Sunday, January 23, 2011

Archbishop Dolan's "State of the Union" Address: Opposition to Gay Rights Part of Pro-Life Message

The new president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, Timothy Dolan, has written a "state of the union" address to the new Congress.  And the document continues the rather unwise rhetoric of many U.S. bishops in recent years, linking the right-to-life cause of abortion to same-sex marriage--as if gay rights somehow fall under the rubric of pro-life concerns.  

Having outlined his concerns about life issues, Dolan states, 

In close connection with our defense of all human life and particularly the most vulnerable among us, we stand firm in our support for marriage which is and can only be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman. There is good reason why the law has always recognized this, and why it should continue to do so.

In other words, gay marriage (along with gay rights in general) is a life issue.  And as the Vatican and bishops have been arguing for some years now, the right to life trumps all other rights--though now they're making a sudden shift to talking about the right to freedom of belief as the fundamental right that trumps all other rights.  Seemingly without reflecting on how they can't have it both ways, and how the sudden turn to religious belief as the right that undergirds all other rights casts into doubt their preceding loud insistence, for some years now, that the right to life trumps all other rights.

And here's why I call this attempt to link opposition to gay rights to issues of life unwise: it backs the bishops into a dangerous corner where their lack of any profound respect for the real lives of real gay and lesbian human beings and the families these human beings are raising or to which they belong matters.  And where this lack of respect for the real lives of some real human beings seriously undercuts their claim to cherish life.

When you treat the real lives of real human beings as if they don't count, you provide the world a message--one louder than words--about what you really mean, when you talk about respecting life. That message calls into question your claim to stand consistently and unambiguously for the value of life.

By linking gay rights to right-to-life concerns, the bishops make their own lived witness to the gospels a serious issue.  They make their own lived witness to the value of life the most important aspect of their teaching about the value of life.  They put the spotlight on themselves, on their treatment of their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

And if what we see when the spotlight shines on them in this area of their behavior is not admirable and consistent with what they proclaim about the dignity of persons and value of life, if we see callous disregard for the value of the lives of gay and lesbian human beings, then it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that their commitment to the value of life means much of anything at all.  It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in their real commitment to the value of life in any other area in which they want to apply principles about the value of life, the dignity of the human person, and the rights of all--including abortion.

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