that a certain type of gay man or lesbian woman was likely to convert to Anglo- or Roman Catholicism, and there were particular features of Catholicism which were in fact attractive to sexual minorities. That time is quickly passing into history, and the only thing that both the Church and the mainstream gay community currently seem to be able to agree upon is that as much as possible should be done to speed it upon its way into history as quickly as possible. Ultimately, such a strategy will simply impoverish both communities.

aarontaylor50Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society. He can be followed on Twitter:@AyTay86.

61 thoughts on “From Sex to Sexual Politics: The Problem with Gay Marriage

  1. Very interesting and informative look at some of the history. Would love for you to write more on this and maybe give some ideas and/or application of what we might learn from it. For instance, I’m curious to know how some of the church (either Catholic or Protestant) responded to the type or description of homosexuality that was more common in an earlier era than our modern, political understanding. Again, very good article!

  2. Very sorry, but it’s you who come across as all cozy, bourgeois, Catholic aesthetes… you know, the teddy-bear carrying Oxbridge types. Working class gay people here in Britain have very little to do with the likes of Brian Sewell and don’t mind a bit of assimilation. It’s a nice break from being trampled to death in the East end.

    • If by “aesthete” you mean someone who thinks the value of something beautiful can’t just be reduced to how amenable it is to advancing a political agenda, then fine, I don’t mind being called one. But the implication that being such, or being Catholic, or having gone to Oxbridge, somehow signifies a particular class background or a lack of knowledge of what the daily grind is like for like ordinary “working class gay people” is somewhat wide of the mark — as if no-one from the working class ever went to Oxbridge, or was a Catholic, or liked art?

      • I don’t think that’s being fair, Aaron. Lorenzo does have a point, i.e. that to many of us, gay marriage is a great thing. Knowing in Nigeria I could be killed, but in Britain, if I were in a sexual relationship (well, to be honest, any kind of romantic relationship, of varying degrees of chastity), it could have some form of protection from the State, is in many ways a good thing. Yes, as a Catholic I wouldn’t be able to partake in even a civil ceremony (and thankfully as a Catholic I think there’s value in suffering which includes any harm caused by the lack of civil recognition), but agreeing with the teachings of the Church on the meaning of marriage, doesn’t mean we can so easily overlook some of the problematic consequences for certain sectors of society.

        I worry that a lot of these discussions seems to focus on attacking the superficiality of contemporary understandings of marriage which is all well and good, but rarely seem to deal with the issue that beneath the silliness, there is an injustice that some LGBTQ activists are trying to address. Being loyal children of the Church doesn’t mean we shouldn’t face the genuinely difficult aspects of Church teaching and culture.

      • Sure. I probably didn’t convey it clearly enough, as I wanted to focus on other things than the political, but I don’t have any problem with giving gay couples the same legal and civil rights if they are making the same level of commitment. And, of course, many of the other legal protections (non-discrimination, etc.) are vital.

        But I think there’s a difference between (a) acknowledging that the political protections are useful in helping to protect queer people, and (b) collapsing queer identity into sexual politics. To use an analogy: feminism, insofar as it is genuine and seeks the social equality of women as women, helps to protect womanhood, but that doesn’t mean that womanhood can just be reduced to being a political feminist. Feminism only has meaning if there is some deeper feminine value its trying to protect.

        Thanks very much for your comment.

      • No, by aesthete I do not mean someone who thinks the value of something beautiful can just be reduced to how amenable it is to advancing any political agenda, I mean aesthete, and Biscuitnapper down below has it about right as far as I am concerned

  3. Redefining marriage to include homosexuality in the law we all have to live under seems to me just as obviously a bad idea as equating abortion and childbirth as “equal” choices in the law – especially to any serious Christian. The issue has become so obscured that even many intellectuals cannot see it clearly at this time. The fundamentals are simple: sex rightly belongs only within marriage. And while we know people will stray from this ideal, it makes no sense to pass laws that pretend the ideal is “equal” to various kinds of fornication. That is a lie, and an obvious one. So it is therefore dressed up in terms of rights instead. Gay marriage laws do not so much give gays more rights, as they can already live as they choose. Redefining marriage in the law is mostly a means of coercing acceptance of homosexual sex acts by equating them with marital acts. If only Christians could see this clearly, and stop watching TV and reading magazines and forming their perceptions based on secular culture, we would be able to think clearly on the issue. Whether we are able to influence the broader culture or not, the starting point has to be our own clear thinking, wouldn’t you agree?

    • I think your own comment illustrates the way that Christians—yourself included—think in secular terms, rather than the terms of the Christian tradition. The secular culture has already radically redefined marriage through no-fault divorce and the widespread acceptance of contraception. If marriage means what the Christian tradition says it means, it is impossible to get a legal marriage in any state in the United States, and has been impossible for decades. Instead, we have a system of civil partnerships, which are called “marriages,” but which are understood as temporary contracts, not lifelong covenants ordered to the procreation and education of children.

      The fact that, with the exception of a couple of ambiguous sentences, you focus on the redefinition of marriage only in terms of same-sex marriage, and ignore the way that marriage has already been radically redefined reinforces the point that Christians get too focused on the immediate political issues and do not step back and focus on discussing the issue clearly on Christian terms.

      • Ron, I think it’s unavoidable that we all must think to some extent in secular terms, because secular society dictates the laws we all must obey and live under. The point I was making was not to think ONLY in terms of secular society, but to use our Christian faith as a foundation to be able to propose truly good secular solutions that we can live with in this pluralistic society without compromising our faith.

        Too many Americans have lost their ability to even reason their way out of a paper bag, and are simply sitting there, watching The View or whatever cultural spigot they’re at, and getting worked up about the awful apartheid gays allegedly live under because their insurance won’t pay for a surrogate mother. Even most Christians seem oddly unaware that this is even a threat to our faith, which is why so many Christians are moving toward acceptance of homosexual activity and things like gay marriage. We’re losing, even inside the church, and we shouldn’t be.

        I focus on the homosexualization of marriage because that is the current issue on the table. Contraception and no-fault divorce were debates we had as a society one or two generations ago. The game’s already over on those issues. We lost.

      • We also “lost” the abortion issue in 1973. Most Christians do not regard that as the end of the story. That you think it is the end of the story on no fault divorce just reinforces my point that you are not using your Christian faith as a foundation for proposing truly good secular solutions. No fault divorce laws effect every marriage, and make every child vulnerable.

        If you just treat that as a given because of a secular decision made decades ago, then it its difficult to see how you’re not applying a double standard, accepting secular thinking on no fault divorce, but complaining that too many Christians are willing to do that on same sex marriage.

        Also, although things have improved substantially for gay and lesbian people in thus country, your sarcasm about “awful apartheid” shows that you are basically blind to the degree of hostility to gays that still remains in Christian circles, including hostility to those who are obedient to church teaching.

      • Wait a minute Dain!

        We are not losing and we haven’t lost. What we put forward is the Truth. We can’t lose. We haven’t lost. It is society that loses with its approach. We are here to bring out the light for those who will get it. I understand your urgency but you have to relax and let God work His way. He will win for us because what is impossible for us is possible for Him. This is out faith, this is what I know to be true,

      • This is really well said, Ron. You might be entertained to hear that Dan Savage has made a similar point: “The problem for opponents of gay marriage isn’t that gay people are trying to redefine marriage in some new, scary way, but that straight people have redefined marriage to a point that it no longer makes any logical sense to exclude same-sex couples.” Religious marriage and civil marriage overlap, but they’re not the same thing, and they haven’t been for some time.

      • Ron, I assure you that if there were legislation proposed to limit or roll back no-fault divorce I would support it in every way I could. I know a bit about sociology and economics and am a child of divorce so I know both personally and societally the harm divorce brings into being. But rolling back no-fault divorce hasn’t even been discussed, much less been proposed. Why? Because – again – we had that societal debate thirty years ago. And, yes – we lost. It’s become entrenched both in the law and in people’s minds as the norm. Which is probably what will happen with the gender requirement of marriage as well, and I do think the effects of that will be even worse, especially for children. Your “point” that we should be focusing equal energy backwards onto rehashing old battlegrounds is unhelpful and frankly seems irrational to me in the here and now with regard to the current challenges facing marriage. It seems you’re put out because you feel the homosexuality issue is getting more condemnation than divorce or fornication. It’s not homophobia. It’s the fact that this is the issue of the day.

      • Firstly, we didn’t “lose” a battle about divorce. We didn’t fight it.

        I don’t think he was suggesting that we re-open a *political* battle against divorce, but anyway, if he was, we also basically lost the political debate against abortion thirty years ago, but there are still plenty of pro-life organizations who keep the debate open.

