In the turbulent aftermath of proposition 8′s passage in California, the Church made some noise about being unfairly singled out by gay rights activitists. Whether or not the Church served as a lynchpin in the coalition that pushed the proposition through, its centralization alone makes it a logical target.
But here I’m interested in turning the question around: why have gays been singled out by the Church?
In my opinion, the Church’s strongest argument against gay marriage is that which highlights the importance of maintaining the status of opposite-sexed parents in our image of the ideal family. Maybe there’s some validity to the contention that, given its potential benefits to society, government incentives should adhere to and support this particular ideal, which begins to erode if it loses its singular status.
But there’s a lot that could be done, on the policy front, to support families in various ways. And the Church is not involved in any of it. The utopic vision the Church invokes in the gay marriage debate cuts a remarkably broad swath across society, yet its political focus is bewilderingly narrow. Do gay unions pose a particular threat qualitatively different from–and more virulent to our social fabric–than no-fault divorce laws or absent, deadbeat parents, for example?
Should they so choose (and many do), mothers and fathers are accorded the legal right to sleep around, divorce their partner (if they were married in the first place), and abandon their children in pursuit of their own happiness. Where the needs of the community (here children’s need for involved parents) and the desires of individuals are in tension, the law, it seems to me, largely triumphs individual opportunity. Divorce affects nuclear families directly and immediately in a way that gay marriage can only exert a weak, indirect, nonspecific influence (if at all). Given this context, would it not be consonant with our established values to champion gay marriage? It may be individualistic, but for that very reason it should hold some attraction. After all, why should gays sacrifice themselves by accepting the status of outcast in order to preserve a particular vision of society when others who are disrupting that vision more violently are not being asked to make comparable sacrifices?
Is gay marriage really the most alarming threat to the Church’s current vision of acceptable family arrangements? (And I mean in society at large, not merely among its members, since this is the turf on which gay marriage is being fought.) Is this simply a question of pragmatics–the Church is choosing a battle it thinks it can win, whether or not it is the most important battle to win? Is it a matter of dispositional conservatism, which reflexively recoils from enacting change while throwing its energy into preventing it? Or are there cases in which the Church would (or should) fight to effect change rather than simply hinder it?
- 13 December 2008