Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I should start off this post by stating my position on the whole "gay marriage" issue, which is that, at this point, I think the State should probably get out of marriage completely. On the other hand, anyone should be able to set up civil arrangements or partnerships with whomever (and with however many people) they want.

Some on the religious Right say "Oh, that's just equivalent to marriage!" but I don't think so. I'm talking about anyone. A brother and sister. An aging mother and her live-in-daughter. Two spinster sisters who live together. A group of friends. I should be able to legally arrange for my property and legal affairs to be dealt with however I want.

If I want to share property in common with anyone or any number of people, why not? Religious do it. If I want to give my brother or best friend the right to visit me in the hospital, or my father power of attorney, etc, why not? These things are not the essence of marriage. These are legal arrangements, largely related to material property, that came to be attached to marriage civilly, and I see no reason why the State should arbitrarily limit such civil arrangements only to couples involved romantically or sexually. That discriminates simply against singles as much as it does homosexuals.

True marriage, then, would then be left to Nature (for non-Catholics) and to Canon Law. Gay "marriage" would obviously be no such thing, naturally speaking, but if someone wants to call it that, who cares as long as there is no official recognition?

At the same time, though I don't consider it ideal, I'm not sure even legal State recognition of gay marriage is as "non-negotiable" as certain Catholic Voters Guides portray it. Surely, I don't particularly like the idea of my tax money going to fund the licensing of something I consider immoral and unnatural. But at the same time, in the Middle Ages the Church advocated for the tolerance of legal prostitution, which was licensed and regulated by the civil municipalities. That might even be a good idea today (rather than the dangers, disease, and adjunct crime of street-walking prostitution). And we don't complain too much that the FDA gives its approvals to contraceptives or that the Army funds chaplaincies for false religions to provide false worship.

If prostitution could be licensed by the State, and the Church supported that, I don't see why licensing gay faux-marriage is so different. Not ideal to be sure, but "non-negotiable" in an absolute sense like abortion?

Let's put it this way: the minute the Abortion issue is solved and off the table, I'm voting Democrat whether they've changed their position on gay "marriage" or not.

Yes, that issue is a moral absolute, whereas things like war, the death penalty, and dealing with poverty have "room for prudential disagreement" about their application. But that doesn't mean these latter are relatively less evil. Prudentially speaking, I'd rather vote against the greater subjective evil than a lesser (albeit objective) evil. And if abortion were off the table, then I think that gay marriage would in general do less damage than the other Right-wing policies that seem to go along with opposing it (unjust war, exploitative economics, anti-immigration, etc).

The fact that there is no "perfect" choice or Party is frustrating indeed, but frankly, if abortion were gone, I'd care more about welfare and peace than stopping gay marriage, even if it is a moral absolute. Subjective evils can still be greater than objective, and I think we should make our prudential judgments based on the
gravity of the evil, not the question of its objectivity.

If State-licensed prostitution was tolerated in the Middle Ages for the greater good and defended by theologians like Aquinas and Augustine, State-licensed sodomy hardly seems all that different in our culture. I could even see some people arguing (though I personally wouldn't go this far yet) that it is better to "domesticate" gays by licensing and regulating their relations rather than (as the Medieval argument for legal licensed prostitution said) letting lust engulf the whole world. I see little to indicate that this line of argument is objectively wrong (though we may disagree prudentially).


Michael D said...

Ultimately, I would agree with your conclusion regarding cohabitation, sharing of property and other facets tied to civil marriage. Since the so-called 'Progressive Era,' Richard Ely's belief that the state is the ultimate embodiment of God's will on Earth seems to have had undue influence upon society, in that civil laws have supplanted a common morality, and the state seems to have been afforded the power to render ultimate judgement. In this system, marriage has been perverted into a mere contractual arrangement, something that can be entered into and dispensed with at a whim. Distancing property considerations from the marriage by widening them in the way you propose I think would help restore a more spiritual meaning to it.

I've always tried to side-step the hospital visitation issue by saying that visitation should be an internal issue worked out by the hospital itself, rather than the state, but seeing as how the "guvmint will soon be running hospitals," I guess that point is moot.