        No-one goes around calling pro-lifers “unhelpful” and “irrational” for “re-hashing old battlegrounds,” so why do supporters of traditional marriage consistently make this “please be quiet” argument against divorce while pouring millions of dollars into fighting gay marriage? Because many of them probably aren’t supporters of marriage at all, they’re just anti-gay, but it’s much easier to gain supporters and make money by claiming to support marriage than by admitting being anti-gay.

      • In these discussions, on the part of some, there seems to be a repeated refrain of “think of the children” that is used to argue against gay marriage in a political sense. Can anyone point to even one legitimate study (i.e. not Regnerus) that shows any statistically significant harm to children of gay parents versus children of straight parents?

      • 1. Aaron, not being a student of history myself, perhaps you are correct that Christians unanimously sat on their hands as no fault divorce swept through the US in the 1970s. But whether we “lost” or “didn’t fight”, either way, we were either wrong or just plain stupid. Just like now anybody who isn’t fighting against the evil of homosexually redefining marriage is wrong.

        2. I’m glad the debate about abortion is still alive. I’ve been part of it and will continue. I’ve stood with 40 Days for Life and while I’m certainly no great activist I support them any way I can. Unfortunately, any woman who wants to kill her own son or daughter before it can be born can simply dial a #, and have him assassinated the next day. So the debate is in some ways completely irrelevant, until we actually win. “Win” means the law enforces in some way the right of a baby not to have his mother kill him. A “win” on marriage means we have a legal definition of marriage that does not coerce christians in employment and other public square situations to pretend something evil is something good. Your comparison of abortion and marriage after that starts to break down, as all analogies eventually do.

        3. No advocate of true marriage (meaning husband-wife marriage) has ever said “please be quiet” about divorce. What I HAVE heard however, is that advocates of homosexuality say that people against homosexually redefining marriage should be quiet until they expend equal energy against divorce. This is what some christians are doing now, since it’s so costly to come out forcefully and publicly against homosexualizing marriage. They’re officially against gay marriage, but not exactly fighting against it. Instead they take pot shots at people who are, perhaps to deflect the vicious retaliation that gay people are known for on this issue.

        4. As far as your absolutely false comment that “many of them [true marriage advocates] probably aren’t supporters of marriage at all, they’re just anti-gay, but it’s much easier to gain supporters and make money by claiming to support marriage than by admitting being anti-gay” shows me how far removed from reality you are on this issue. Look, I don’t know what planet you’re on, but nobody goes into publicly fighting homosexualized marriage for the adulation and the money. Go talk to Maggie Gallagher or any other public figure who has come out against homosexualizing marriage. Listen to them tell you how popular it made them, and how respectfully their adversaries tolerated them. Oh! and how rich they got. SMH Marriage advocates do it because they really believe in marriage, and you can take that to the bank buster. When even conservatives are falling like dominos on this issue, you cannot be serious with this comment. GET REAL.

        5. Ron, you previously said it was difficult to see how a double standard was not being applied by christians who think secularly on divorce but theologically on homosexuals presenting themselves as married couples and demanding to be spoken to and treated as if they were husband and wife. I think that if a man and woman present themselves as married, absent an investigation into the details of whether the first marriage was ever even valid, the typical christian in an everyday business encounter can at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they are married, and not be blatantly contradicting their own beliefs about marriage. No rational person who is a christian can pretend that 2 men are a marriage without contradicting the obvious known truth. That’s a huge difference. I’m surprised you can’t see it.

      • Dain and Aaron,

        You both have good points. Although Dain is right to say that the costs of standing against marriage can be quite high, Aaron is also right that standing against gay marriage has political benefits. The thing is, we’re talking about different people. Maggie Gallagher is a public figure known for her care for children and her support of parenting. When she opposes gay marriage, she gets lambasted by people she is close friends with — in part, because she honestly believes what she’s saying, and they can’t stand that.

        When many politicians oppose gay marriage, however, they don’t really mean what they’re saying. Once the center of the Republican party moves, they’ll change their tune — just as Obama did, quite recently in fact. If they have any objection to gay marriage, it is an essentially homophobic objection, not a rational objection.

        As for whether we Christians should spend so much time opposing gay marriage right now — if we had spent time discipling gay people in the past, we wouldn’t be faced with this question. Now we reap what we sowed. At the very least, we should reap it in a way that takes responsibility for our own role in this debacle. But this does not preclude actively and strenuously objecting to gay marriage (and for that matter, strenuously objecting to the notion that legislation should in general be “value-free”).

