The Minnesota Catholic Conference is now featuring on its website a letter written by a Catholic who finds his heart breaking that some Catholics in the state have signs in their yards saying they're voting no on the proposal to amend the state constitution to ban marriage equality. The signs say, specifically, that these folks are voting no as Catholics and because they're Catholics.
Here's the letter of John, an English teacher, homebrewer, board-game nut, Twins fan, and father of two children that the Catholic Conference website is featuring (boldface is in the original):
Before I passed your house, it was another typical Thursday evening. I got home from work, spent a few precious moments with my wife before she headed off to her part-time job, and loaded my two little girls into the stroller for our daily walk. My two year old and I were talking about what we would make for dinner when we got home (“Cookies!” she said. “Stir fry!” I countered. “Okay,” she conceded.). Then we saw your sign: “Another Catholic voting no.” I’ll confess I was sorely tempted to ring your doorbell and talk to you about it directly, but a letter seems the wiser choice considering we’ve done nothing except say, “Hi” to each other in the evenings when you’re hosing down your driveway and I’m walking with my girls.
Your sign made my heart break a little, plain and simple. Why? Because I’m a dad and I feel like as a father—for better or worse—my presence in my children’s lives is important and significant. When I got married five years ago, I did so because I loved the woman who is now my wife, and I wanted to share my life with her. But I also got married because in our faith, marriage is the sacrament of life, the lifelong covenant in which children learn to be healthiest and happiest. Now that I’m the dad of two little girls, I’m already starting to see what my fatherly presence means to them. My wife and I both love our children with an equal amount of fervor, but our love is qualitatively different. No one can love my daughters like their daddy can. And if, God forbid, I was taken from them by death, they would miss out on the experience of having a dad to protect them, nurture them, and teach them in the way that only a father can.
From the sign in your yard, I’m guessing you think that marriage is about two consenting adults. But I’m writing to tell you that defining marriage in that way is not how our faith, our nation, or our species has ever defined it. Marriage is the soil in which families grow best, and through them, society. So when I read your sign, I feel like you’re telling me my presence in my kids’ lives doesn’t count, that any two people, regardless of gender, could raise them in the same fashion. I beg to differ.
In disagreeing with you, I am not denying the right of people to love whoever they want. I’m just pointing out that marriage is a particular kind of relationship, and saying one has a marriage does not necessarily make it so. This vote is not about criminalizing anyone’s lifestyle or actions, but instead about recognizing a particular good.
If, as you and I both believe, we were created in God’s image and likeness, then for my daughters to grow up with both a mom and a dad means they will be able to come to know God as fully as possible from the moment of their birth. If, for whatever reason, my wife or I were not a part of their lives, it would be something to cry over, not celebrate. I’m not denying that single parents or a gay parents love their children. I’m just saying that no matter how hard a man may try, he cannot love his children like a mother loves, and vice versa.
While I’m sure you have your reasons for putting that sign in your yard, I think that your gender, your body, quietly proclaims another truth to the world every day. To grow up surrounded only by the masculine or only by the feminine is to be robbed of the full breadth of human experience. Please reconsider your vote.
At its Facebook page, Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota has posted a link to John's letter and has a thread of responses now going. Here are some of my thoughts in response to the letter:
1. What in God's name does permitting same-sex couples to enjoy the right of civil marriage have to do with your "presence" in your children's lives, John? How would permitting Val and Chris or Susan and Jane up the street from you to marry civilly disrupt--in any way at all--your "presence" in your children's lives?
2. If Val and Chris and Susan and Jane have children, you are arguing for your right, as a Catholic, to disrupt their "presence" in the lives of their own children, by refusing to admit the legitimacy of their marital relationship and by excluding their family from the rights and privileges you and your family now enjoy under law.
3. What gives you such a breathtaking right, John--to impose your religious views on others, to deny rights and privileges to others because of your religious views, and then to call this a loving action?
4. Does your Catholic faith comprise no concern at all for the children of same-sex couples?
5. Are your children somehow better and more important because you are heterosexually married? Are you better and more important because you are heterosexually married?
6. Because if you imagine that excluding people from social rights and privileges due to accidents of their make-up (like skin color, gender, etc.) does not affect their social standing and well-being, you imagine quite wrongly.
7. Excluding people from rights and privileges you yourself enjoy simply because you are heterosexual quite definitely does create in society a tier of second-class citizenship for those people and their children, so that your claim to be acting out of love as you "defend" your marriage from non-existent threats is a self-deceived and false claim.
8. Your entire argument hinges on the claim that only a man and a woman can properly love children.
9. This argument flies in the face of abundant empirical evidence that children thrive in households headed by same-sex parents.
10. Your argument also erroneously assumes that gender roles are written in stone because of biological difference, so that a father cannot act in a maternal way and a mother cannot act in a paternal way.
11. This argument makes people captive to their biology and implicitly argues for the subordination of women to men, since the biological arguments about gender roles employed by Catholic authority figures whom you're echoing here always claim that the role of men is to lead and dominate and the role of women is to be led and to serve.
12. The logic of your argument would cruelly and erroneously imply that children whose heterosexual parents have died and who are raised by a grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle, cannot be adequately raised and loved by that single foster parent who is of a single gender.
13. And yet you and other Catholics do not want to amend state constitutions to outlaw such foster parenting of children by a relative of a single gender on the ground that a) children are inadequately reared in such homes, and b) these family arrangements threaten your marriage and that of other heterosexual couples.
14. And let's return to that point, John: how, precisely, does permitting Val and Chris or Susan and Jane to enjoy the right of civil marriage threaten you, your wife, and your children?
15. What's that again, John? I didn't quite hear you. Did you say you don't really know how permitting your gay neighbors to enjoy the right of civil marriage would in any way undermine or threaten your own marriage? You just believe it will do so, and you think you should enjoy the right, on the basis of your own beliefs, to deny civil rights to others?
Is that what you just said, John? Yes, I thought that was the gist of your argument. I have heard it before, during the Civil Rights struggle when white Southern Christians offered the very same faith-based argument about their "right" to exclude people from civil rights on the basis of skin color.
This faith-based argument was wrong then and it's just as wrong now, when it comes out of your mouth and that of other Catholics who imagine that sharing your rights and privileges with others on the margins would undermine your exalted social status--and that you're doing a loving thing when you exclude others from rights and privileges. Because you speak in Jesus's name, of course, and anyone who uses the name of Jesus couldn't possibly engage in unloving actions or imagine that their beliefs should trump the rights of others, could they? Just because they believe, and that makes what they believe right.