If the government did legalize "gay marriage" and put it on par with (would the term be "straight marriage"?) I don't suppose that would somehow de-legitimize it any more than de facto support of abortion, but as you said, it's not ideal.

Augustine may have condoned the civil toleration of prostitution, so that rapists (and I think also sodomizers) could slake their lust in a non-violent manner, but I still feel that was the wrong decision. Augustine, brilliant as he undoubtedly was, really didn't understand the psychology of a rapist. It's not about the sex for a rapist, it's about power and domination (also subjugation and humiliation of the victim); merely visiting a prostitute wouldn't satisfy him. Sodomy would still occur even if prostitution were legalized, so we can't use that defense (in fact, due to anti-discrimination laws, prostitutional sodomy would have to be made legal). I don't see the argument for legalized toleration of prostitution as holding water. Thus likewise your comparison of legal support for gay marriage to toleration of prostitution to me does not seem satisfactory.

A Sinner said...

Whether you buy Augustine's argument or not, the mere fact that the Church DID approve of civilly licensed prostitution in the Middle Ages seems to indicate that there is no absolute requirement for the State not to do such a thing, or for Catholics to oppose such things on the part of the State.

Since the State has a different sphere than the Church, the State can not only passively tolerate immorality, but even license it positively in some ways (especially if the things involved are going to happen anyway). The State has to ensure justice, not morality.

I don't think the arguments for legal prostitution are only for rapists. It could also be argued to help prevent the disease and adjunct crime related to prostitution, as well as providing an outlet for men to not deflower virgins or seduce married women, etc. Not that it would work all the time (obviously, many women want affairs, etc.) but obviously it is an option, if history is any judge.

Whether legal licensed prostitution is prudent, if the good outweighs the bad, is up for debate. Prostitution (like sodomy) is in itself absolutely wrong, but no one can say that the State merely regulating and licensing it as the lesser of two evils is absolutely wrong (because the Church did, indeed, approve of it for centuries).

And if licensed prostitution could be tolerable, I don't see licensed sodomy on the part of the State as absolutely intolerable either.

Catholicism used to be a lot more pragmatic and realistic about stuff like this. It has gotten too idealistic as of late, tending towards utopian delusions sometimes even. Which is odd, as that dynamic emerged AFTER we lost our hegemony over Christendom. You'd think the Revolutions of secularism would have made us MORE distrustful of the State and Social Engineering...but for most right-wingers, apparently not.

Michael D said...

I didn't mean to argue that condoning toleration by the civil authority of prostitution was somehow unorthodox; obviously it's not if one of the Church Doctors promoted it. What I meant was that I did not believe Augustine's arguments sufficient to give cause for the legal toleration of prostitution, even as a pragmatic consideration.

Eric Jones said...

The Social kingship of Christ precludes this libertarian utopia where the state simply lets people do what they like. The basis of society is the family, not "domestic partnerships" running the gamut from cohabiting teens to sodomites to religious communities.

The state recognizes marriage because marriage is a part of the natural law, and is the foundation of families.

A Sinner said...

I don't disagree about the family being the basic unit of society, and it is ideal if the State recognizes it.

But the fact remains, the State is not required to positively institutionalize Marriage or enshrine it in civil law, as long as it doesn't forbid it.

The State can also recognize other types of legal partnerships (including religious communities), even can license prostitution, etc.

The option of the State getting out of the marriage business entirely is not excluded by Catholic doctrine, though it is not ideal.

And neither do I think licensing sodomy (as other vices are and have been licensed) is a non-negotiable for Catholics. If the State could license and regulate prostitution in the Middle Ages with the support of the Church, why couldn't it also license homosexual relations for similar motives? Both are intrinsic evils, and yet the State was allowed to license prostitution for the greater good.

If a candidate supported gay "marriage" (which is no such thing, no matter what the law calls it, it is essentially just licensing sodomy) but was pro-life and had a lot of other good policies, I for one am not going to say that a Catholic is bound in conscience not to vote for that person just due to that one issue, like they would be if he were pro-abortion.

If a Catholic felt he was the better candidate, I think they could vote for him. Especially given that all the same legal arrangements can already be made in other ways, and so at this point it is largely a semantic game over merely the word "marriage" rather than any practical legal effects.

Aric said...