      • I guess if you convince yourself that marriage advocates don’t really care about marriage, that they’re just homophobic, that is an easy way to dismiss and pay little credence to what they’re saying. It’s one of the tools in the gay rhetorical toolbox, and I have to admit it’s been very effective. But of course people cannot normally actually read other people’s hearts, so your presumption of homophobia is just as likely to be a lie as the truth. Also, I think homophobia can sometimes be a perfectly normal and necessary attitude for a Christian, when you consider that homosexual acts are evil, and somebody who is strongly drawn to such acts instead of finding them repulsive can be somebody we should be careful with, especially if they are presuming to teach the culture, and even the church, the proper way to think and talk and act regarding homosexuality.

      • No, we are not God and we cannot read people’s hearts, but sometimes we are called to make moral judgments about situations which require trying to discern someone’s intent. If we could never make such judgments we could simply have no morality, and no law courts, for example.

        If a traffic officer only ever stops people of one particular race for breaking the speed limit, despite the fact that people of all races are speeding on the same road, its reasonable to assume that he is motivated by racism, and not by the impartial administration of justice. We might be wrong, but its a reasonable assumption, and if the traffic officer fails to offer an intelligible explanation for his partiality, the assumption only becomes more reasonable.

        When opponents of same-sex marriage claim to be defending marriage as a whole, and yet at the same time applaud a twice-divorced adulterer like Newt Gingrich as an ally, its reasonable to suppose that the underlying intent is more opposition to homosexuality than the defense of marriage.

      • I think he is not equating homosexuality to abortion but “gay marriage” to “legal abortion”… Am I wrong?

      • I still think the equation actually insults the unborn.

        I don’t think it is, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s absolutely wrong under all circumstances for a same-sex couple to have the rights that come under civil marriage.

        If a person thought that, presumably they’d think, for example, that when one gay person died and their partner inherited their property without paying inheritance tax, they were robbing society of all the taxes that they should have paid if gay marriage hadn’t been legalized.

        Now even if we admitted that that were the case (and I don’t), it is clearly not in the same category as robbing an unborn child of their life!

      • I guess the word “marriage” to describe these couples really bothers me. Not so much the derived legal rights. Except perhaps when it comes to children…

      • OK. But surely you don’t think that misusing a word is in the same moral category as killing a baby?

        Even if you are staunchly opposed to legalized gay marriage, I still don’t think it makes sense to compare it to abortion.

      • Thank you Rosa, you understood what I meant to convey. Aaron, I apologize that I was so terse that I ended up being unclear. So let me requote what I actually said and then explain the point I was trying to make:

        “Redefining marriage to include homosexuality in the law we all have to live under seems to me just as obviously a bad idea as equating abortion and childbirth as “equal” choices in the law – especially to any serious Christian.”

        The tactic of presenting two very different realities as if they were “equal choices” is where I was finding a similarity with laws on abortion. The law doesn’t explicitly say that giving birth or having an abortion are equal choices, because saying it that way makes it somewhat obvious that it is not true. But the effect of the law is to make them equal choices, by proclaiming abortion a constitutional right. Once something people want to do is recognized as a legal right – such as contraception, abortion, or even euthanasia – those legal rights have a way of playing out in real life as obligations upon others to accomodate or even facilitate or participate in those so-called rights.

        Tactically, I see the law dictating that 2 men have no significant difference to husband and wife (which is what homosexually redefining marriage does) as similar, in terms of how the issue has been put forward. This is a legal tactic the left keeps using to their success. I am talking about the similarities in advancing evil things as if they were equally good by somehow construing them to be constitutional rights.

      • You know, my best friend at work, she is liberal and she is agnostic and she is my best friend! 😀 proposes that the state should do away with the institution of marriage all together and sometimes I think I agree with her. No marriage under the law.

      • Yes. The more I think about it the more I like the idea of “no marriage under the law”. This type of marriage is broken and I can’t understand any longer what its purpose is. If its purpose is to support a lifelong commitment then it has failed miserably (50% divorce rate). If its purpose is to protect children, it fails to do so yet again (divorce rate is the best example again). If we were to just remove it from our laws then every relationship would be treated the same (no discrimination). People could draw their own contracts to rule their relationship/partnership and if the relationship ends it could be dealt with on a case by case basis within the court system (which already is). I definitely like this proposal.

