Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Marriage Equality and History of Marriage: Some Catholic Resources

And, finally this morning, I want to make a brief mention of a valuable resource that Jim McCrea has brought to my attention: this is a lengthy scholarly document (written as a letter, but it's much more than that) that Fr. Stephen Schloesser, a Jesuit teaching history at Boston College, sent to Senator Marian Walsh of Massachusetts in 2004.  It's at Au Waipang's Yawning Bread website.

As the foreword for this posting notes, it's in three parts: 1) a lengthy letter Fr. Schloesser sent to Senator Walsh; 2) a lengthy post-script to the letter; and 3) a handout that Fr. Schloesser uses in classes in which he teaches the history of marriage.  These are dense and very valuable documents, and I won't go through them in a blow-by-blow way, because I know full well that readers of this blog don't need that sort of intrusive assistance on my part.

But to indicate what they have to offer, two excerpts (boldface in original): 

"3,000 years of History": Maybe the most frustrating thing I have heard in the recent debate is this claim that has become a mantra: that we are in the process of changing some allegedly unchanging 3,000-year-old institution called "marriage." Of course, the decision to grant marriage licenses would be a "change" in marriage practice - but "marriage," whatever that is, is always in the process of being changed. To pretend that its alteration is somehow a rupture in what is otherwise a three-thousand year continuity is just silly.


In any case, the idea of marriage as "one man and one woman" is a true rupture and innovation in the tradition. The tradition in nearly every major ancient culture - at least, for those players who had power and thus for those whose marriages we have written records of -  has been polygyny: one male who owns several (or many) females.

As the state of Washington legalizes same-sex marriage and as the senate of New Jersey passes a marriage equality bill, these are resources we need in order to keep the discussion of marriage, civil rights, and the moral arc of history reality-grounded in a nation in which too many citizens appear to imagine that simply shouting that their religious tribe is and always has been against homosexuality and same-sex marriage should suffice as a bona fide contribution to the public discussion.

We need these resources to keep us reality-grounded when many of us in the Catholic community will be likely to keep hearing "contributions" like the following even at our centrist and intellectually respectable blog sites, as marriage equality becomes the norm in one nation (and state) after another:

Let me spell it out. We are living under an oppressive regime. The President of the United States turned metaphorical fire hoses on the entire pro-life contingent just as we were gathering in huge numbers (completely unacknowledged by the left-wing mainstream or religious press) to protest an unjust law that was imposed on all 50 states 39 years ago, under juridical reasoning that even the law’s proponents concede to be pure nonsense. 
Not only did the President rescind the first amendment to the Bill of Rights, but when that too was protested, he bargained back a little tiny bit of religious liberty, in a mocking, shellgame sort of way that was fully endorsed by both NARAL and PP. As if it’s not paying for it if you had your fingers crossed the whole time. 
(Meanwhile the mind control sideshow continues, as entire states of citizens are ordered to think of homosexual lovers as spouses.)

I once had a lengthy discussion with this reader, Kathy, at the Commonweal blog, which ended when I realized she was playing a game designed simply to entrap me rhetorically, and that she wasn't in the least interested in a serious discussion of the issues, and had no intent whatsoever to respect me and what I said.  In that discussion, she stated that she has a gay brother from whom she's estranged, because he finds her unbending "Catholic" approach to him and his life harmful.

When the conversation self-destructed, I told Kathy (in public, on the blog: I'm reporting a dialogue that is publicly accessible and not revealing private conversations between us) that if she's serious about mending her relationship with her brother, she might for starters ditch the term "homosexual' and start talking about her gay brother and gay people.  Not homosexuals.  Since a large number of us who are gay have long since asked people to shift from the clinically and reductionistic term "homosexual" (which was imposed on us by researchers and implies we're only about sexuality) to the term "gay."

You can see from this latest salvo just how far that suggestion of mine went with Kathy and her concern to build a productive relationship with her gay brother.  And so, as I say, we need sane and reality-based resources like those offered by Fr. Schloesser for these discussions in the Catholic context, because some of us don't intend to be sane or reality-based.

Or catholic and inclusive in our approach.  Or even nice.  Not even to members of our own families.

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