Opinion

CAMPAIGN 2008: Marriage, civility, persecution

byGeorge Weigel
9/26/2008

In Spain today, Juan can walk into a civil registry office, present a letter from his physician stating that a change of gender is required for his mental health, and, without further surgical ado, be issued a new national identity card declaring that Juan is now Juanita. In San Francisco (a European entrepot currently attached to the California coast), the city council and county board have officially deplored the Catholic Church’s teaching on the moral character of homosexual acts as “insulting to all San Franciscans,” “defamatory,” “hateful,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive.” Does anyone doubt that, if San Francisco had official identity cards, it would follow Spain’s example and establish transgendering-by-legal-fiat?

The “gay liberation” movement’s extraordinary success in getting many Americans to think of homosexuality as akin to race for purposes of civil rights law is one of the most impressive, if wrong-headed, political accomplishments of the past generation. Removing legal restrictions on homosexual conduct between consenting adults was never the movement’s ultimate goal, however. The movement was, and is, determined to use coercive state power to enforce its expansive ideas of equality, indeed its convictions about the plasticity of human nature and institutions, on the entire society.

In the current election cycle, this involves a full-court press to redefine marriage, and to compel others to accept that redefinition. The people of California, having had gay marriage forced upon them by the split verdict of a confused California Supreme Court, are now asked to declare themselves on the issue by referendum. No one need doubt that this question, and a host of related questions, will eventually involve the entire country.

If it does, and if the movement wins, its victory will pose some very grave questions for the Catholic Church. Will the Catholic Church be at risk for teaching that human nature is not infinitely malleable, and that the sacramental love of man and woman, expressed conjugally, is an icon of the interior life of God? Will Catholic priests who decline to perform “gay marriages” be subject to prosecution for “hate crimes”? (Canadian evangelicals who preach classic biblical morality are already subject to monetary fines levied by provincial kangaroo courts, more formally dubbed “human rights commissions.”) Will the Catholic Church have to get out of the civil marriage business (i.e., priests no longer serving as officers of the court for purposes of validating a marriage)? Will Catholic marriages in the United States eventually resemble marriages in, say, communist-era Poland: a sad joke of a civil ceremony, followed by the liturgical ceremony?

Thus, some questions that Catholic voters might wish to pose to the two principal presidential candidates:

Questions for both candidates:

1) Is “marriage” the stable union of a man and a woman? If so, should that definition be recognized by law? At the state level? At the federal level? By the U.S. Constitution?

2) Should Catholic social service agencies working with orphans be legally required to consider gay couples on an equal basis as foster care providers? How about as potential adoptive parents?

3) Do you believe that homosexuality is the equivalent of race for purposes of U.S. civil rights law? Is any public statement in defense of classical biblical sexual morality a de facto act of intolerance and discrimination against gays? What are the requirements of civility vis-a-vis our gay fellow-citizens?

4) Should federal funds be used to support elementary and secondary schools programs and textbooks which teach that “marriage” can mean Heather’s two mommies (or daddies)?

Question for Senator Barack Obama:

You have said that you would press for “hate crime” laws and a “fully inclusive” Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Under such laws, would Catholic schools be prosecuted for not hiring openly gay teachers, and would orthodox Catholic teachers be prosecuted for teaching what the Catholic Church teaches about the moral character of homosexual acts? If not, why not?

Question for Senator John McCain:

Given your experience in the military, would you favor a policy of neutrality towards sexual orientation, explicit or otherwise, in the armed forces of the United States?

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.