      • I think the problem here is that you are still trying to come up with political answers to what is a much deeper question than politics.

        In principle I agree that the state shouldn’t be solemnizing “marriages,” but some kind of civil union/contract. But that has *always* been the case right from the time “civil marriage” was first invented in the 1750s. Its not like the state used to have some kind of religious power that it lost when it changed the definition of marriage. It just never had it.

        In practice, abolishing civil marriage would just cause more chaos, especially for children, and especially when you think about all the things that are bound up with civil marriage like inheritance and whatnot.

        The Catholic Church was not tasked by Jesus with the role of being the guardian of the American imperium. Instead of embarking on some mad *political* scheme to abolish civil marriage, Catholics would be much better off focusing on making sure they have proper *religious* instruction which emphasizes the distinction between civil and sacramental unions … the instruction they should have been receiving anyway!

      • The other thing that has occurred to me is to obtain a divorce, a civil divorce of course, but keep honoring my marriage, keep loving and honoring my husband living with him as if nothing has changed. This would be a solution for me personally. To Cesar that which is from Cesar, and to God that which is from God. I would do this with my eyes closed but my husband doesn’t want to proceed with this solution of repudiating civil marriage altogether the way it is.

      • Aaron,

        I think catholics can do both: provide a better instruction on what marriage really is and make a political stand where “no marriage under the law” would be a possibility. It is not either or to me.

      • Yes, we *could* do both, but as I said, I think adopting a position of “no marriage under the law” is the wrong way to go.

        I don’t see how one can deny that abolishing marriage would just contribute to even more family breakdown and chaos for children. To do this just to make a point about the meaning of a word seems extremely callous to me.

      • I’m not proposing to do this because of the meaning of a word. I think that, as it is, civil marriage is devoid of meaning and has lost its purpose. I really think in these terms when I think about removing marriage from the law all together. People would them trace their own contracts with each other and abide by those contracts. Whatever meaning they want their relationship to take that’s what they’ll have. This is what people are claiming they want. So it is less hypocritical to let them have what they want than to try to regulate something that can’t be properly regulated. When it comes to children they still can be provision to protect them in case their parents part away with each other.

      • Sorry Aaron, this is a response to Dain. You may, tactically, see the law as dictating that 2 men (why men by the way?) have no significant difference to husband and wife. The law however says no such thing, it merely agrees to treat the troth between the two aforementioned individuals as having the same legal consequences. The ;aw does not care much about theology, thank God.

      • Marriage evolved over time to give a structure to the male-female sexual relationship. The consequences of this relationship are interrelated with procreation. For example, monogamy is important because if the man conceives a child with another woman who he is cheating with, he could be required to support that child for 18 years. That’s a big amount of resources that will be taken from the wife’s family and sent to the “other woman”. If a same-gender partner cheats, there is no way they will accidentally impregnate somebody of the same gender. So a slightly different structure would be appropriate. Such as the idea of being “monogamish” that Dan Savage has already publicly championed – having one main squeeze but being free under certain agreed-upon circumstances to have sex with other people as well. Whatever we might think of this morally, in a physical sense it makes more sense for an open relationship like this to apply to a homosexual relationship than a heterosexual one, for one reason because there is no possibility of accidental procreation in a homosexual encounter. So I just give this example to show that the structure of marriage is actually based on the attributes of the male-female relationship. Male-female couples need the structure that marriage gives in ways that simply do not apply the same way to same-sex couples, not because of homophobia but because of the very physical nature of our bodies.

  4. A lovely post. This is one of those topics I have no end of pleasure in discussing. It’s one of those sad ironies that a lot of modern Christianity is unaware of how ‘queer’ a space it always has been and how much it has benefited from that (and of course as you say, the same is true the other way).

    In all the modern (and in many ways nonsensical) furore over homosexuality, it makes me wonder why there is comparatively little discourse in the everyday Church on just what has happened to Her that once attracted the likes of Wilde and Radclyffe Hall.

    • I wonder why you think that a gay person like Wilde would be attracted to the Church because it is “queer”.

      It seems to me that gay men are usually attracted to men because they are *men*, not because they are gay. Similarly, I expect Wilde was attracted to the Church’s beauty and vigor, not to its “queerness”. We usually seek out love where we see two things: (a) beauty and (b) otherness. There is nothing more entirely beautiful and entirely other than Christ and His Church.

  5. Aaron Taylor said: “OK. But surely you don’t think that misusing a word is in the same moral category as killing a baby?”

    As Ron noted earlier in the comments, Americans started misusing the word “marriage” long ago, when no-fault divorce became the law of the land. And yes, the harms of that misuse have been quite proportional to the harms of abortion — indeed, no-fault divorce has made abortions far more prevalent (and has arguably played a role in making them legal).

    Never underestimate the power of words.

    • I agree. And I think that Aaron’s comment betrays a lack of a grasp of the issue. To characterize redefining marriage to include homosexuality as a mere misuse of a word is a gross understatement. Yes it’s true with abortion somebody actually dies. But that doesn’t mean somebody has to actually physically die for an issue to be urgently important.

    • It would probably be more accurate to say that no-fault divorce abolished Christian marriage as it had existed under the law, rather than simply misusing a word. Civil marriage as we have it now is simply not what the Church understands marriage to be, which is why I don’t like awake at night agonizing over the possibility of whether it will be redefined to include same-sex couples or not.

  6. Pingback: Thabiti Anyabwile on Church and Culture | Spiritual Friendship

  7. Hi Dain,

    I can’t reply to your latest post directly so I’m posting down here hoping you will read me.

    Dain… The only possible way a christian can win is by dying for Love of God expressed particularly in the Love of others. There is no wining outside this. Christ came to the world and the world rejected Him, did he lose? Sure, He resurrected on the third day but then what did He do? Did He went on to change the kingdoms of the world? Did He take an army of angels and fight against the evils of the world? No. He left twelve apostles and a bunch of disciples and friends to continue His work. And what did they do? They died once more for the Kingdom without much fuss.

    I’m not against actively promoting the Truth. I’m sure we all want a change in legislation, in particular when it comes to abortion, but a christian can only win when he dies for humanity and not against this or that cause. With every christian death (and by this I mean a death of some sort for the good of others) we all win. I’m certain that eventually legislation will follow but this can’t be forced or coerced.

    Also please note that “death” is not necessarily physical death but it also can mean self denial. An act of self denial for the other, that’s the definition of a win.

    • Thank you Rosa. I agree with you up to a point. We are called to die to self, that is for sure. But we do not live in a vacuum. Without truth, without sharing truth with others, many souls will be lost, especially with regard to homosexuality. This mindset that homosexuality is exactly analagous to heterosexuality is a lie, and I see it a lot in the authors of this blog. It is understandable to some extent, because living with homosexuality is very difficult. But spreading this lie to people’s minds only complicates the already difficult problem of homosexuality. There are many layers of lies, some cultural, some political. It is sad to me that the authors of this blog have bought into some of them. I appreciate your comments, but I definitely take exception to some of them, such as doing away with marriage. We live at both the individual spiritual level as well as the social level, with many necessary interactions between the two. Some people are called only to live out their own personal journey and pray, such as the religious nuns and such. Also some people live out this solitary kind of vocation in the world, and I think homosexual Christians can opt for this, that seems logical, although of course they don’t have to. We are all different. But I do not think that everybody can simply tend to our own personal journey and ignore the social aspect of sin. It has to be opposed, it is an obligation of sorts. And whether we like it or not politics is one way we are obliged to do that. Politics has become a dirty word, as if Christians shouldn’t lower themselves to engage in it. I don’t think this is the case. Politics is one of the ways we live together in a pluralistic society. On the social issues, including marriage, we have to get serious or we will continue to get rolled. And it’s sad to me to see such confusion and I must say ignorance on these important issues, even among educated Christians who happen to be gay.

      • Dain,

        You can not believe in the Cross up to a point. Christ did not live in a vacuum either. You follow His example or you don’t. You believe His death was a triumph or you don’t. It is an obligation to be a witness to truth, I’ll give you that and I admire your zeal but you would do well not to get rid of the good with the bad. You would do well to try to listen to homosexual people before you try to save their souls. I’m not ignoring the social aspect of sin. I’m very aware of it. In my own family. I have been desperate to save the souls of my own siblings, my own parents. Their behavior made me so sad and so mad at times. None of them are homosexuals I should point out but their sins might be worse. My little sister, after being a practicing christian now doesn’t know if she will baptize her children. My brother told me that he doesn’t even think about God any longer. Both of them are married only in civil marriage. My other sister is twice married, the first time by the Church. And I not only worry about them but also about society at large. There was once when I had a lot of anger and sadness. I invite you to take a deep look inside of you and see were all of these zealous energy is really coming from. Because now I’m certain that the only thing I can really do for my family and for society is to do the will of God in my life. And it is not easy task to understand what His will is for us but I’m at it as it is Ron, Aaron and you. I do admire Ron and Aaron and the others, they might be off sometimes but they are trying to do God’s will in their lives. Let’s help them, let’s be gentle, let’s put everything at His feet and help.

