Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Commonweal Puts Lipstick on the Pig: Robert K. Vischer on the Minnesota Bishops' Anti-Gay Marriage Initiative

I've come to think of the services provided by the intellectual elite of the American Catholic center to the hierarchy as putting lipstick on a pig.  The pig being untenable Catholic teaching that is radically undercut by other Catholic teaching which should weigh far heavier in the policy-making and course-charting of American Catholicism than it does at present.  (Which is another way of rephrasing Robert McClory's argument in the statement in Chicago Catholic News to which I have just linked.)

Commonweal has just published an essay by Robert K. Vischer that seeks to slather the politically partisan gay-targeting behavior of the Minnesota Catholic bishops in the last election with pretty lipstick.  To make that behavior appear less partisan and more congruent with Catholic values of justice and non-discrimination and defense of human rights for all than it was.  

I won't summarize Vischer's essay.  I don't think it demands careful attention any more than does his previous Commonweal essay taking Judge Vaughn Walker to task following Walker's carefully reasoned, exhaustive analysis of arguments against same-sex marriage in the prop 8 trial in California earlier this year.  You'll remember that Vischer sought to call into question Walker's understanding of facts salient to his case.

The common denominator of both arguments, and of the document "Marriage and the Law," a "call to the nation" from (right-wing) family and legal scholars of which Vischer is a signatory, is, to put the point bluntly, homophobia.  A sophisticated, tarted-up homophobia that seeks to disguise its ultimate intent--to keep gay and lesbian human beings second-class citizens while using religious warrants to do so.  Tarted-up homophobia disguised by attractive, intellectually imposing language about procreation as the ultimate norm that societies must respect as they make decisions about same-sex marriage.

This argument never seeks to take into account the fact that any and all churches, including the Catholic church, have consistently married heterosexual couples incapable of procreation, and so what is really being defended is not a procreative norm at all, but a model of male-female complementarity that unjustly and irrationally privileges the heterosexual people who have invented and promoted that model.  Nor does it ever turn its attention to the fact that, far and away more than same-sex marriage, divorce is the primary threat to the sanctity of traditional marriage today.

And yet never a peep from church leaders who want to attack gay and lesbian citizens in the public square, about changing divorce laws or enacting legislation prohibiting divorce or making it harder for heterosexual couples to divorce.

The common denominator of all these pretty arguments is homophobia--prejudice against gay and lesbian human beings that seeks to discriminate against gay and lesbian human beings in the name of God.  And no matter how much lipstick one slathers on these arguments, the pig underneath them cannot be disguised: we still have a pig on our hands, even after the make-up has been applied.

It says a great deal about where Commonweal is that this leading journal of the intellectual elite of the American Catholic center keeps promoting Vischer as its primary spokesperson on matters gay.  And that this essay comes out the day after the military released a report about the exclusion of openly gay persons from military service, which points to the lifting of yet another legal yoke from the necks of gay and lesbian citizens.  A moral breakthrough pointing to justice for those denied justice about which Commonweal has yet to publish anything at all.

As if moral breakthroughs pointing to justice for a group of citizens (and Catholic brothers and sisters) historically denied justice solely because of who they happen to be, by birth, counts for nothing in the American Catholic center.  Where the agenda continues to be to ask the church to bless decisions of heterosexual married couples to engage in non-procreative sexual activity (as the vast majority of married Catholics in the developed world have long since decided to do), while continuing to defend a procreative ethic that is used exclusively to inform one's gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that who they are, what they do, and the relationships they form are far from the moral norm.

Just because.  Because it's all about procreation.  But never mind that we who are informing you of your inability to meet the mark don't meet it ourselves, in our own marital practices which include openness to contraception.  And that when we talk about keeping the procreative ethic primary in decisions about whom to marry, we know full well that a heterosexual couple incapable of procreation may marry without hindrance--and enjoy all the rights, privileges, and protection from discrimination afforded them as a legally married couple.

The injustice of this approach to sexual ethics is glaring, and deserves open discussion--as does the tacit exclusion of openly gay and lesbian persons from the conversation of the American Catholic center, and the pretense that what happens to gay people is not a Catholic concern.  As Robert McClory indicates, the church itself--and the gospel it proclaims--point to core values (in this case,  clear values of justice) that vastly transcend what is being defended at the American Catholic center as normative.  And as right and good, because orthodox.

And the pig will remain a pig, no matter how much makeup we shovel on its snout.

No comments: