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...And Then the Bishops Threw a Tantrum

Sunday, June 26, 2011

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...And Then the Bishops Threw a Tantrum | Faith Permeating Life
I've noticed something recently.

Whenever I read an article or blog by someone Catholic, I find myself nervously flinching inside, waiting for them to drop a bomb about gay people.

I hate this because when I was in high school and college, before gay marriage was such a spotlight issue, I loved immersing myself in the writings of different Catholics. I loved learning what I could about how to grow deeper in my faith, about what I could learn from the Mass and from the saints and from the Bible. If I had been an avid blog reader back then, I would have subscribed to a lot of blogs of Catholics and other Christians.

Now I subscribe to a few, but I'm always dreading the day that they will say something totally insulting about my best friend. About my boss. About all of the other LGBT people in my life that I love.

It's like going to a family gathering and seeing an uncle or grandfather that I used to idolize, to sit and listen to for hours. Now I just kiss him on the cheek and spend the evening praying he doesn't start going off on a racist rant.

If you read this article from Catholic.org, you'll see what I mean.

This weekend, in case you haven't heard, the New York Senate passed a bill subsequently signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, making gay marriage legal in the state 30 days from now. It makes New York the sixth and largest state in the country to allow gay marriage.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Archbishop Timothy Dolan was a loud opponent of the bill for destroying the "true meaning of marriage."

The link above contains two parts: A statement by the bishops of New York in response to the new law, and a "personal response" by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. The first part frustrates me, and the second part outright angers me. It makes me ashamed to call myself Catholic.

I don't understand why Catholic officials keep using this line about how marriage has never changed. It's just not true. Marriage, from both a social and a religious standpoint, has done nothing but change since it first came into being. If you need evidence, read Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz or Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I will attempt to give an extremely abbreviated history of the key points here.

The bishops' statement says the law "attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization," meaning marriage and family. You want to know who really attempted to redefine marriage and family?

The Catholic Church, around the 4th century.

Up until then, Christianity was kind of subversive, not sanctioned by the government, and Christians mostly followed the apostle Paul's encouragement not to get married unless you absolutely couldn't help it. Marriage, in society as a whole, was used primarily for forming alliances, for gaining money or joining yourself with a good family. Those who wanted to be the most "holy" stayed out of it.

Then what happened? Emperor Constantine I made Christianity the official religion, and suddenly the Church had all this power. So what did they do? Suddenly they wanted everyone to start getting married, because then they could control the alliances and the power and the wealth, through marriages.

Marriage went from being this political institution that good Christians stayed out of to something that was vital to the continuing power of the Church. And that was all way before it became about love.

And marriage in the Bible? Definitely does not fit the "marriage is one man + one woman" rhetoric that we keep hearing.

This video does a nice job of highlighting the many different kinds of marital arrangements that occur in the Bible (and is pretty funny). It may not be 100% accurate, but you still pretty quickly see that marriage in the Bible extends beyond the one man-one woman arrangement.

I know the Catholic Church wants to insist on marriage being about creating children, and if they want to use that as their argument against same-sex marriage, fine. At least they're being consistent. But stop with the B.S. about how the "timeless" institution of marriage has "always" been between one man and one woman and that the state of New York is attempting to "redefine" it for the first time ever.


OK, here's the part that really pissed me off:

"In light of these disturbing developments and in protest for this decision, I have asked all Catholic schools to refuse any distinction or honors bestowed upon them this year by the governor or any member of the legislature who voted to support this legislation. Furthermore, I have asked all pastors and principals to not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration."

What. The. Fudge.

As someone on Catholic for Equality's Facebook page noted, this is essentially using schoolchildren as pawns in a political game. And someone else said that this amounts to acting like schoolchildren, or throwing a tantrum when you don't get your way.

How is this helping anyone?

Sen. Mark Grisanti, one of the few Republicans who voted for the bill, explained (watch the video here) that while he opposed same-sex marriage because of his Catholic upbringing, he was able to look beyond that and recognize that there is no legal argument for voting against it, and as a representative of his district, he could not in good faith speak "as a senator who is just Catholic." As a senator, he could not deny gay couples the rights that straight couples have.

This is how our government is supposed to work! It's the whole reason we have a separation of church and state, so that the government can't create a state religion and then impose their morals on everyone through legislation!

So when our government operates the way it's supposed to, you want to punish schoolchildren by not letting them receive awards from people who voted a way you didn't like? Seriously?


