Monday, December 2, 2013

Parsing Cardinal Dolan: Catholic Hierarchy Losing Marriage Equality Battle Because It's about Morality, Not Money

The outgoing leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has just observed that the Catholic bishops (who aren't anti-gay at all) have been "out-marketed" by the gays and their allies in the marriage equality battle. For those who don't follow the bishops closely as they talk about these issues, a bit of parsing may be in order:

"Out-marketed" is the new circumlocution of Catholic officials for "outspent." What His Eminence is suggesting is that the rich gays with their rich friends have outspent people of faith in order to win the prize of civil marriage for same-sex couples. The battle over gay marriage in which the culture has been engaged of late isn't primarily a battle about human rights, in which one side is winning because its message of human rights is increasingly appealing to the public. It's a battle about who has the most money.

This is an argument that has now become commonplace in many Catholic circles, including powerful centrist Catholic media circles that assist the bishops in selling their arguments to the public. Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, the former editor of Commonweal, a leading centrist Catholic journal in the U.S., proposed the rich-gays-and-allies-buying-rights argument, for instance, several years ago when New York decided to enact marriage equality.

Dolan's (and Steinfels's) argument elides some important facts about the marriage equality debate:

1. The U.S. Catholic bishops' lobby is one of the most well-heeled lobbying groups in D.C., with millions of dollars at its disposal.

2. The U.S. Catholic bishops and their equally well-heeled allies, the Knights of Columbus, the National Organization for Marriage, and the LDS church, have spent untold sums of money in recent years to snatch the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of the U.S., or to prevent that right from being accorded to gay citizens of the nation.

3. The rich-gays-buying-rights meme does a tremendous disservice to the many gay citizens of the U.S. who are anything but well-off. The gay community in the U.S. is extremely diverse. It includes people from every walk of life and every racial category. 

4. Recent studies suggest that lesbian couples are among the least affluent couples in the country, and their lack of affluence directly affects the children they raise. This is even more true of lesbian couples who are Latina or African-American.

5. The bishops haven't been out-marketed. They've been out-witnessed. Increasing numbers of Americans recognize that the marriage equality battle is a moral battle about human rights

The bishops have chosen to be on the wrong side of history--and of history's moral arc--in that battle. It's with ill grace that their leader now seeks to depict their loss of what is, at heart, a battle over moral principles as a loss of a battle about money. Especially when the folks on whose behalf he speaks have billions of dollars in assets on their side, and have never shown the least bit of hesitancy about using those assets to attack their fellow citizens who happen to be gay . . . .

The graphic is from the Human Rights Campaign's NOM Exposed website.

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