So can we not just tolerate same sex marriage? The country has moved along why can’t we?
Unfortunately Catholics are not going to be given the option of mere toleration, because this is not the agenda of the left. The left is not advocating for same sex marriage because there are legions of gay men and women weeping at night longing to exchange wedding vows and have a beautiful ceremony with bridesmaids, (assuming that’s the correct term…) and a lovely cake, all while Jim slowly walks down the aisle to a waiting Jack to the strains of Pachabel’ s Canon in D. The cultural left acts as if there is great suffering among our gay brethren because our horrible and bigoted society run by dogmatic Christians won’t let them have the joy of getting married and “loving who they want to love”, all because it irrationally hates gay people. Really? Is there a single person who actually believes this? I doubt it. The fact is, that homosexuals do not get married at significant rates even when it’s legal. It has been reported by the Census bureau that the percentage of households that reported themselves as consisting of same sex married couples went from 0.240% in 2000 t0 0.299% in 2010, during a period in which a large number of states legalized same sex marriages.
In Australia same sex couples account for only 0.7% of the couples (although they are about 2-3% of the population) so they form couples at about ¼ the rate you would expect from their share of the population. You can check out the Australian data here . Granted one might argue that the rates will pick up as gay marriage is accepted, but same sex unions in Australia have been accepted in some form or another since around 2006, so you would guess with such presumably pent up demand large numbers of gay people would take the opportunity to form permanent unions. This is not what appears to be the case. So it seems that there is not a huge frustrated demand for gay people to be able to marry one another.
One might imagine that for most gay people they are content to live their lives quietly not seeking to make a public statement or change the definition of a relationship that has existed for millennia. In reality if all that was going on was a tiny fraction of gay people proclaimed themselves married, it would be much less damaging to society than the disregard of Church teaching regarding sexual morality in general, leading to an epidemic of divorce, fatherless homes etc. The problem is not the fraction of the 2% of gay people directly affected by same sex marriage.
In fact many of the most vigorous activists appear to have a different and very particular agenda. It seems there are lots of opportunities to coerce people to violate the tenets of traditional Christianity by demanding they personally celebrate gay activity. All this is done under the guise of “not discriminating” of course. This is the first salvo in what is likely an attempt to ghettoize traditional Christianity, and make it on some level socially unacceptable.
There are an increasing number of lawsuits that accuse Christians of discrimination if they refuse to accommodate same sex relationships in ways that would entail the Christians disavow traditional religious beliefs. To best understand this it is necessary to understand something about moral theology and cooperation with sin.
In Catholicism and to some extent in Evangelical Christianity, sex outside of marriage is sinful. Catholicism would add the additional idea that sex needs to be open to the production of new life, so contraceptive sex is sinful as would be homosexual activity. The second thing to understand is that cooperation in the sinful activity of someone else maybe itself sinful depending on how close and necessary the cooperation is with the sinful activity in question. The moral theology surrounding issues of cooperation can be complex in cases of what is called “material cooperation” ,in which the person does an action which is morally good or at least neutral but the action has a secondary effect of in some way aiding someone else’s sinful action. Such material cooperation may or may not be justified based on the proximity of the action to the sin, and other factors.
This can get involved, and we need not discuss it in detail. Suffice it to say activities remote from the sin are considered remote material cooperation and are usually acceptable. This might include someone who sells a gun to a hunter and the hunter later uses the gun to shoot someone. Other kinds of material cooperation are more directly linked with the sin including those which would give directly indicate approval of the sinful activity, this is called proximate material cooperation and would potentially be sinful. In addition there is “formal cooperation”, which is something done in which you share the intent of the sinful activity, (Driving the getaway car in a robbery for example or providing a weapon to a thief that you know and intend be used in a robbery).
Formal cooperation is always sinful. It can often be difficult to sort out whether something is material or formal cooperation, but for our purposes actions which convey the direct message that homosexual activity is OK would likely be illicit cooperation with the sin of someone else. Such actions may also be sinful in that they cause scandal (induce others to sin). Some potential actions include officiating at a same sex marriage, renting a honeymoon suite to a same sex couple, and so forth. In such cases a Catholic would be themselves violating their conscience to engage in such activities. ( Its not just about homosexuals by the way, renting a honeymoon suite to two people known to be committing adultery would be sinful as well. )
As it turns out state recognition of same sex marriage is going to run into the freedom of conscience for individual Christians holding traditional views regarding moral theology and sex. A recent column by Ronald Rychlak written for the CNA outlines some of the lawsuits against Christian groups for refusing to cooperate with same sex unions. Indeed the most notorious involves the shutdown the adoption agency run by Catholic Charities in Massachusetts. You can read the full column here. A similar article can be found at this site.