      • Dain:

        Are you actually a homosexual? If not, on what authority do you speak about our experience and the truth of who we are, out of curiosity? I understand if you don’t want to respond or what have you, lest some scary gay person “persecute” you.

        Have you ever stopped to consider your side’s damnable insistence on making us out to be monsters or part of some nefarious “agenda” bent on destroying children, the church, the world, etc might be part of why there is such a cultural backlash against your side when people come out against us? I am a gay man and most of my friends and the people I work with don’t see me as a bad guy (and my own mother would get very agitated if she heard me characterized that way). Actually, my mother is quite traditionally Catholic yet she had changed in many ways to accept me more specifically because of people like you casting me in such a dark light. Simply by being normal, we live as examples and rebuttals to your entire cultural thesis.

        If your side is the one with this so-called “Truth” then why consistently resort to scare mongering, intellectual dishonesty, and negative aspersions on our character to push it? Can this “Truth” not stand on it’s own? Also, previously you asked who would benefit from being anti-gay and fighting for traditional marriage. Scott Lively comes to mind. Pretty much all the quacks at NARTH have made a good deal of money off of inventing science to demonize us (even if it has been rebutted and cost them and you the culture).

      • Dain

        Heterosexuals have weakened the meaning of marriage, they have opened the door for homosexuals to join into something that has become a short cut to spousal rights. If marriage were really that important an issue then you would be more effective to focus on the real problem of divorce. People do sound homophobic when they rail against same sex marriage while doing noting about the institution itself. Same gender marriage can only weaken an institution that is already making itself less meaningful through drop outs and declining enrollment.

        I have never understood why gay people would want to get married unless it is to obtain the benefits marriage automatically affords. As much as I would like to read into the scripture that monogamous same sex relationships are not against Gods will, it has been impossible for me to read consent into the scripture. Since gays and lesbians are by nature born into this world, it must be of a particular cross to bare. Remember, all sins have the same stature when acted upon, rather adultery, most divorce, idol worship, stealing, coveting, same gender sex, drunkenness, discord, fits of rage, murder and so forth. It seems that sex is always the sore thumb that draws all the attention when it is no more evil than being drunk. Everyone has a cross to bare, some are harder than others, but still equal in sin.

    • I need to say something about the “no marriage under the law”. I had a chance to talk to my friend yesterday and I realized tow things:
      1) If society were to remove marriage from the civil sphere we would be finally facing reality. What we have now is a charade and we are making this charade “reality”. So maybe if we remove the charade and face reality it would be best, just like in AA programs.
      2) Then again I realize that 50% of marriages do make it. So maybe removing marriage from the civil sphere would do wrong to these people that do get it. My friend says that people who take it seriously would still take it seriously but I’m not sure that they would be able to make it without a glimpse of what marriage means even in a charade.
      So… I’m not sure what’s best but warming what works for some because it doesn’t work for others doesn’t seem right.

  8. Aaron I do need to tell you something. You are trying to defend something that is indefensible. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t believe that chastity is the way and then try to justify gay marriage because of the devotion or caring that the couples show each other. You can’t justify gay marriage because there is no-fault divorce, one sin doesn’t justify another and this thing about gay marriage will have much further implications that you are willing to admit. That said I can only imagine how difficult having homosexual tendencies must be and I recognize that people with these kind of tendencies have been hugely mistreated by so call “Christians”. I also recognize that you are trying to live according to Church teachings and I admire you and all those that are in this path. IF you would just stop defending the so call “gay marriage”…

    • Rosa, I don’t need your pity. It isn’t so difficult having homosexual tendencies. What is difficult, however, is when I write a whole piece about why I think gay marriage is a bad idea and I still get people saying I am “trying to justify gay marriage.” Did you even read the piece upon which you are commenting?

