Sunday, March 4, 2012

The real issue: "married" versus "family"

On Sunday, my friend Ted sent me a link to this article titled "The Catholic Church and Gay Marriage," by Father Timothy Radcliffe OP.

Ted, a former Catholic monk, retired University employee and a full-time thinker, philosopher and metaphysician, has been a dear friend of mine for four decades - through marriage and divorce, rich and poor, tragedy and triumph. He has also known me before and after I came out as gay - and both my partner Chris and I count him as a very good friend.

But he likes to make me think...hence the link. (And it worked, as you can see, Ted...)

I have to admit that, as a statement of Catholic belief, the tone of the article is generally gentle and conciliatory. Father Radcliffe clearly says of his profession about gay marriage, "This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same sex civil unions." I appreciate that - if only because it's rarely said by Catholics publicly. And so for this reason alone, I celebrate Fr. Radcliffe's writing.

But the article contains a well-known theme that always guarantees to annoy me:  "Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility." While I appreciate Fr. Radcliffe's tone in his writing, I have to admit that this particular argument really offends my sense of fairness.

Fr. Radcliffe professes, essentially, that God created man and woman in order to make babies. This is why Catholics seem to believe, to be crude, that we were made with "tab-A" and "slot-B" in the Grand Design Of The Universe: because "the purpose of marriage is fertility."  (This is, as I understand it, a variation on the reason why the Church opposes birth-control; birth-control interferes with the supposed "natural order" of Creation's procreation and fertility, and is therefore an unnatural and un-doctrinal selection.)

If you accept this premise, then I admit that the rest of the argument is easy. By definition, gay couples aren't fertile, of and by themselves. And since fertility is the professed root of marriage, gay marriage is therefore logically and doctrinally impossible. It's like the square root of (-1): null, empty, nothingness. A ridiculous concept.

Using their logic, I can see how this would make sense.

However, I can't let this pass without pointing out the gaping hole in this argument in practice. The Church Universal insists that marriage is about "potential fertility;" yet it still allows, endorses, and encourages marriage of people who are patently infertile (or at the very least, desiring to remain childless).

There are men and women who do not want to be parents; men and women past child-bearing years; men and women who are medically infertile - and despite all the emphasis on marriage being founded in fertility, loads of these folks are married in the Catholic Church every single day.

So there's something wrong here. Either fertility is the Church's key rule and guide for marriage, or it's not. As Mark 5:37 says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Anything less is hypocrisy - something else of which Jesus didn't think much. As a twist on the old saw goes, if the sauce is good for the goose, it should be good for the gander as well. (Or two ganders, for that matter.)

Now, to be fair: it may well be that the Church may actually give more scrutiny to the union of infertile couples than it might to those who are eager and able to expand the flock. I have no experience or testimony on this topic. That scrutiny, or the lack thereof, is only between the Church and those who choose to be part of that community; I actually have no argument with them on what they choose to do amongst themselves.

However, I do have a problem when the weight of the Catholic pulpit and the resources of every Catholic organization are brought in force into the political landscape to affect those outside their community. The well-documented push by Catholic agencies, priests and their hierarchy against California's Proposition 8 clearly demonstrates that the Church desires to influence and direct much more than just Her own flock. And many gay men and women find this to be unacceptable, Father Radcliffe.

Here's where I land in this great debate. In the tradition of Martin Luther, if I had a hammer, I would nail this treatise to the door of my local Catholic Church, and every church I happened to pass by.

Dear Catholic Church and followers universal:

Keep your religious marriage.

I want no part of it. I, a gay man, do not wish to sully the perceived holiness of your practice with our base and unacceptable involvement. As such, I desire neither your criticism nor your evaluation of the loving bond between my life-partner and myself.

The treatment of "marriage" as a sacrament of the Catholic Church seems to imply that when Her priests say certain words, hold their hands above a couple in just a certain manner, and lead a congregation in certain prayers and scriptural readings, these actions somehow change the relationship between those two persons and their God. The relationship is perceived as sanctified in some special way as a result of these actions and ceremonies.

However, in my belief and practice (as my former seminary worship professor Mark Bangert was fond of saying), "There is no 'zapping' involved" - which is to say that I perceive no fundamental change in the relationship itself as a result of the ritual and practice. I do not perceive any magic that occurs in the marriage ceremony that poofs those-being-married into a heightened state of holiness (no pun intended).

What occurs in religious marriage, I believe, is the acknowledgement and celebration of the relationship in the presence of a loving, caring and accepting God, and the acceptance of that relationship as a committed entity by both the community of faith and the greater community. (I am not saying that my belief should be anyone elses religious doctrine or dogma. This is mine alone.)

