Friday, November 23, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage and Families of Gay Couples: Two Theological Perspectives (and a Poem)

The video: poet Alvin Lau declaiming his poem "Full Moon" at the opening round of individual finals at the 2006 National Poetry Slam.  The poem reflects on the marriage of Lau's sister to another woman.

Fascinating commentary at Al Jazeera by Cristina LH Traina, professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, who regards the Catholic vote in the 2012 elections as a victory for authentic (as opposed to the version promoted by some influential bishops) Catholic social teaching--including the many Catholic votes for marriage equality in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland, and Washington:

To be clear, the American bishops oppose same-sex marriage on theological grounds. In their letter on marriage, they have described marriage as "a permanent, faithful, fruitful partnership between one man and one woman". They insist that family is built on the foundation of marriage. And they embrace the Catholic teaching that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered. This is not, admittedly, a promising starting point for an argument for same-sex marriage.  
But their equally strong social justice claims point in this direction. The bishops implore Catholics to vote for people and measures that "protect human life and dignity" and to "oppose policies that violate human life and weaken its protection". The question is "how we treat the weakest among us" and how we "help overcome poverty, racism and other conditions that demean human life".  
It is that mandate inherent in Catholic social teaching that likely encouraged many Catholics to support same-sex marriage. 

As Traina notes, "children of same-sex parents are much more vulnerable than children of opposite-sex unions":

According to a 2011 report by the National Council on Family Relations, poverty rates for children of same-sex partners are over twice the poverty rates for children of married, straight parents: fully 20 per cent overall and highest for minority parents. Adding financial precariousness to their legal vulnerability puts these children doubly at risk. 
What all of this means is that whether or not anyone agrees that gay and lesbian couples have a claim on the legal and social benefits of marriage, their children clearly need them, and badly. 

And at the There is Power in the Blog site, Daniel A. Morris, who is a Bergendorf Teaching Fellow at Augustana College, writes about his Thomist epiphany at his aunts' same-sex wedding.  Morris's outlook on political-theological issues has been heavily influenced by Augustine's view that the primary role of the state and its laws is to restrain sin.

But his aunts' gay wedding convinced him to reconsider Thomas Aquinas's understanding of the law as designed to orient people towards individual and collective happiness.  Morris focuses on the dramatic change that occurred in the thinking of the father of one of his two aunts after the state in which the two aunts live permitted same-sex civil marriage.

Before the law was passed, the father refused to acknowledge his daughter's longstanding committed relationship with another woman.  After the law went into effect, he began to rethink his position and at his daughter's wedding, he walked her down the aisle of the chapel.

And so Morris concludes:

In this case, the Thomist vision of the function of law was vindicated. On that day, the law led to the common good. Families that had been estranged were reconciled in celebration of real love. And on that day, the law fostered virtue in Lucy’s dad. His joy, compassion, and fatherly pride were palpable. (There’s a picture of the two of them walking down the aisle, with me in the background, weeping. Thomist epiphanies can be emotional.) 
Recalling this experience, I am very glad to think of what might happen in the coming months in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Same-sex marriage is not only about fairness in applying and recognizing legal rights (although it is certainly about that, too). Same-sex marriage also has the capacity to remove stigma and reunite estranged family and friends. In the case of law permitting same-sex marriage, the Augustinian political vision is too narrow. These laws can facilitate the common good, and they can help us grow in virtue.

My conclusion: give same-sex couples and their families a legitimate and openly acknowledged place in the body politic, in society as a whole, and you serve the common good for everyone by strengthening these relationships and these families.   And by placing yourself in a position to benefit from the many gifts they offer to society as a whole, when they have open legal recognition and the support of law and social approval--all the benefits and entitlements that accrue to other marriages and other families . . . .

(I'm very grateful to a reader of this blog who emailed me the link to the Alvin Lau video, and to Jerry Slevin for the link to Cristina LH Traina's article.)

No comments: