Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Archbishop Timothy Dolan Responds to Obama Administration's DOMA Decision: Redefining Discrimination as Justice

As a brief postscript to my posting earlier today reflecting on Richard Gaillardetz's analysis of the 2009 U.S. bishops' pastoral letter "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan," I want to take note of the response of the current president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, Timothy Dolan, to the recent announcement of the Obama administration that it will not defend the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). 

Several days ago, Archbishop Dolan released a statement condemning the Obama administration's  DOMA decision as an "alarming and grave injustice."  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that the current administration "has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny."

Dolan's rejoinder to the Attorney General: DOMA "does not single out people based on sexual 'orientation' or inclination. Every person deserves to be treated with justice, compassion, and respect, a proposition of natural law and American law that we as Catholics vigorously promote. Unjust discrimination against any person is always wrong."

It's clear from Dolan's response that the question of discrimination--of answering charges that their position on civil marriage for same-sex couples is discriminatory on the face of it--is first and foremost in the bishops' attempt to deal with growing societal acceptance of same-sex marriage and of the right of same-sex couples to enter civil marriages.  As I noted when the bishops issued an immediate response to the Obama administration's decision through general counsel Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., what the Catholic bishops of the U.S. continue to push for is their "right" to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation, and to have this "right" enshrined in and protected by law.

The bishops also continue to ask for their "right" to define their radically unjust position--namely, that people of faith opposed to same-sex marriage should be permitted to block civil marriage for same-sex couples--as just.  In short, the bishops are asking for the right to redefine what the terms "discrimination" and "justice" actually mean, and to twist the meaning of both terms to make them mean the precise opposite of what both terms mean, when it comes to the bishops' response to same-sex marriage.

And so Dolan states,

It is hardly "discrimination" to say that a husband and a wife have a unique and singular relationship that two persons of the same sex -- or any unmarried persons -- simply do not and cannot have.  Nor is it "discrimination" to believe that the union of husband and wife has a distinctive and exclusive significance worthy of promotion and protection by the state.  It is not "discrimination" to say that having both a mother and a father matters to and benefits a child. Nor is it "discrimination" to say that the state has more than zero interest in ensuring that children will be intimately connected with and raised by their mother and father.

And so Archbishop Dolan concludes, "Protecting the definition of marriage is not merely permissible, but actually necessary as a matter of justice," he added.

Note how Dolan's response turns the facts about the U.S. bishops' opposition to same-sex marriage on their head, and how it seeks to redefine discrimination as justice.  No one is seeking to force any community of faith to redefine marriage or to accept any other definition of marriage than the definition held by that particular community of faith.

What is being contested, however, is the right of people of faith including the Catholic bishops to determine who may be civilly married, who has the right to enter into a civil marriage contract, and who can determine what civil marriage means.  The bishops are asking for the right not to debate questions of marriage in the public square, and to come to some agreement, based on open, free, respectful dialogue in the public square about how issues of marriage are to be handled by their society.

They are asking for their "right" to control the debate, to impose their definition of marriage on everyone in a pluralistic, democratic society.  And they're asking for their "right" to deny access to civil marriage to same-sex couples, even when a growing number of citizens of the country--now over half--support the right of same-sex couples to same-sex marriage.

Which means, in the final analysis, the bishops are asking for the right to redefine the terms discrimination and justice, since they are overtly promoting discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens that is no longer supported by societal consensus.  And in doing so, they are defining that discrimination as justice and are shouting that it is a "grave injustice"--to them!--not to permit them to behave unjustly towards a vulnerable minority group.

And to return to the discussion of Richard Gaillardetz's article: this is among the reasons many American Catholics are now walking away in droves from the Catholic church.  Doublespeak.  Injustice and discrimination disguised as justice and love.  The refusal to entertain questions and engage in dialogue when social consensus (and Catholic lay consensus) on various issues is shifting.  The insistence on dictating rather than listening and engaging in dialogue.

And all of this when the bishops are living in a glass house vis-a-vis their own moral  values and moral lives, in their handling of the abuse crisis.

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