  9. Hi Aaron,
    I think you got it wrong. I don’t feel pity for you. I do admire you as I admire any who tries to do the will of God in his live. I don’t think it is easy for anybody. What I wanted to say was that I don’t know what gay people go through. In any case I have read your piece and there is nothing supporting gay marriage in it that I can see, however in your later comments you do say that no-fault divorce already distorts marriage (which it does) and you give the impression that gay marriage is not an evil worth fighting against. Correct me if I’m wrong but you seem to condone gay marriage because of the evil of divorce. Maybe I misunderstand you. If so please let me know.

  10. BTW, I always read the articles before I comment for the first time whether responding to someone or whether responding to the article itself.

  11. This was a great piece, Aaron. Nice work.

    The problem seems to lie with the conservative church’s tendency to equate cultural engagement with political engagement. Truth be told, our political course will generally follow the contours of our cultural course. So, by focusing on political engagement at the expense of broader cultural engagement, conservative Christians doom themselves to fighting one losing battle after another.

    The “marriage” question perfectly illustrates that. We didn’t just move away from traditional marriage 1-2 decades ago. To the contrary, we’ve been moving away from it as a culture since the 1890s. But because these cultural changes never posed any direct challenge to our political positions, we merely accepted them. After all, no-fault divorce statutes swept across the country at a time when the leading “conservative” political figure in the US was a divorcee.

    As evangelical theologian Carl Trueman noted in his article, “The Yuck Factor,” same-sex marriage does not redefine marriage. To the contrary, its logic flows from a redefinition of marriage that occurred decades ago. If conservative Christians truly cared about preserving traditional marriage, they had plenty of opportunities to take up arms and fight. And there are plenty of opportunities today, especially given the high rate of divorce within the church.

    So, why are conservative Christians so eager to take up the fight against same-sex marriage, even while they remain hesitant to take up the fight against divorce? One certainly can’t discount homophobia as a cause. But another key driver is the short-sighted tendency to pursue political engagement at the expense of any broader cultural engagement.

    The answer, of course, is not more political engagement. There’s no merit in racking up casualties in a battle whose outcome is clear. It may do conservative Christians well to withdraw from the political scene and refocus on building the institutional capacity to become a counter-cultural movement. This will take a sustained effort over the course of several decades before we will begin to see any fruit.

    • Political activism also betrays us because we become obsessed with goring the other side’s ox (which is what politics is largely about) than with speaking to the culture.

      Take the new Texas GOP platform as an example. The platform includes a ringing endorsement of reparative therapy. I had to do a double take. I thought that reparative therapy had finally been discredited for good. But apparently not among the good folks at Eagle Forum, a lobbying group that represents the political interests of evangelical Christians.

      Nothing has done more harm to the relationship between gay Christians and the church than the stupidity of reparative therapy. It wasn’t therapy at all. It was designed to serve no purpose but to perpetuate a set of lies that conservative Christians wanted to believe about gay people.

  12. I finally read Bottum essay in Commonweal. It was long! I think unnecessarily long. The title of the essay does not reflect the content. It is unnecessarily inflammatory. Something on the lines of “A Catholic’s Case to not Fight Same-Sex Marriage” would be more accurate and less inflammatory. So he makes his point. But I find it weak. I don’t think it is an “either-or” situation. And if we were to take his proposal I can hear people in the future say “you didn’t lose the battle against gay marriage, you didn’t fight it!” I agree with him that society doesn’t think of anything as sacred any longer and doesn’t think in terms of sinful or holly any longer. But again, it is not “either-or”, providing an understanding of sacredness in marriage and condemning “gay marriage” is not an “either-or” situation for the Church. Besides I have never heard an homily against “gay marriage”, never ever. Mass is a sacred space where we come to worship God, making it a battle ground is not what we need. But the teaching of the Church is clear and we must offer it to society at large.

    • Rose, I have to give my own two cents on one of your lines: “Besides I have never heard an homily against “gay marriage”…”
      There is part of the problem. We rarely get taught Catholic doctrine, especially w.r.t. sexuality. The flock gets confused and lost. Now and again we need to hear that we cannot receive Holy Communion if we practice sex outside of marriage, partake in masturbation, use artificial birth control, etc.
      Church-going Catholics may be indulging in grave sin that is made worse by receiving our Lord at Mass without ever truly understanding Church teaching.
      – Reg.

  13. Pingback: From Sex to Sexual Politics: The Problem with Gay Marriage | Dead to sin, Alive in Christ

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