I can take absolutely no credit for this post. I simply asked two very intelligent friends of mine to chat with each other about the recent SCOTUS decision regarding the legalization of gay marriage. So, before I let you read their conversation, let me give you some background and ground rules:
Background and Intros
Cara has been my friend for 23 years now. She lives in CA where she works for an organization that helps philanthropists achieve greater good with their resources. She has her Master’s from University of San Fransisco.
Jenny lives in CO and has three children with one on the way. She writes for Catholic News Agency which hosts her blog, Mama Needs Coffee. She studied theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
ha. Just realized they both were schooled in St. Francis of Assisi inspired locations. Anyway.
Both people agreed to email back and forth so they would have time to process and respond.
I invite you to join the conversation these two women have started, but. BUT. I am completely aware of the fact that the readership of this blog will tend to disagree with the SCOTUS decision (myself included), so let me make this crystal clear: please be genuine and tactful in your comments and questions. Both of these women are wonderful people (who I love) with intelligent thoughts on the matter. Please engage them in conversation while respecting their humanity.
Tips for Online Debate
So, let’s get this party started. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing how this conversation unfolded. It was amazing to watch how they were able to
- address ideas without personal attacks
- defend their beliefs while inquiring about the other’s
- understand that they weren’t going to change each other’s minds, but they could clearly lay out their case for others who may be reading
- know they could help the other person understand but not agree
- come to a polite conclusion when they felt they had finished
What do you feel the effect of the legalization of gay marriage will be on the future of our country?
p.s. this is long, but oh, so worth it.
© Masson / Dollar Photo Club
I was sitting at work in DC when I heard the news of the ruling. It was coming off the heels of another SCOTUS decision upholding the ACA, and it felt to me like a SCOTUS magic week. The news started to ripple through my office, and we all cheered, breathed sighs of relief, and a few people were walking around waving equality flags that HRC was handing out across the street.
I dove into my iPhone to be sure I knew exactly what this ruling meant and when/how the decision would be implemented. The fact that it was immediate law and that couples could get married right away sounded almost too good to be true. I live in California where marriages have been legal and then annulled with the back-and-forth laws that have been state-driven. Throughout the day, I started to hear stories like Jack and George, and I shed my cynicism and believed this could really be a turning point.
Quite simply, when I think about what this ruling will mean for the future of our country, I think it means that we are one step closer to equality and that the future is a little brighter. It means stories like Jack and George can finally be a thing of the past and that from this point forward, individuals can marry who they love and enjoy the legal and societal privileges that come with that. I believe that the next generation will be astounded that this was ever a debate, much the same way that our generation can’t fathom that interracial marriage was illegal less than 50 years ago.
I do still have a very real concern for the future of LGBTQ rights in this country. Same sex marriage is a huge win, but it’s not the end of the fight. There is still incredible discrimination in employment and housing, for example, and the trans community remains one of the most marginalized and vulnerable populations in the US. So, I know there’s a real possibility of the movement losing some momentum after this, which concerns me. I must say though, this ruling has given me so much hope that hearts and minds really are changing and that acceptance in a concrete, legal form has finally been given to a large community.
My next thought was one that I’m convinced of more and more with each day that has passed since the ruling was handed down: “this is the Roe v. Wade of their generation.”
Just as I have never known a world without abortion.
But I want more for my kids. I want them to see (please God, let them see) in their parent’s marriage the fruitfulness and the sanctifying grace of Christ present in the exchange of love between spouses. I want them to recognize the profound gift of new life in the face of each new sibling that comes along, and the awesome responsibility that we, their parents, have in co-creating and raising them.
And I want that for everyone else’s children, too.
I want them to experience this impossibly wide, self-denying and cross-carrying and soul-stretching love, whether they are called to the married life or to a celibate vocation. Because that is where real happiness lies. That’s where fulfillment of the deepest variety resides. And nothing the world can offer them in terms of popular sentiment or trending behavior can compete with that.
And so my job as a mother got a little harder on June 27th. Because now I must explain to these children of mine that not all laws are good, and that wherever our human laws stray from the natural law which is written on each of our hearts, there is tremendous suffering.
I see a unique opportunity here to impress upon them the incredible dignity of every human person – no matter their race, religion, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, and all the rest. Because there is surely a wrong way to teach the truth about love and human sexuality, and I’ve seen too much of that these past couple months.
I don’t hate gay people. I don’t hate anyone. And I don’t believe there is such a thing as gay “marriage,” no matter what 6 unelected public officials and the far more important court of public opinion says about the matter.
But I also don’t actually believe this was ever about securing a legal right for a certain class of people, but was rather about abolishing one of the last vestiges of Judeo-Christian morality from American civil law. And it’s going to be a slippery descent downhill, as mentioned above. Because polygamy, incest, and the like are all coming. And on what grounds can we deny anyone a legally-binding and civilly-recognized sexual relationship with any other person – or creature – of their preference? No matter how self-harmful. No matter how disordered. No matter how utterly incapable of producing new life or of investing in the future of a stable and just society.
