Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Responding to Archbishop Dolan on Marriage

With all the hoopla about marriage equality finally getting close to a vote in the New York State Senate, New York Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan writes (or rather, lies) in his blog about “The True Meaning of Marriage” as a last-ditch effort to try to stop the law from being enacted – and as has been typical and usual with Roman Catholic hierarchs in the United States, he advocates for moral injustice, using lies and misrepresentations as his methodology.

He commences his diatribe with:
“The stampede is on. Our elected senators who have stood courageous in their refusal to capitulate on the state’s presumption to redefine marriage are reporting unrelenting pressure to cave-in.”

Hmmm. “Redefine Marriage” is a stock phrase used by the opponents of the New York marriage bill. The impression is that marriage has lasted for thousands of years without change, and now some people want to “redefine” it so that men and women can’t marry each other.

The fact is that passing the marriage bill will not change a single thing about opposite-sex marriages and the families of people in opposite-sex marriages. Their marriages will not be redefined.

Not only that, but civil marriage gets “redefined” all the time. In ancient Rome, there were several different forms of marriage, and marriage has historically included various forms of polygamy, including both polygyny and (sometimes) polyandry. The Bible indicates that polygyny was one of the earlier forms of marriage – one husband with more than one wife. Indeed, even same-sex marriage was allowed, in some cases. In 1 Samuel 18:3 we see King Saul’s son Jonathan marrying the future King David, and then later in the chapter we see David also marryins Saul’s daughter Michal, thus becoming Saul’s “son-in-law a second time.” (See Darby or ASV, not the Vulgate or translations based on the Vulgate, because Jerome intentionally fudged the applicable verse). In Rome, the Emperor Nero, after killing his pregnant wife Poppaea, later married Sporus, a young man who resembled his dead wife.

In the early Christian Church, as Boswell points out, same-sex unions were actually blessed by Christians. (Indeed, in Christ Jesus, according to Paul, we are “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”)

Also, according to Paul, marriage for Christians has nothing to do with procreation, but is for the sole purpose of allowing those with a strong libido an opportunity to have licit sex. See 1 Cor. 7:8-9.

But let’s look at the law as it evolved in New York – not an unchanging tradition spanning thousands of years – but a matter of civil law that has evolved over time.

After the English took over from the Dutch, New York was subject to the English common law, which developed over centuries. Marriage under the common law created a single legal person – “the two shall become one” – and then, as Blackstone (or Lord Coke) notes in a corollary, the married woman essentially suffers from a disability that is the equivalent of civil death for a prison inmate – “and that one is the husband.”

This was the barbaric traditional form of marriage for enough hundreds of years to be part of the common law that was the common law of New York State as well.

In 1836, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ernestine Rose started petitioning for a “Married Women’s Property Act” that would allow married women the right to inheritances – until then, being that “the two are one, and that one is the husband,” the husband had control of inheritances – and would often enough spend it on liquor in taverns while leaving his wife and children destitute.

The religious leaders of the day, like Archbishop Dolan, were appalled – to change the civil law relating to marriage would destroy the institution! And the state senate took 12 years, until 1848, to actually pass the law – and then only because some senators realized that the inheritances that should go to their daughters and grandchildren were likely to end up in a tavernkeeper’s hands if they did not pass the bill.

It took another twelve years to push a bill through the legislature in 1860 “redefining marriage” again, to allow working women the right to their own wages – until then, husbands had control over those as well, and they were just as likely to spend their wife’s wages on strong drink as they were to spend their inheritances.

So many other changes have been made in the years since 1848 and 1860 – “redefining” marriage again and again . . .and again.

So, what’s all the ruckus from Archbishop Dolan about this particular proposed change?

The answer is a combination of moral error and conflict in the Church’s catechism that leads to a nearly schizophrenic response whenever the idea of “gay” is broached.

Archbishop Dolan continues:
“The media, mainly sympathetic to this rush to tamper with a definition as old as human reason and ordered good, reports annoyance on the part of some senators that those in defense of traditional marriage just don’t see the light, as we persist in opposing this enlightened, progressive, cause.”

Tamper? No. The arc of history bends toward justice, and the proposed amendment to make marriage laws gender-neutral is just, fair, and right. Tamperis a loaded word – improve would be better and more accurate.

As we have already noted, the “definition as old as human reason” is a fiction invented by Archbishop Dolan to cover his apparent ignorance of the fact that the definition of marriage has been amended many times in the past couple hundred years, and has changed over time as humanity has become more civilized.

