Saturday, 1 December 2012

Are Catholics Who Oppose Same-Sex Marriage Bigots?

The image that pops into my head whenever
anyone says the word bigot.  Archie Bunker
was the most lovable bigot on television and 
reminded millions that the even the sincerest,
well-meaning people can harbour the worst
prejudices - often products of their cultural
or religious upbringing.
I received some feedback from Catholic reader John Graney for the blog post You Support Gay-Marriage? No Communion Cracker For You!  I'm always happy when I see Theists reading my blog and I hope my response to his comment won't sour the good will.
I'll dispense with the first part of the comment, where he states the teenager, Lennon Cihak, willfully chose not to get confirmed.  I'm not sure of this point, but it's not the meat of what he had to say, so we'll skip it.  Here's the remainder of his comment.

It is clear that you consider the legal relationship described as gay marriage a civil right. This is of course a new civil right; no one believed in it until recently. (It is unusual even in non-Christian cultures.) But even if it is a civil right, a proposition that I, as a Catholic, don't agree with, does it necessarily follow that opposition to it is based on bigotry? I'm not a bigot as far as I'm aware, although I certainly don't love anyone as much as I should. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. But the Catholic opposition to gay marriage is based on the following principles: 
1) Sexual relationships ought to be procreative.
2) Sexual relationships ought only to occur within the context of marriage.
3) Homosexual relationships are not procreative.
Therefore, homosexual people cannot be married. 
Bigotry is, as I understand it, an irrational hatred of someone else because they are different from you. Do 1), 2), or 3) display irrational hatred of gay people? I'm not defending these propositions, here, just saying that I don't see how they're bigoted. I'd really like to know what you all think is bigoted about them. I can foresee getting responses like, "oh, you just use reasons like these as a cover for your bigotry." Please no bluster, propaganda, or psychoanalysis. I want an honest response.
Let's start with the last point first.  What is bigotry?  Perhaps I misused the word in that post - it's happened before and will happen again.  I know this is a formulaic way of going about this, but bear with me.
Bigotry is, as I understand it, an irrational hatred of someone else because they are different from you.
Here's what the online Oxford Dictionary defines bigotry as:
bigotry - noun [mass noun]: intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself: the report reveals racism and right-wing bigotry
Let's see if we can make ends meet.  Let's see what intolerance means (Oxford).
intolerance noun [mass noun]: unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one’s own: a struggle against religious intolerance, an intolerance of dissent, an inability to eat a food or take a drug without adverse effects: young children with lactose intolerance
Here in Canada and the United States we're no longer subject to the Queen or her English.  Indeed, it's the case all over the world now.  These days, like the days of old, dictionaries are merely trying to capture the meanings of words that are ultimately given by people, populations, races and cultures.  So one should read a dictionary like a news report of the current happening of a language.

With that in mind, I will march boldly forth.

The first definition seems to leave both the hatred and irrational of yours out entirely.  And my gut tells me that this can be the case.  I'm sure there are many very well-educated and highly rational bigots out there who don't particularly hate the group or groups they see as corrupt, wrong or otherwise intolerable. 

Here the whole game seems to hinge on the word accept.  I could be reading into it, but I do not see it as equivalent to agree.   If it means we're all supposed to agree with the misguided beliefs of other then everyone who is intellectually honest would be a bigot.  I think it means to simply live and let live - don't meddle with it.  Accept their right to be different and treat them equally like any citizen.

So, I suppose as long as you are not actively attempting to deny homosexuals the right of a civil marriage - you're not doing that right? - then you are at least accepting their difference.
But even if it is a civil right, a proposition that I, as a Catholic, don't agree with ...
Oh dear.  I've met many Catholics, like Lennon, who say they are Catholic but disagree with the Church's stance against civil same-sex marriage.  Well, you get a cookie for being consistent but I think you may qualify, under the above definition at least.  Of course, as soon as you place a dollar into the collection basket you're actively supporting an institution that's hellbent on controlling who can marry whom - even in civil ceremonies - a bigoted institution.  Perhaps then you would be a bigot, whereas Lennon would not.

There is something missing here though, and you have nailed it.  It has to do with whether or not the intolerance is rational or not.  Is there some foundation that justifies you or your church's hostile stance towards civil same-sex marriage?

An example.  I've posted several times before about circumcision.  I think it's a barbaric practice that is completely unnecessary and rather cruel.  Many, even Atheists, would disagree with me on this point and would even say my beliefs that governments should outlaw the practice are irrational and intolerant towards the religious.  Interestingly, I have an equal amount of horror and disdain for female circumcision (genital mutilation) which I believe many more Atheists would agree with and would not think twice about supporting any plan to have it banned outright.

Religious groups would likely accuse me of being a bigot for my desired to ban their horrendous ritualistic mutilation of babies' genitalia, while progressives and other non-religious people may have mixed views.

The truth is, the bigot is in the eye of the beholder.  Society as a whole judges, using the mores of the age, whether a person is a bigot or if their religion is bigoted.
This is of course a new civil right; no one believed in it until recently. (It is unusual even in non-Christian cultures.)
Let's say I were a first-century Roman senator, or a nineteenth-century landowner in the United States.  Would I be seen by my fellows as being a bigot for my opinions on slavery?  In Roman times, there was no concept of human rights to speak of and in antebellum America there may have been an inkling but it only extended to superior races.  This changed in the latter half of the nineteenth-century, then again a hundred years later and continues even today.  Although many Christians worked on the right side of history for racial equality, great swathes stood steadfast in their muddy puddles of bigotry, Bible in hand to defend their mouldy position.

What happened?  I think the very firmament upon which their arguments about racial superiority rested got undermined, washed away.  Without a proper logical underpinning, their rantings about the inferiority of the black man suddenly became untenable, unprovable, reprehensible - irrational.  This evolution, or drift, is still happening, constantly.
Sexual relationships ought to be procreative.
As you say, this is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations.  The Church itself is in the process, these days, of burning its credit as a moral authority - or at least it appears very much that way to many people.  How can an organization that has such notoriously corrupt banking practices and is widely known to have protected child-molesting sexual predators expect itself to be taken as a serious moral guide?  So many know gay friends and family who are absolute pillars of morality who contrast, on a daily basis, the barrage of endless sexual abuse scandals that illuminate our televisions screens and marr or newspapers without pause.

Your argument has a religious foundation.  But Europeans and Americans are becoming increasingly less interested in religion - at least in an organized or dogmatic fashion.  Mainly younger people are turning away from religion in droves.  They are not all becoming Atheists like me - many sting cling to some supernatural spirituality but they have decided to use their own minds to determine what's right without the dogma of old men in robes and pointy hats in Rome.

When they are faced with ethical dilemmas, they are, whether they are aware of it or not, often using Humanistic or Utilitarian systems to determine right from wrong - based on minimizing harm.  And in this age, it's becoming more and more clear to many that gay marriage, relationships and even sex only cause harm to religious dogmas and interpretations.  While making homosexuals second class citizens simply for whom they cannot help but be attracted to and love dearly is a cause of great suffering and is not the hallmark of any civilized culture.

Without a firm religious belief, your argument falls apart and appears irrational to an ever secularizing world.  And when people stop seeing the logical basis for your opposition to gay marriage they begin to search for irrational foundations.  It must be hate, anger, fear - but no, it's merely dogma, religious delusion, faith.  Regardless of how you feel, you will become a bigot in their eyes.

There was an election recently in the United States - I'm sure you know who won.  One of the Democratic Party's most prominent platform position was equal rights for homosexuals and civil same-sex marriage.  Actually, even younger Republicans and some within the party are now beginning to see the light and give up the fight.  It seems to be a generational thing.

You see, attitudes change.  Young blood comes in and old bigoted ideas are taken to the grave.  I'm sure the majority of nineteenth-century white supremacists in the South, who could never grow past the misguided ideas of their fathers, were well-loved by their children and grandchildren. They were probably known as that old relative that says those horrible things.  Like my grandfather who was known to make colourful comments about the Nipponese. Their words just stopped having any weight for those things - they were the ideas of a generation that had its turn.

Perhaps my children will make a bigot of me if I do not continue to grow.  I will become an Archie Bunker.

As America and the world becomes more accepting of same-sex marriage - if this trend continues, that is - the position of the Catholic Church will become increasingly contrary to what is accepted as ethical and moral in society.  As the years and decades progress, it will appear increasingly odious and irrational to outside observers who will conclude, in ever increasing numbers, that people who refuse to at least accept the right of two consenting adults to marry - regardless of the configuration of their genitalia - are, in fact, bigots.


  1. Thanks for the great comment Randy! Do you have a blog?

  2. Thanks for responding. I have read this comment and, you may say "predictably", I disagree! I shall respond best I can in the next week. Thanks for your calm and civilized demeanor in this discussion!


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