The Gay Marriage Debate Comes to DC

Washington’s Archbishop Donald Wuerl is confronting the City Council’s push to legalize same-sex marriage. He sent a letter to his clergy re-iterating the Church’s position on the uniqueness and importance of traditional marriage, gave a set of interviews, and is joining hands with a group of Baptist ministers who also oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

Already, the opposition has begun to throw out straw men and other obfuscations. "I respect the bishop for his view…but we live in a representative democracy where there is a separation of church and state. We do not live in a theocracy," councilman David Catania told the Washington Post. True enough, but no one suggested that we do transform our constitutional arrangements in a theocratic direction. Indeed, Catania’s comments are carefully chosen – and especially galling - because he and his allies are trying to prevent a referendum on the issue. Ours is a representative democracy, and Catania is a representative, but he should not so scorn the demos, the people, as to deny us a vote on the definition of an institution so central to our lives and society.


It is good that Archbishop Wuerl is at the center of this brewing storm, in which emotions are highly charged, because he is a man for whom thoughtfulness comes naturally and moderation is the norm. He can explain the teachings of the Church as well as anyone I have ever met, to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Church does not owe anyone an apology for stating our belief in the importance of traditional marriage, nor for the argument that our society should continue to privilege this unique, life-giving form of human friendship and loving that is marriage. But, we must also be clear that our opposition to anything that would detract from the centrality of marriage is not rooted in any bigotry against gay and lesbian people. Nothing in the Church’s teaching insults the human dignity of anyone else, but even a cursory reading of the Book of Genesis leads to the conclusion that the equality between the sexes is an equality of difference, and that marriage is founded on that equality of difference as something that is integral to our sense of what it means to be human. The Church should resist any attempt to paint us as bigots but it also must make sure that no one speaking in Her name betrays any bigotry.

It would be welcome, too, if those who do get excited and see same-sex partnerships as a "threat" to traditional marriage would get equally excited about liberal divorce laws. Those are a more proximate threat to traditional marriage in a society where fully half of all marriages end in divorce. Here again, the Church is consistent but many of our allies may not be.

One of the ways to show that the Church’s position on traditional marriage has nothing to do with anti-gay bigotry is to adopt what could be called "the Levada solution." In 1996, when San Francisco decided that agencies contracting with the city had to extend health benefits to same-sex partners, then-Archbishop Levada negotiated with the city to achieve a solution that worked for both the city and church. The city mandated that the employees of agencies working with the government could designate anyone who was legally domiciled with an employee to receive the benefits. It could be a same-sex partner, an unemployed cousin, a retired aunt. The Church was only blessing the extension of benefits and did not need to inquire further. Gay and lesbian couples were able to enjoy the societal benefits that are not intrinsic to marriage but which have for a variety of complex reasons become associated with marriage.

In Puerto Rico a few years ago, a special commission of the legislature was updating the Civil Code and gay activists were pushing for same-sex marriage rights to be included. The Catholic Bishops made a counter-proposal that was built on the Levada solution model. Those who have "shared habitation" are eligible for benefits whether or not they work for the government or an agency with government contracts. This model is now working its way into the legal codes of South America.

Societal attitudes are changing on the nature of homosexuality as fast as scholarly consensus, or faster actually, about its complex origins. The American people have a profound commitment to fairness and equal justice as well as a deep and abiding belief that marriage is different from other social arrangements and should not be lightly changed. There is a way to acknowledge both parts of the national character to come to a solution on the issue of the rights of same-sex partners while protecting the uniqueness of traditional marriage.

