Fr. Barron on Sexuality Debate in the Culture (2 of 3)

Prominent Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Fr. Barron discusses our culture's increasing inability to even have a rational moral argument (let alone follow one to a good conclusion).  Fr. Barron points out how some secular politicians (and supreme court justices) may make arguments or statements with moral freight while pretending that they are actually "morally neutral" (at best this is simply a failure to think things through, at worst it is a deception intended to hide a power-play). 

We see this inability to work through moral arguments among our leaders and lawmakers as well as in the popular culture and media. It seems that people on either side of a contentious moral issue simply shout at one another and call one another names, rather than working rationally and systematically through all of the variables and principles at stake in an argument.  After lots of shouting and name calling we consult polls to see who "won" the argument - not in discovering what was good and true and beautiful and right for society, but simply in discovering who had the more effectual and clever name-calling.  (Just look at some of the comments in this USA Today Editorial last month that argues - though not very well in my view - that this sexuality thing is more complex than people think and we should defer forcing a new definition of marriage on the nation; are the comments in response making rational arguments or simply name-calling?)

There is much I'd like to say about the legal arguments about the meaning and definition of marriage (on which our Supreme Court may or may not issue some ruling this summer), but it would require a huge blog post to really unpack all the interconnected issue and furthermore (some may be shocked to hear me say this) I'm not entirely sure what I think on certain points.  A recent article at the Telegraph about the British attempts to redefine marriage reveals how the legal issues are more complicated than expected. Here are a few points we need to think seriously about (but will we?):

In "defining" marriage no longer as a union of one man and one woman but simply as a union of still only 2 (for some reason no one can explain) adults, the state (that is, the government) will be taking to itself the authority to "define" marriage and therefore to "define" family itself.  Does the state actually have that competency?  Do we trust the state with that kind of power?
Marriage, clearly, can exist without "the state" and does exist in very primitive societies that do not have any "government" at all.  Thus marriage does not depend upon "state definitions" for its reality because it is universally and naturally recognized by human societies; but can the same ever be said for "same-sex marriage"?  Such a redefinition of marriage would seem to depend upon the state for its very existence - the state would enforce a certain kind of recognition upon society (or try to, some would clearly never accept this).  So is it even possible for such state action to lead to "marriage equality" or even "freedom"?  I got to thinking through these things after reading this thoughtful article at Mere Comments - especially the middle section where the relationship between marriage and the state is discussed.  So I am wondering can the state "define" marriage at all?

The (very moderate) Church of England's recent report on marriage has said "No" to that question - since marriage is a gift from God working through nature, not a gift or creation of the state.

Yet this leads to an important point that the Mere Comments article sadly neglects: there are (I think) two primary reasons that advocates of "Same Sex Marriage" are pushing so hard:

1) the GLBTQ advocates want these lifestyles to be seen as socially legitimate and they see (state-sanctioned) marriage as a way to impose that legitimization upon a still widely unwilling society and
2) they want practical and financial benefits (hospital visitation rights, property and inheritance claims, tax benefits, etc.) that are extended by our legal traditions to the partners within a marriage.
In so far as "marriage redefinition" is an attempt to force a new meaning of marriage upon society, I oppose this first goal; yet on this second desire, I think they have a real point.  Perhaps some of these issues could be addressed through living wills and civil unions or other creative legal means (besides "redefining" marriage); but I don't see why same-sex couples should not receive these benefits, and it certainly is within the power of the state to regulate at least some of these benefits because they have indeed been created by the state (indeed rules about inheritance, medical decisions, taxes and so on vary from country to country already).

The final legal point that is of concern to me is the matter of how these decisions are made and who makes them.  Our nation may simply be too diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach, and to attempt one guarantees a never-ending culture war, especially if such a decision is made for the whole nation by a mere 5 individuals, who are unelected Supreme Court Justices (5 is the majority needed for a ruling).  The actual views of communities on all these issues vary greatly in different regions of the US.  So I hold that any laws made about this controversial social issue (and indeed others like it) should be made at the state or even the local level.  It may be that Vermont and Mississippi will end up with different laws regarding marriage or civil unions; but that seems far better to me than forcing the view of either state upon the other. 

The official position of The United Methodist Church is that "we support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman."   I support that position, so long as some basic legal and financial benefits are made available to same-sex couples.  Let us never hear any stories of gay men dying alone because their partners, not being "family only," were not permitted into the hospital room or any such thing.  I don't know that this has ever actually happened, but if it did it would be a despicable affront to the human spirit, and to Christian compassion. 
Next up, the third and final post in this series relating to same-sex relationships: Craig Adams on why he thinks the church will remain traditional on sexuality, and also what it would take to change his mind on the issue.

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Blogger danielhixon said...

On related issues you might check out these older posts:

This one addresses the question of whether the government should get out of the "marriage business" altogether - with links to pro and con arguments:


And this one backs up to address foundational problems, such as why our society cannot even articulate a vision of what it is to be human to begin with:


11:33 AM, May 11, 2013  

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