First, I think we both have strong relationships with God and that in big or small ways that is guiding our view on this issue. I was raised in a liberal Catholic home and have kept the main lessons from my childhood as pillars in my adult life. These lessons all center around an impossibly loving and accepting God who creates each of us as intentionally unique and strong individuals who are put on the earth to connect with one another. The God I have known since birth is 100% behind supporting loving gay marriage, and he doesn’t even put quotes around the word marriage! He would urge all of us to fight for the equal rights of everyone in our communities to ensure a safe, just, and loving world. A couple weeks ago, I marched in the SF Pride Parade with my Jesuit-run graduate school. It felt so great to represent a side of the church that is open and excited about this, as I think our voices are often muddled into “religious people” who are categorically opposed to gay marriage.
Finally, I think we both agree that the creation of a family within a marriage is something very special and something to protect. While I in no way believe that marriage has anything to do with some responsibility or calling to “create new life”, I do believe that a married couple can provide a loving home for children and a great foundation for a family. Same-sex couples do this equally as well as hetero couples, and this ruling offers an opportunity for the creation of so many more families to be formed with such greater ease and stronger protection. How can one not celebrate that?
Oh, and ha! Just to cement our uncanny likeness a little further, I was born in San Fran and raised in the Bay Area. And my spiritual director is a former Jesuit, and my mom is a Santa Clara and USF grad, so maybe one of those is your alma mater too?
I was also raised – and am still a practicing – Catholic, and I don’t like the labels “conservative” or “liberal” – I really think they do more to divide than to unite, and we’re a big ‘ol universal church.
For those who will be reading this, I’d like for us to clarify what marriage is, and what it was created for. Since we’re both coming from a faith angle I think it’s safe to bring that into the conversation, but it could also be made solely from a natural law perspective, so really we could leave God out of it.
He’s already here in our email thread though, so let’s examine what He says about marriage and about human sexuality: first, He created us male and female with a purpose and with a distinct complementarity between our sexualities, to image in a particular way the life-giving exchange of love within the Persons of God, the trinity. And then the first instruction we receive from Him? Be fruitful, and multiply.
You say that marriage has nothing to do with children, in your mind, and that is probably the most difficult piece of your argument for me to answer, because it leads me to think we’re not actually discussing the same thing.
I’m guessing you’re going to say romantic fulfillment and life-long companionship, which are two goods of marriage, but are somewhat periphery to the two primary ends mentioned above. So could it be that we’re not actually talking about the same thing at all?
Like I said in my earlier email, our culture jettisoned the idea of marriage as something intentionally ordered towards bringing forth new life and raising that life in faithful, committed love, but does that cultural rejection actually alter the nature of marriage? What I mean is, can we redefine a thing based solely on popular opinion, considering we didn’t create marriage to begin with?
One final thought: of course children deserve a loving home and of course, orphans and single parent families and all the other impoverished and imperfect arrangements we find ourselves in, when parents die or the crushing demands of poverty overwhelm them, or when teenagers get pregnant or women are abandoned by the men who helped them create the child in question… because we live in a fallen world, and we’re all sinners. But neither of us would, I think, look at those aforementioned situations and call them ideal.
I think we’re getting somewhere because I didn’t even need a deep breath for this one.
My point was that there are many people who identify as Catholic who dissent from the fundamental bible-based Catholic teachings on gay marriage (and so, so many other traditional teachings of the Catholic church). A large group of people who believe in God and feel a connection to the Catholic church fully support LGBTQ rights and full acceptance and love of all people (backed by actually supporting all people to love who they love). Because we have such different core values, it does make sense to me to clearly delineate conservative and liberal Catholics. They are, in practice, such vastly different approaches to life, and to be honest I would be horrified to be bucketed into the traditional Catholic mold. Unfortunately, I think the conservative approach to Catholicism has been much, much louder on a variety of social issues, so the liberal portion of the church has gotten lost in the shuffle. I do think Pope Francis is doing a lot to improve this, and I’m happy to hear we can agree that he’s the best. :)
You guessed that I think the point of marriage is for “romantic fulfillment and life-long companionship” and I find that phrasing incredibly empty and not even close to capturing what marriage is. When two people decide that they want to marry, that is an intimate decision that carries with it so many different intentions and goals. Because of that, I don’t believe there is one “reason” for marriage. I think it depends entirely on the individuals within the relationship. This diversity does extend to whether or not they decide to have children. Deciding to be a spouse and deciding to be a parent are such different decisions and roles in life, and it is for no one but the couple involved to make decisions about this. Do you know any married couples who have decided to not have children? Do you know any who are unable to conceive? Who have fostered or adopted children? Any who have blended families but have not “created life” together? Do you honestly think these marriages are not valid or living up to some “ideal”?