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9 years 4 months ago
I lived in the Bay Area when Archbishop Levada made his eminently fair proposal and would support such a move now. My husband, an American Baptist clergyman, has long advocated separating Christian marriage from the state altogether-why should he be doing the state's job for it, he asks-while the extension of all benefits to those domiciled together would be vastly fairer than the current arrangement. It has occurred to me that, in fairness to my gay and my straight friends who live together but are not married, my husband and I ought to renounce the benefits that accrue to us because of our having the good fortune to be married. But I've never had the character to do such a thing. Instituting the Levada approach would resolve the problem for us.
9 years 4 months ago
Get and keep religious groups OUT OF determining who can/cannot received SECULAR benefits.
If anyone wants a religious marriage, so be it, but the benefits currently connected thereto should not be.
Everyone should have to first have a civil marriage (a la some European countries) for the legality of the marriage and access to the secular benefits.
It's amazing how the Catholic Church has been able to live with that arrangement in so many European countries, but think that the world will go to hades if we do that in the USA.
Two-sided mouth, maybe?
9 years 4 months ago
My question is this: Is there any room for compromise? In other words, how exactly might Gay couples in the United States be accomodated under the law without the term ''marriage?''
Let's say for the sake of argument that the Supreme Court ruled that there was no Constitutional justification for denying Gay couples the exact same legal benefits and responsibilities that Straight couples have always taken for granted, but that those benefits and responsibilities could be granted under a different term ... such as ''civil unions.'' The rights under tax law, Social Security, and the roughly 1,100 other federal benefits would be exactly the same for Gay and Straight couples; only the terminology would be different. Opposite-sex couples would be allowed the option to marry, and same-sex couples would be allowed the option to enter into civil unions. Social conservatives could keep the term ''marriage'' for themselves, and Gay couples would be granted equal protection as specified under the 14th Amendment.
Frankly I could live with that. How about YOU?
The fact of the matter is, even in states like Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa where Gay couples are allowed to legally marry, nothing at all has happened to ''traditional marriage.'' Most people have always been Straight and always will be, and Straight couples will continue to date, get engaged, marry, and build lives and families together as they always have. The notion that a Gay couples getting married somehow threatens YOUR marriage is, well, delusional.
9 years 4 months ago
The issue is not one of compromise on the basic rights of US GLBT citizens the issue is one of citizenship in this country and what that means. You can't have compromise unless all players are at the dialogue table.
When have the US Bishops seriously engaged LGBT Catholics in any discussion that envolves their lives in the Church? Are we not part of the ''Sense of the Faithful''? The only reason that any form of dialogue around this issue is beginning to take place is because of Political pressure from the outside of the Church. 
Bigotry is the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own. I hope both sides of this issue realize there are things to be learned from the other. As long as both cling to the fact that they and only they have the truth there will only be further attacks and name calling.
The Bishops for their part must learn to engage LGBT Catholics in serious dialogue. This does not mean agreement, but it would be a better place than we currently find ourselves in. What other group in the church is ministered to without their input?
My hope is we will all learn to listen to each other respectfully. In my opinion, there are two sides of this issue one concerns itself with the integrity of Church Teaching and the other concerns itself with the integrity of Constitutional Rights.
God bless,
Joe Murray
Rainbow Sash Movement
9 years 4 months ago
Representative Democracy is not the same thing as direct democracy.  If the voters don't like what the Council does here, they can either recall them or vote them out at the next election.  The District's Human Rights statute will prevent this inititiative from the ballot, which is consistent with our theory of government.  People should not get a say on the rights of others.  If they did, the free press would be history.
You do know that Genesis is allegory reflecting the views of the rebbi during the Babylonian exile, don't you.  We have a different allegory now based on over two hundred years of social change and scientific study.  The question of marriage comes down to whether families have more rights in comparison with a gay spouse than they do with a straight spouse.  There is no rational basis for such a difference, so gay marriage bans don't pass the smell test.  Child bearing, by the way, don't provide such a basis since the ability to bear children is not required for either civil or canonical marriage (only the willingness to welcome them - many gay couples welcome them quite nicely, thank you very much - and would be very willing to do more in the adoption area were not the hierarchy so ignorant of the difference between pederastry and homosexuality).
DC already has a partnership law and health insurance coverage that goes with it.  This new push is about whether gays together are like common law straight couples or fully married individuals.  Ted Olson is challenging the California Proposition 8 on the grounds that it was based on malice against gays.  This is using the precedent set when the Supreme Court overturned a Colorado constitutional amendment that attacked all gay rights, including simple decent treatment (not that the Initiative will ever get that far - however the precident will be helpful if the Initiative sponsors challenge the likely Board of Elections decision to keep it off the ballot).
One must conclude the Wuerl's letter is purely posturing for a red had, although he may be going forward with something written for him in the Chancery.  If so, he is badly advised as to the likelihood of this measure going anywhere.
9 years 4 months ago