Those “in defense of traditional marriage” should be honored to vote for the marriage bill – it makes no changes whatsoever to traditional marriage. All it does is expand the definition to include marriages that are gender neutral as well as those between opposite-sex individuals.

Dolan continues:
“But, really, shouldn’t we be more upset – and worried – about this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth – one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity, hoping for children – that has served as the very cornerstone of civilization and culture from the start?”

The archbishop apparently has little knowledge or understanding of civil law – and even of the law of his own Church. My own Roman Catholic marriage was ended by civil divorce more than 10 years ago (I didn’t start the proceedings), and then annulled by a Church tribunal of his diocese (though I admit it precedes his elevation to the archbishopric in New York). Is Dolan even aware that New York “tampered” with the whole “lifelong” thing a long time ago? That the grounds for civil divorce have changed many times, most recently when New York began allowing “no-fault” divorce? Isn’t he aware that his own Church’s Canon Law has changed many times with regard to marriage and annulment – with the most recent annulment rules being so liberalized that one prominent canon lawyer was quoted as stating that there was not a Catholic marriage in America that could not be annulled under the current rules?

Does the archbishop realize that procreation is not the sole reason for marriage – sure, the Roman idea of “matrimonium” involves procreation, but “connubium” does not. Perhaps he should brush up on his Latin.

Then the Archbishop gets cutesy:
“Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America – not in China or North Korea. In those countries, government presumes daily to “redefine” rights, relationships, values, and natural law. There, communiqu├ęs from the government can dictate the size of families, who lives and who dies, and what the very definition of “family” and “marriage” means.”

“But, please, not here! Our country’s founding principles speak of rights given by God, not invented by government, and certain noble values – life, home, family, marriage, children, faith – that are protected, not re-defined, by a state presuming omnipotence.”

Um – with his geographical references, Archbishop Dolan seems to imply that changing the law is something that only happens under “godless communism.”

But the Archbishop is just being silly here and making false analogies.

Indeed, he is so wrong that it would actually be funny if he weren’t attempting to be so serious.

In the United States, we have representative government, legislative bodies that are charged with making and amending laws and administrative bodies making and interpreting regulations, and courts watching over it all – on the federal, state and local levels. For most purposes, marriage is viewed as being among the laws that is defined at the state level, except to the extent that the state presumes to violate an individual federal constitutional right.

To that end, the United States Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia is most instructive, and the Archbishop should consider reading it one of these days.

And then you notice, he sneaks in something in the list of things godless Communists like to redefine – “natural law.” I can’t help but laugh at his ineptitude. It is the Catholic Church whose ideas and concepts of “natural law” have nothing at all to do with nature, and everything to do with Aristotle’s interpretation of nature. We’re lucky that the Church got as far as Aristotle – but Dolan is as wrong here as some of his predecessors in the hierarchy were when they condemned Galileo.

Let’s move on just a little. We know that in the United States, rights, relationships, laws, regulations, etc. are constantly being changed, interpreted and reinterpreted, by legislative and administrative bodies and courts. Yes, there are constitutional limits, but in many ways, the laws and regulations change as the society changes. This is how democratically elected republican government works, unlike the way the Vatican works, which is strictly top-down, and woe to the priest of bishop who steps out of line - so, which is more like North Korea – the Roman Catholic Church, or the New York State legislature?

Continuing with his misstatements, the Archbishop writes: “Please, not here! We cherish true freedom, not as the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought; we acknowledge that not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a “right.” And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?”

I understand the difference between freedom and licentious behavior, having spent some time in a Roman Catholic seminary in my pre-transition youth. However, Archbishop Dolan is misusing the concept here. He might make sense if he was describing sexual promiscuity as licentious behavior – but even that, if engaged among consenting adults is legally permitted, regardless of whether it is moral liberty or licentiousness. Lawrence v. Texas clarified the unconstitutionality of laws prohibiting adult consensual sexual behavior other than heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse. These laws were generally enforced only against gay people, even though a great deal of heterosexual sexual activity, within and outside of marriage, involves activity other than penile-vaginal intercourse. Morality is an individual matter, while legality is based on constitutional grounds. Like Hebrew National hot dogs, we answer to the higher authority – of the Constitution, and not on the laws of a Church imposed on the basis of arbitrary and capricious interpretations of ancient religious writings.

Incredibly, Dolan continues:
“Our beliefs should not be viewed as discrimination against homosexual people.”

