Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What are we fighting for?

Warning: very gloomy post ahead

I don't think anyone, anywhere was truly surprised by the California court's decision to overturn Prop 8. Even the most ardent supporters of marriage were bracing themselves for it.

The question is, what next?

The decision will go to the Ninth Circuit, where it will be upheld. It will go to the Supreme Court, where it will be upheld. 2011 will be the new 1973. And suddenly "just because it's legal doesn't make it right" will apply to two separate (but intimately connected) issues: life and marriage

Not to sound like a Debbie Downer, but at this point there's very little to be done about it. Supporter of my Church's teachings though I might be, I can't help but cringe at the clumsy ways in which the pro-marriage crowd seem to be fumbling for articulate words to argue their side. I was there myself, a few years ago, before I became Catholic.

My parent's denomination, Presbyterian Church USA, voted to allow same-sex marriage in 2006. Only a college sophomore at the time, I panicked. I was attending an Evangelical Free church near campus. I was happy there but knew that after graduation I'd inevitably move away and need to find a new church home. Since many Protestant denominations have a very "locally owned and operated" mentality, there is often little doctrinal consistency. How was I to know that the beliefs with which I was raised would be carried on to my own children if the church I attended as an adult could shift its teaching with a vote? It worried me. Those worries eventually led me to examine the larger question of authority, and that question naturally led me into the arms of Holy Mother Church, a place where I can trust the authority is apostolic and Spirit-guided, and even though there are sinners aplenty here (myself included), there is a comfort knowing that, like her spouse Jesus, the Church and her teachings won't be changing. And that's a good thing.

Beyond the question of authority, one of the larger question I wrestled with was "what is the purpose of marriage?" The Catholic Church could easily and definitely answer this question: marriage is a permanent, indissoluble bond meant to help oneself and one's spouse grow in holiness, to create children, and to image Christ's love for the Church. Because procreation is an undeniable part of that equation, the rest of the Church's sexual ethics follow: no contraception, no abortion, no same-sex marriage, no divorce. It make a lot of sense when seen as a package deal.

If you remove procreation from the equation, as most (all? I think?) Protestant denominations have done, there is really no solid ground upon which to base an arrangement against same-sex marriage. Okay, okay the whole Jesus as the Bridegroom/Church as the Bride argument falls apart too, but that's not a very Protestant-friendly image anyway, so nevermind.

Without the greater awareness of what marriage is designed to be, pro-marriage supporters (at least, those who aren't Catholic) are grasping at straws to defend their position. If marriage is only about lovey-dovey feelings and big parties and expensive cakes and wedding registries at Crate and Barrel, then who's to say it has to be reserved for those of opposite sexes? If sex is casual, if marriage is temporary, easy to tear with divorce, meaningless enough that Brittany Spears can be married in Vegas for less than twelve hours before rectifying her "mistake," then no one has any business saying it can be limited to one man and one woman.

This is a problem.

What happened today shouldn't surprise anyone. It's the natural progression of a world sterilized by contraceptive thinking. We've been on this road toward the Fall, of course, but our progress down it zoomed along once the Sexual Revolution hit in the 1960s. Since the mass introduction of the Pill 50 years ago, and in the 42 years since Humanae Vitae, everything Paul VI predicted has come true.

What's the answer? As much as I'm energized by the growing popularity of Theology of the Body courses, NFP classes, and so forth among my fellow young adults, I feel that ToB, a rediscovery/re-articulation of Church teaching from time immemorial, is coming too late. It's not "too little, too late," because what the Church teaches about sexuality isn't too little. It's beautiful. It's God's plan. But I fear we may be too late.

My usual optimism has fled today. By the end of 2011 the Supreme Court will uphold Prop 8. By 2012 or 2014 at the latest there won't be a state in the Union that will have legal provisions against it. And then, friends, the fun will begin. Persecution of churches will be subtle. It will be financial, in the forms of tax law, property law, and so forth.

In the cold darkness of hell, Satan is smiling.

*Necessary addendum.

I'm not sure I'm even a supporter of traditional marriage as defined by state law. I'm a supporter of marriage as defined by the Church; marriage that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

Calling an orange an apple is just silly [ ie: calling same-sex unions marriage is a contradiction in terms, if I use my Church's definition of marriage].

Calling a tangerine an orange is silly, but understandable [ie, calling "non-sacramental, married-on-the-beach-in-Mexico-by-your-friend-who-bought-an-officiant's-license-off-the-Internet-to-the-boyfriend-you've-lived-with-for-six-years-and-who-only-proposed-because-his-mother-was-nagging-him" marriage the same as a union centered on Christ, witnessed by the Church, and rooted in self-sacrifice by the same name is a little ridiculous, but I currently have no solution for it. It's a problem of semantics as well as theology].

In a world where marriage and sex have been so cheapened (again, we've been struggling with this since the Fall, but it was made ever so much worse from the 1960s onward) the debate about marriage almost ridiculous in itself. Supporters of traditional marriage, at least the Glenn Beck types, seem to live in the fantasy that defending traditional marriage will roll back the tide of sociological problems that have escalated exponentially since the 1960s (ridiculous divorce rate. Horrific numbers of abortions. Single mothers galore. The list goes on).

Keeping marriage defined as one man/one woman won't give us paradise. We need to deal with a more pressing and difficult issue: what God planned for humanity from the beginning. How do we even begin to fix the larger problem? It is so vast I cannot even fathom it.

I can't bring myself to support same-sex marriage, because I'm a Catholic who supports her Church because her Church is based on the synergy of faith and reason. But it still bothers me that heterosexual marriage is hailed as the gold standard, even though it as an institution is already fraught with problems in our hedonistic, postmodern culture. Is this just giving up? What's the answer?

One solution I considered was kicking government out of the marriage business altogether. After all, marriage is a sacrament, meant to be under God's discretion, not the state's. Marriage only became a civil contract (thanks Martin Luther!) because of the financial things that go along with it- tax status, insurance benefits, and so on. What if, just what if, the government was out of the marriage realm altogether? What if everyone, gay or straight, went down to the courthouse for a civil union? What if such a civil union enabled couples to seek a tax shelter, share insurance benefits, and so on? Then, if you're interested in marriage, go to your church. As long as churches have the clearly articulated right to refuse marriage to those whose union doesn't conform to their beliefs (which for Catholics would include contracepting or cohabitating couples), then marriage as a sacrament would stay protected and the same-sex marriage advocates could stop screaming about equal rights vs. "second class citizens." Am I totally crazy, or might such a system actually work? Is this just giving up?

I have no idea. But I look at the divorce rate, in particular, and it's abundantly clear that marriage is in serious trouble. It's been under attack since the beginning, of course; something so beautiful and holy will certainly be high on the Enemy's hit list . Same-sex marriage is only his newest technique, along with so many others in his arsenal. Pornography, addiction, abortion, contraception, etc have all been used with great success to destroy God's plan for marriage. This is only the latest ploy in the game.

I am having trouble seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. How dark it seems.

St. Thomas More, ora pro nobis.