Goyo, Some of those same ministers who don't like gays can be pretty anti-Catholic too (white or black).  We need to be careful of the Calvinists as a general manner (including the economic Calvinists in our own Church).
Chuck A., no there is no room for compromise, as having the same thing with a different name may be considered malice under federal common law.  Proposition 8 was all about the word Marriage (since partnership rights and marriage rights were equal).  Ted Olson is challenging this in court and, based on the case law, will likely win.  Such a win may eventually overturn all prohibitions on gay marriage and provoke calls for an amendment redefining marriage.  Given that the Speaker of the House is from San Francisco, such an amendment would only come through a constiutional convention call by 2/3rds of the states - which means 17 blue states could stop it.
9 years 4 months ago
I'm a little disturbed your post on a number of accounts. First, you seem to approve what is a growing divide between the sacred and the moral, with preference for the moral. It should bother any thinking person that Wuerl is, as you say, ''joining hands with a group of Baptist ministers who also oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.''  So we have gay Catholics who share all the sacred beliefs with the Church (but who may disagree with some of the moral matters vis-a-vis how marriage should be defined) and who are all but shut out of any dialogue or ''hand-holding'' with the Church, but yet the Archbishop will join hands with Baptists who have grave disagreements on sacred matters with the Church. Shall we talk about infallible teachings on Mary with those Baptists? Yet noninfallible teachings on sexuality matter more-let's forget about core sacred teachings, right? (As a parallel, look at the Church's willingness to link arms with the Mormons who believe Catholics are going to hell while supporting Proposition 8 in California.) Secondly, if you have followed anything with regard to the predominantly black Baptist churches, you will see there is rampant hatred, hostility, and fear toward gay persons coming out of those churches. I lived in DC for years and saw it and knew gay and lesbian black persons who suffered enormous persecution from those churches. They will be the first to tell you that an oversimplified understanding of gender and true homophobia have led to the pathologies of the closet that destroy lives in their communities, especially with such phenomena as the ''down-low brothers.'' So it should again bother anyone to know that the Catholic Church is willing to be complicit in this sort of nonsense by providing moral cover and additional numbers for such evils. Third, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Church's talk of treating ''homosexuals'' with respect and care is just talk. Using the ''democratic'' process to exclude minorities from basic institutional structures of society is neither laudable nor defensible. Moreover, all that that teaching from the Catechism refers to is treating non-gay, ''homosexual'' persons with care. What's the difference? A gay person to the Church is someone who accepts his/her sexuality as part of who they are. They can be discriminated against and shut out of conversation. A homosexual is someone with inclinations who hasn't accepted it and therefore can be the object of fair and/or merciful treatment. Why doesn't this bother you?
And I didn't vote for Obama.
9 years 4 months ago
Family Life offices in most dioceses/chanceries have been closed, merged, de-funded, etc. Knowing this, why should married Catholics take this bishop uproar action against civil marriages for either gays or straights seriously? Catholic marriages are in serious much as 50% decline from the 1990s. Tend our own garden would be my advise.. aren't we in the sacramental business?
9 years 4 months ago
I challenge anyone to watch this video and still say these two men are bad parents who don't deserve to be married:
9 years 4 months ago
It is difficult to see how the bishops' solicitous attitude towards GLBT political proposals can be reconciled with the Catechism and traditional Christian attitudes towards sexual immorality. The Catechism warns that the acts central to much GLBT self-definition are ''acts of deep depravity,'' classed among the sins that ''cry to heaven for vengeance.'' Why aren't the bishops warning that the unnatural acts of homosexuals and others have eternal consequences? Do they care that people are being affirmed in sins? Isn't such silence hateful, a failure to will another's good?
Some Catholics grumble that habitual indifference towards depravity enabled sexual abuse. Is that same habit still de rigeur?
While some would claim that bishops quoting from St. Peter Damian or even Fulton Sheen's ''False Compassion'' episode would be counterproductive, their silence in recent decades has apparently done nothing to reverse the decline. Despite their word-mincing, Catholics already face reckless charges of homophobia. They are now stigmatized not for violating traditional mores, but for upholding them.
9 years 4 months ago
All, it looks like you can't get to that You Tube video from the link posted above. As it's seriously worth viewing, just go to You Tube and put in the following words: is daniel disabled
9 years 4 months ago
Traditional mores would apply if homosexuality was not an innate trait.  They certainly apply as conduct for heterosexuals with people of the same gender.  However, certain acts which some would describe in the past as depraved outside of marriage, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are not depraved when part of spousal unitive sexuality.  While some celibates in the Church may have a problem with this due their idealized view of the sex act, they really have no place to say anything about such things, especially given the history of why priestly celibacy was begun in the first place as an extension of continance (which was rejected by the Eastern Church out of hand).  This continance is an outgrowth of the belief that marital sexuality and the reception of the Eucharist are incompatible.  That belief should be considered anethema and perhaps the only way to overcome it is to revoke celibacy itself, possibly even as an option discipline.  Humanae Vitae has its place in the social gospel in affirming that development should not come from population control, since this interferes with the rights of individuals to procreate - as did eugenic sterilization, which is also condemned.  The intrusion of celibates into marital sexuality is entirely unwelcome.


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