Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Attacking Marriage Equality: Catholics Choosing Fundamentalist Biblical Proof-Texting

It fascinates me to note how much the conversation about marriage equality among reactionary Catholics has shifted from a defense of the procreative norm as a basis for denying same-sex couples the right of marriage, to an overt and rather brutal biblical proof-texting approach more consonant with American fundamentalist groups.  This shift is on full display in Frank Gibbons's response (#47) to Patricia Bergeron (#42) in this America blog thread responding to John Coleman about the Barnesville, Minnesota, story I discussed yesterday.

The reactionary anti-gay faction in American Catholicism realizes, of course, that it comes from weakness and not strength as it pushes the procreative argument about marriage.  This argument holds that same-sex couples must be excluded from the right of even civil, non-sacramental marriage because they are incapable of procreation, and procreation is what marriage is all about, in the Catholic worldview.

But, of course, the Catholic church does sacramentally marry and has always sacramentally married couples it knows to be incapable of procreation due to the age of one or both spouses, or the infertility of one or both spouses.  And so to push this argument hard in the public square is only to reveal to fellow Catholics and the public at large that the reactionary Catholic opposition to marriage equality isn't about "protecting" marriage at all.

It's about attacking and stigmatizing those who are gay.

Because the marriage-for-procreation argument is weak (and increasingly weak, as it becomes undeniably clear that the huge majority of heterosexually married Catholics freely use contraceptives), reactionary Catholics like Gibbons now simply parrot the arguments of right-wing fundamentalists: But the bible says . . . !

Note how Gibbons's response to Bergeron reveals the spectacular flaws of that approach, too.  Bergeron is quoting the bible, too, after all.  She insists that it matters that Jesus never has much at all to say about marriage, and certainly not explicitly so, as if he were formulating a hard and fast teaching about marriage to be held forever by his followers.  (And if he did formulate such a teaching, why did it take so many centuries, as a number of good contributors to this thread note, for the church even to start marrying folks sacramentally?)

But Jesus does have a great deal to say about love, Bergeron notes--and she's right.

Gibbons responds to these sound arguments about the scriptural testimony by picking a single selected verse out of the gospels, one that in his view and that of the right-wing Protestants allied with right-wing Catholics here, is all about Jesus teaching that male-female complementarity is at the very heard of the good news he brings to us, and that the one-man, one-woman model of marriage is foundational and not to be tampered with.  

And then he moves from that single verse in the gospels to one in Paul's letters to the Ephesians, evading entirely Bergeron's point about what Jesus said or didn't say.  And, interestingly enough, though the text he offers from the gospels has Jesus quoting Jewish scripture (what many Christians call the Old Testament), as does the Pauline text, Gibbons has not a single word to say about what Jewish scripture really has to say about marriage.

Namely, that marriage for generations (and, in particular, for the patriarchs, our fathers in faith) comprised polygamy, concubinage, slavery, etc.  Use New Testament verses to point to the Old Testament, as Gibbons does to "prove" that Jesus established the one-man, one-woman model of marriage and imposed it as not-to-be-touched teaching on his followers, and you immediately enter a minefield of problems about what the scriptures really do say about marriage, as opposed to what we want them to say when we adopt the proof-texting, canon-within-a-canon approach of fundamentalist exegesis.

It's also interesting to note that Gibbons does not choose to mention Jesus's absolute prohibition of divorce in Luke, or Paul's injunction to Christians to avoid marrying if they possibly can, and to marry only when the flesh burns too much for the fire to be quenched by holiness.  It's interesting to see, in other words, how comfortable Gibbons (and fundamentalists in general) are about imposing their assumptions about marriage on biblical testimony that is much wilder, complex, and "other" to all of our assumptions than many of us imagine.

And, of course, to see all of this is to see--once again--to what an overriding extent homophobia is the driving engine of the religious right's opposition to marriage equality.  If it were really about defending "traditional" marriage, the texts about the untenability of divorce would be front and center as these folks pull out their "bible says" arguments against marriage equality.

And they'd be trying to enact laws to alter state constitutions to forbid heterosexual people from divorcing and remarrying.

(As an aside, if you want to see how really bizarre some right-wing Catholic arguments in support of "traditional" marriage are willing to get, have a gander at Amy Ho-Ohn's argument in this same thread, in comment #32.  The argument boils down to this: gay men really, really bad.  Lesbians, not so much.

Because in a lesbian "marriage" [as Ho-Ohn calls a same-sex marriage], there's at least for godssakes a womb!  Yes, this is that same Amy Ho-Ohn of the multiple online incarnations and the bizarre rhetoric about gay men and sex toys I discussed last week [and also here], who has a history in one and another of her incarnations at Catholic blogs of trying to set gay men and lesbians against each other, and of spreading the word in Catholic circles that gay men are selfish promiscuous sods who hate women.) 

It's crazy out there.  And getting crazier, as "orthodox" Catholicism freely amalgamates with off-the-wall American-style Protestant fundamentalism, under the "pastoral" leadership of the current U.S. bishops.

We have work to do to educate and free people's minds and hearts (and our own included) from noxious balderdash, don't we?

P.S. For those who want to hear what the bible really has to say about "traditional" marriage, a not-to-be-missed resource is Fred Clark's brilliant ongoing series at Slacktivist called "Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day."  Here's Fred's latest entry in the series.  Click on the tag "Chick-fil-A" in the tag list on the right-hand side of the page, and all of the entries in the series will pop up.

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