OK, I've talked enough. I will say one more thing: When religion is used in this way, as a weapon, it does not bring people closer to God.

Which is a lovely segue into my guest post over at Love Woke Me Up This Morning, one of my very favorite blogs.

Go check her out, because she is awesome, and also read my post while you're over there if you're not tired of hearing me talk yet today. It includes a story that I wrestled with including, because I didn't feel it was mine to share, and yet I felt it needed to be shared because of how deeply it affected me.

Then let's continue this conversation on religion and gay marriage in comments! As always, respectful disagreements are welcome.


EDIT: Here's one more link to check out: a Huffington Post column on the bishops' reaction. Here's a taste:
According to the proclamation, marriage is a "sacred" institution -- that is, an institution set apart for veneration by God -- and government therefore "does not have the authority to change" it. In other words, in a self-governing society, the democratically-elected representatives of the people do "not have the authority" to change the law in a way that conflicts with the religious beliefs of the bishops. That is not a winning argument.
My thoughts exactly.


  1. You should read the magazine publication "Conscience." I think you might like a lot of articles there.

  2. I couldn't agree more. When people use religion for the wrong reasons it only pushes people away. Isn't God about loving all and not judging? At least that is what I think. I loved Sen. Grisanti's point of view that he couldn't see any legal basis for denying same-sex marriage. Once you get past the religious arguments and what has been drilled into our heads, there is no reason to deny to people who love each other the same rights as everyone else - even if they are the same-sex!

  3. @a girl who dreams
    I haven't heard of it, but I will check it out! Thanks!

    Exactly. Government needs to act like government, not like a religious institution! And even within religion, like you say, this kind of intolerance does nothing but drive people away from God. It makes me sad--but I'm glad that the tide is slowly, slowly starting to turn :)

  4. Your comments about the bishops in the 4th century made me laugh.

    Let's think back to those "ancient" bishops and what else they did with marriage. They put a stop to married clergy, because it was a LOSS of power for the church, even though the bishops weren't innocent in perpetuating "the problem" of having children and passing land and money to them instead of keeping it in the church, which then brought instability to the church.

    (I don't think I've ever come out and said it as much, but I am for married clergy. Especially because I am now Byzantine Catholic, and only men ordained overseas can be priests & married in the US, which makes no sense to tell a US-ordained Byz Cath priest that the same doesn't apply to him.)

  5. @Rabbit
    Funny you mention the issue of children and inheritance -- I was just telling Mike I need to do a post about how the whole "marriage is for creating children" argument doesn't make any sense to me, and how marriage used to be more about keeping paternity, and thus inheritance, organized. You bring up a good point about the Church's history that I will have to include!

    I don't think there's a good strong argument for not having married clergy either. I mean, there are "reasons" for it, but it's more like, "this is how it is now and we've come up with theological reasons to defend it" than "this is so central to our theology that we just had to stop all priests from getting married." If it were the latter, then I don't think they would make the kind of exceptions/distinctions like you mentioned.

  6. Oh yeah, there are reasons for & against married priests, but most people I've talked with (Catholic & not!) don't understand the reality or practicality of them.

    There are some super die-hard people out there who believe in unmarried priests. [I will NEVER use the word "celibate" because we all know too well what can hide behind that term.] I'd love to talk with a person who believes this, and find out exactly WHY.

    Is it just tradition? How traditional is it if priests at one time could be married?

    Is it "Jesus was single, so priests should be single?" Jesus is GOD, and I don't think God needs a mate. On the other hand, Jesus was also human, and humans usually seek out a mate. Maybe he had one and we don't know because history only tells us what the past wanted us to know.

    And it's highly unlikely that the apostles were single.

    It sort of reminds me of fish on Fridays during Lent--is there any dogmatic or scriptural backing to it? Or was it something that Man created?

  7. @Rabbit
    Mike and I were discussing some of those same questions the other day around the issue of female priests. Is it just historical because only men held positions of power? It's supposed to be because they're representing Jesus, but as you said, Jesus is God, and aren't we all made in the image and likeness of God? If it's symbolic, why do the person's genitals matter?

  8. This is an AWESOME post! So much of what constitutes anti-gay rhetoric today is based in false assumptions - about gay people, about the history of marriage, church history, you name it.

  9. I just sent you an interesting link to a poll via Twitter re: NY gay marriage.

  10. @Macha
    Yeah, you would especially think the church leaders would want to get the history of their own religion right... But I guess when they get desperate to be right they just start using whatever arguments they can think of.

    OK, thanks, I will check it out!


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