Your point about children being raised by their biological parents being somehow better off than children of same-sex couples just holds absolutely no water with me. I’m very familiar with the argument that some children raised by same-sex parents are somehow dissatisfied with their upbringing, and I had actually read Katy’s letter before. Some children of ALL forms of childrearing are dissatisfied with parts of their upbringing. There are just as many stories coming from children who are happy with their families, like Zack Wahls. So, this kind of “proof” isn’t proof at all. The stories of all families are complex with varying degrees of success and levels of overall happiness, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents.
iiiiit’s a small world :)
And brace yourself, this is long, because I’m suuuuuper pregnant and was up thinking about it between 4-6 this morning…
Okay, after thinking it over, here’s what I pulled out as your three main points “pro” gay marriage:
The main issue with this point is the final piece, because this view of marriage radically alters the nature of the institution, which is ordered toward the creation and development of a family, which is the fundamental building block for our larger communities, and turns it into something else entirely: a sexual partnership which is not outwardly-focused, by it’s very nature, but which is focused inward, on the mutual satisfaction and “happiness” (quotes because it’s a completely subjective state unique to each couple) of the spouses.
This is not to say marriage should not equal happiness, but that marriage in the traditional definition often results in happiness but is not contingent upon it. Happiness is a happy aftereffect, if you will, but it’s not proper end. So we contract marriages because we love the other person and want to build a life and a family with them, but the vision is directed outward, away from the individual couples, and that other-centered love physically begets new life. Children are a natural good of marriage – and an essential part of the purpose for marriage – precisely because they draw the spouses away from one another and toward a common good, and ultimately, the future.
You rightly mentioned adoptions and couples who struggle with infertility. I set those aside for the purpose of our argument because they’re tangential, but since you brought them up I’ll answer that when a couple cannot conceive this is a poverty in their relationship. Yes, they may be able to adopt and take great joy in building a family through alternative means (moral means, but that’s another topic entirely), but you’ll never hear an infertile couple say that their infertility hasn’t been a great sadness or a source of suffering. Is their marriage any less valid? Of course not. That’s like saying a cancer patient’s life has less value than a healthy person’s because her body has succumbed to a disease. It means something has gone awry physically.
2. When homosexual couples determine that they would like to acquire a child, either through adoption, IVF, surrogacy, etc., this results in a profound commoditization of the child. It reduces the child to a product, if you will, to be added on to their relationship as a kind of familial upgrade.
3. I didn’t present Katy’s story as any kind of definitive proof of the inability of a gay couple to raise a happy child, just as food for thought that maybe the children involved in these unions are not being afforded their full rights. We disagree on the nature of marriage as being ordered towards procreation, but there is still an innate drive, even among homosexual couples, to build a family. So the question becomes, what of the rights of the child? Does a child not, as we have legally recovnzzed up until this point, have the right to a mother and a father|? Is it not wrong to preemptively deny them a parent of the opposite sex, simply because two men or two women decide to build a life together?
Marriage has been recognized in a unique way because marriage – the sexual relationship between a man and a woman – is uniquely capable of bringing forth the next generation of civilization. Can it be done outside the context of marriage? Well yes, of course. But it’s always at the cost of the children involved, never to their benefit.
Also, if marriage means completely different things to different couples, as you said, if each couple contracts marriage on their own terms and for their own reasons and just wants to call it something that starts with an m….how can there be any kind of legal precedent at all for differentiating what makes the cut and what doesn’t? Can’t I marry my sister? Can’t I marry a second spouse of either gender while my husband is still alive? How is there any grounds, legally, to deny me that?
I’ve really enjoyed the peaceful nature and tone of this exchange (seriously, soooooo refreshing for someone who works on the internet) but I’m not sure we can go much further since it kind of feels like we’re talking past each other on a certain level. We’re using the same language, but we don’t mean the same thing, at all, when we say “marriage.” So I guess maybe I’m up for one more round of closing arguments, if you will, and then we call it a day?
There are a number of things I’d like to push back on with what you’ve written here (i.e. those are not my three main points pro gay marriage). I think the fact is that we have wildly different approaches to marriage and family — beyond gay marriage or this particular ruling. I don’t feel the need for closing arguments, per se, as I (thankfully) saw this much more as a conversation than a debate. I would like to offer a couple reflections though.
Another thing I noticed is that maybe the trick to this is that it didn’t really feel like a debate. We both have clearly thought a lot about this issue and have extremely deep seated beliefs about what is right here. Given that, I think we both quickly knew that we weren’t going to sway the other or “win.” What we could do was explain our stance calmly and (as hard as it may have been for both of us) openly listen to the other side. I think there’s a lot of value in that, and I’m grateful to Jenna for framing this up front that this was to be civil and productive, not a battle or a gotcha debate.
Honestly, I still don’t empathize with your stance at all and I think a lot of what you believe is incredibly harmful to our society, but at the same time I can respect you as an individual and hope that somewhere down the line you have a change of heart as so many people have. And I bet you feel the same about me! At least we’re not apathetic members of society, right? ;) I do feel sure that we both want what we think is best for our world, and those opinions have been informed and shaped in very different ways.
I was telling my husband last night that it our conversation was making me sad, not for you necessarily, but for our culture at large, just because relativism is so overpowering and pervasive, and it makes fruitful dialogue so difficult.
But He is bigger, and I’ve seen firsthand the fruits of continuing to question and seek and wrestle.
Enjoy your weekend and God bless your willingness to engage in this.