That is a bald-faced lie, told with a straight face. Discrimination against the LGBT community is found in nearly everything the Roman Catholic hierarchy writes about marriage, or about transgender human rights. It is as if we are all less than human in the eyes of the Church hierarchy.

Dolan continues:
“The Church affirms the basic human rights of gay men and women, and the state has rightly changed many laws to offer these men and women hospital visitation rights, bereavement leave, death benefits, insurance benefits, and the like. This is not about denying rights.”

It is *all* about denying rights, Archbishop. And denying it is futile.

He continues:
“It is about upholding a truth about the human condition. Marriage is not simply a mechanism for delivering benefits: It is the union of a man and a woman in a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children. Please don’t vote to change that. If you do, you are claiming the power to change what is not into what is, simply because you say so. This is false, it is wrong, and it defies logic and common sense.”

Marriage as the union of a man and a woman will not change, by the amendment of the law- it will also mean the union of a man and a man, and a woman with a woman, and of a transgender or intersex person with a man, woman or other transgender or intersex person. The Church will still allow infertile octogenarians to marry despite the lack of any possibility of creating children. The church will bless the marriage of a man to a woman who has had a complete hysterectomy.

For that matter, the Church will not be forced to marry any non-Catholics, or even Catholics who want a same-sex wedding. The right to discriminate on that level will be preserved – just as a church that would not sanctify an interracial marriage can licitly deny the right to such a wedding in its sanctuary.

Dolan begins his conclusion:
“Yes, I admit, I come at this as a believer, who, along with other citizens of a diversity of creeds believe that God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage a long time ago.”

Again, Dolan does not seem to understand that there is a huge difference between civil marriage and the Roman Catholic sacrament of Holy Matrimony. To the extent that Dolan is referring to Holy Matrimony as a sacrament – “an outward sign, instituted by God, to give grace” – he is on solid Catholic theological ground, right from the Baltimore Catechism – but once he presumes to step into the legislative process for civil marriage, his particular religious prejudices should hold no sway.

He wraps up with:
“We believers worry not only about what this new intrusion will do to our common good, but also that we will be coerced to violate our deepest beliefs to accommodate the newest state decree. (If you think this paranoia, just ask believers in Canada and England what’s going on there to justify our apprehensions.) But I also come at this as an American citizen, who reads our formative principles as limiting government, not unleashing it to tamper with life’s most basic values.”

Canada and England do not have the constitutional protection of not having established churches, and do not have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious expression. So yes, Archbishop, it’s paranoia – you’re not a “state religion” like the Church of England, and the U.S. has a strong aversion to establishing a religion, and a strong constitutional provision in favor of “free exercise” of religion.

If by “violating our deepest beliefs” he means that providing spousal benefits to married gay employees is somehow wrong, then he’s likely to have his deepest beliefs violated, just as the courts will require a blood transfusion for a Jehovah Witness’ baby over the objections of parents, or a court would convict someone who decides that their “deepest” religious beliefs require them to kill Wiccans, or stone gays to death, or otherwise not respect the rights of others.

This is where we should have a discussion about the difference between “freedom” and “license” – your freedom to exercise a Catholic faith does not give you the license to prevent women from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights. Your freedom to be Catholic does not give you the license to disrespect my Unitarian marriage, or to treat my marriage in any way under the law as different from any other marriage. Just because the Catholic Church teaches that transsexual people cannot marry anyone, male, female, or other, does not give the Church the right to deny me any civil benefit, even though the Church does not have to provide me with a sacrament.

Dolan violates my deepest beliefs with every word he has written in this blog essay – but that does not give me the right to censor him – he has the right of free speech even if he is lying, as long as he’s not committing defamation. His calumnious column is evidence of his deep official and possibly personal bigotry – I had hoped that he would at least try to keep himself to Church business rather than meddling – but they haven’t given him his cardinal’s hat yet, so he must feel that he has to cater to the irrational ravings from the Vatican on the subject. Would that he were brave enough to stand up and speak truth to power and risk his position. But he’s typical of the corporate middle-management about to break into the upper echelon – don’t rock the boat.

There is no intrusion, just a fairer, more decent law that will provide legal protection to families in need. Poor black and latina lesbians with children,( often children from prior relationships in which they tried to maintain a straight marriage against their natures because of societal expectations) are likely to have the biggest benefit from the broadening of the marriage law. They and their children will benefit.

Society will benefit from the New York legislature’s enactment of marriage equality – and I sincerely hope the legislature does do the right thing, despite pressure from Dolan and the other foes of freedom.

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