Another particularly offensive case involves a lawsuit against Elane Photography, in New Mexico. The details can be read about here. In this case Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin owners of the photography business declined to supply their services to a same sex wedding in New Mexico. The refused on the grounds that to photograph the wedding would of necessity imply approval ( As wedding professional wedding photos are obviously designed to celebrate the even in pictorial form) . As Christians this would entail a violation of their beliefs. As anyone familiar with Paul’s letter to the Romans would be aware, there will be a significant number of Christians who think homosexual activity is sinful, and to celebrate it would also be sinful. For the state to permit a lawsuit against the Huguenin’s is an obvious violation of the First Amendment Free exercise clause. In any case The gay couple found an alternative photographer to accommodate them, so why the need to sue the Huguenin’s ? It seems to me that there is a concerted effort to ultimately define traditional Christian beliefs as bigotry and make them unacceptable.
The issue particularly for Catholics is that we will be increasingly confronted with choices between avoiding sinful proximate or formal cooperation with sin, or withdrawing from society. This is by design. The goal is that we be made to compromise our conscience, ( and disavow our religious beliefs) or resist in some fashion and face debilitating law suits, financial ruin and perhaps even in some cases criminal prosecutions. The left is happy with either of these outcomes since this ultimately can be used to nullify the Church as a source of opposition to tyranny. The real intolerance is going to be against Christians. It has ever been such, for all tyrannies detest the Church. The Church really points out that man, and specifically man as an organized political force, that is the state, is not the ultimate authority. God is. The devil and his minions on the left hate that.
Okay so what do we do? I would suggest several things. These are all practical suggestions based on prudential reasoning. It is now clear that our governmental institutions are thoroughly corrupted ( any government that defends the killing of unborn children ( an unspeakable crime to quote Vatican II and more recently Pope Francis ) as a “right” can no longer be considered anything other than morally bankrupt. It seems prudent then to limit the power of such a government a great deal in order to limit the harm it can do. Aquinas would certainly agree with this. As such . We can argue in this case that a state that is not recognizing marriage ( as understood by the Church and virtually all of mankind until recently ) as a“ life-long union of one man and one woman for the good of each other and for having children and raising them to be upstanding members of the human community.” , and instead is recognizing all kinds of other unions as “marriages” maybe should get out of the “union recognizing” business all together and no longer be involved in marriage at all. Marriage being defined by the state at the moment as a purely personal affair about things like emotional fulfillment and happiness ought to be recognized and presided over by purely private institutions, such as families, Churches etc.
2) The legal issues involving purely property rights can be handled independently of marriage as property rights issues. This would likely make all state recognized marriages look like civil unions. Catholics in addition to getting married ( or better, joined in Holy Matrimony see below..) could potentially form such civil unions if helpful in managing finances etc.. but at least by not calling them “marriages” the state would confine itself to sanctioning contracts involving property and not get engaged in “recognizing” relationships solely based on the kind of sexual activity one is engaged in. To the extent Catholics could avoid these civil unions and still manage their financial affairs, they should. There would be separate debates over what kind of unions should be allowed to adopt children. ( We will not have this out here, but the bias should favor the idea that humans have evolved to have both a mother and father as all things being equal it’s likely that both kinds of parents contribute something to the well being of the children. We discussed this earlier here.
3) We insist on the First Amendment right to define our Catholic “marriage” in terms of our traditional theological understanding. We begin perhaps by using a new term, or more widely using an old term like “Holy Matrimony”. This is an idea of Monsignor Charles Pope , who to give due credit articulated many of the above ideas in a post he wrote just under a year ago. You can read it here . This may begin to insulate us from the forced compliance with other kinds of purely sexual unions as photographers, wedding planners etc. may limit themselves if they choose to not doing “marriages” in general but only “Holy Matrimony services” if they wish. In fact the idea need not confine itself to Catholics, but all those who have a traditional Biblical based understanding of matrimony may wish to follow suit. Others who wish to commemorate alternative kinds of unions are of course free to do so. I merely wish to preserve the conscience rights of those who see marriage in its traditional religious sense, and particularly for those who believe that the only kind of sexual activity that is moral occurs within traditional marriage. True tolerance would allow those who believe this to live in peace and not mandate that they solemnize sexual activities they find immoral.
This may sound like a retreat and in some sense it is. There are things which Catholics must mandate the state do, such as protect human life. If the state fails to do this it fails in its most basic obligation to protect the innocent. Regardless of how fundamentally rotten the state gets, we must continue to try to maintain some semblance of respect for the natural law. On another level we would like the state to do things which are actually good, such as promote and protect the family by recognizing traditional marriage. The state has sunk to a level of immorality however such that we should not expect positive good. In fact the state is beginning to slowly use power to harass and intimidate those who take their traditional religion seriously. The culture is dominated by secular elitist in the academy, the media and the entertainment industry. In this setting we must play defense at times. Taking the state out of the marriage business is one way to play defense and at least limit somewhat the state’s ability to harass us. In the meantime say the rosary for the conversion of sinners!