Monday, February 24, 2014

Marriage, Equality, Communion

Some of this blog’s most loyal readers get upset when I touch on controversial issues.  So I apologize in advance, but this topic continues to weigh on my heart and mind.  Consider this a “Spoiler Alert,” if you will, but here goes…

Maybe I’m way off on this, but the phrase “marriage equality” just makes me sad. 

It is sad to hear about young Catholics refusing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation because the Church is “against gay marriage.”  It is also sad to hear about Catholic high school student marching in protest because their school won’t allow a faculty member to continue teaching after being married to a person of the same sex.  It is so sad that this issue has become a wedge between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.

As the debate is most commonly framed, it seems that people have only two alternatives: either support marriage equality, or be a bigot.  After all, who could possibly be against equality?  But are the congressional leaders working to amend the Constitution--as well as the U.S. Bishops and countless lay faithful who support this cause--really bigots?  Or do they just disagree with the notion that marriage can be redefined and still mean anything substantive? 

There may, indeed, be some bigots out there, but how can we help advocates for marriage equality see that a third group really exists?  That is, how can we help them understand that the vast majority of people who support traditional marriage are fellow brothers and sisters who are not against them, but for them?

Here are a few initial thoughts on the key terms in question:

·         Marriage: The difference is the difference.  Male and female we were created; male and female is how the human race is propagated.  Marriage either is something—the fundamental human community which bonds a man and a woman together for the sake of raising children who have a mother and a father—or it is nothing at all.  In other words, if the sexual difference is removed by judges or legislators, then an entirely new reality is created.  Therefore, it is not that proponents of traditional marriage are against anyone who advocates gay marriage; rather, they are for the protection of this totally unique reality. 

·         Equality: Beyond mere sameness to respect of difference.  If Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular has failed to show due respect for the equal dignity of people with different sexual orientations and attractions, then shame on us.  But if equality is reduced to mere sameness, then how can “gay marriage” avoid being redefined again and again when advocates want to change the number of partners allowed, or the age of the partners?  True equality should be synonymous with respecting uniqueness not reinforcing sameness.  It must be rooted in the deeper reality that each of us is a totally unique creation of God, loved as if we were the only one to be loved.

·         Communion: Toward a deeper union of persons, in Christ.  All people long for intimate and meaningful relationships.  But, as the closest of friendships will attest, sexual intimacy is not a prerequisite for inter-personal communion.  In fact, it can often be an obstacle.  The Good News is that we can all experience the kind of intimacy and the powerful friendship that John the beloved disciple had with Jesus.  This is the relationship without which our hearts will always be restless, and this is the invitation which the Church extends to all men and women, including those who experience same-sex attractions.

In closing, I must admit that it makes me sad to think that the Church has in many ways failed to find a convincing voice to speak basic truths about marriage, equality and the communion of persons.  But it fills me with hope that the Courage Apostolate has connected with so many men and women who have grappled with their own same-sex attractions.  Here the Church is walking with people, not just talking past them, as they strive to live the virtue of chastity and follow God’s will in their daily lives.

Perhaps these apostles of chaste living will help inspire advocates of marriage equality to see that the Church stands with and for them, in the most profound sense possible.