Because of this (and many other) differences in belief, I fled the confines of the Roman Catholic community decades ago. In our congregation of the Disciples of Christ, I already have a faith community which would happily perform a ceremony which would affirm and celebrate the loving, caring, committed, monogamous relationship my partner and I enjoy. So we do not need your "marriage," and I am more than happy to leave "marriage" as a religious sacrament to the confines of religious folks.

(Those gay and lesbian folk who are within your religious communities, sadly, have their own much more difficult choices to make.)

Neither Chris nor I could possibly care less about "gay weddings." We have no desire for elaborate ceremonies, ecstasies of floral arrangements, preponderance of tuxedos or taffeta or elegantly-plated canapes or thousand-dollar salmon plates with bits of gold-leaf adorning them. For those who try to justify "gay marriage" based on the economic benefit of the orgy of consumerism that such ceremonies would provide, my thoughts devolve to something just above Gag me with a spoon.  The last things this world needs are programs like Gay Groomzillas or Gay Wedding Disasters airing five nights a week on The Lifetime Network. Spare me. Spare us all, please.

So keep your marriage. I want nothing to do with it.

Here's what I do want, however.

I want a family.

I do not desire to be seen by God-as-I-misunderstand-God, my church, my friends, and my legal/cultural community as just two anchor-less individuals who happen to share the same address, let alone the same bed. I want the relationship I have with my partner to be perceived as a union of individuals of the same sex, which is treated by the law and the community identically to those headed by individuals of opposite sexes.

And here's why.
Because no matter what you, or The Church, or The Law, or The Supposedly-Decent Folk Of This Supposedly God-Loving Community about us may think or say.... Chris is my family. He is heart of my heart, and spirit of my spirit. Period. Paragraph.
Your book of Ruth, chapter one, describes our relationship, Father Radcliffe: But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17, NIV)
(As an aside...please don't try to imply that these words are spoken in The Book of Holy Writ by two "friends" about their "friendship," either. These words were happily quoted during traditional wedding ceremonies for decades, until someone finally noticed the supposedly-disturbing status of their matching genders. We all know what was being written about, here...)

When I have a life-threatening illness, I want my partner to be able to make life decisions for me - not waiting helplessly until a decision arrives from one of my supposedly "real family" members in Ohio. I want him in the emergency-room or critical-care-unit with me, just like Ted's wife would be if he were hospitalized. I do not want him sitting in the waiting room while I suffer alone, because in the eyes of the law and the health-care industry he does not qualify as family.

When Chris and I go to a lawyer to draw up wills, I do not want to have to go through all kinds of extra effort to ensure that we can actually be executors of each others' estate. I do not want to have arguments between my sisters and Chris, or between Chris' parents and blood family and I, over who really deserves to make those kinds of decisions. I don't want to have to jump through hoops to ensure or prove that we are each others' family-by-choice, and not some kind of second-class pseudo-relationship.

I want Chris to be able to be covered by my employers' group health and life insurance. I want him to be able to benefit from our status as committed partners in the same way that traditional married folk do - with tax benefits, survivor benefits, estate law. The 70-year-old man who marries the 72-year-old woman both get these things automatically, despite the fact that it is a very rare Abraham and Sarah who give birth to an Isaac at those ages.

Chris and I do not desire children; neither one of us have ever had that "tug" or desire. But for those of our friends who do desire children, we would like them to be perceived as a family looking to adopt those children, and giving those children the right to be part of a complete and legitimate family unit. And we would like the force of law to support this - not just in the few situations where one might find a quiet corner with one or two quietly-supportive judges to make this possible on a case-by-case basis.

Sadly, Chris and I moved from Illinois to Missouri in April of 2011 - three months before Illinois enacted civil partnerships that would guarantee these civil rights to us. Now that we are residents of Missouri, Chris and I (as committed, faithful and believing followers of Christ) look forward to the day of His return - for it seems that only then (about four hours after Jesus comes back) that any kind of civil partnership will ever have any chance of being enacted in our fair state.

Keep your "religious sacrament of marriage," O most powerful and pervasive Church. Your ritual and ceremonies cannot add a jot or a tittle to our relationship - for it has already been blessed in public and private by God, our family and friends. What I seek is civil rights and equal treatment under the law, which is separate and worlds apart from the religious sacrament of marriage. (The whole topic of "civil union versus civil marriage" and the separate-but-equal legal issues involved will have to be another topic entirely.)

Please, please, please, O brothers and sisters in Christ: just step aside, and let us be a family. For in the end, that's what we really want. It's really what we already are. We'd just like the courts, the lawyers, the hospitals, the doctors, and the banks to know it too, and act upon it accordingly.

As another former Catholic supposedly said, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

Your brother in Christ,
Steve Flower

1 comment:

  1. Amen, brother. Maybe I should add, speaking as a happily married hetero in a 28-year relationship--amen, nonetheless.Absolutely.