Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Bishop Speaketh

I see Bishop Henry is spouting off about marriage again.

Most of Henry's reasoning is the usual drivel, rooted in the usual assumptions:

It is incongruous to grant “marital” status to unions between persons of the same sex. It is opposed, first of all, by the objective impossibility of making the partnership fruitful through the transmission of life. Another obstacle is the absence of the conditions for that interpersonal complementarity between male and female, that communion of life and love at both the physical-biological and the psychological levels.

Of course, Bishop Henry is conveniently ignoring so many realities here it's not even funny. The Bishop for starters is continuing his usual denial that GLBT relationships are any different from heterosexual relationships in their underlying emotional content. This is of course, an assertion that the Bishop can freely make, but can never prove (in fact the rational evidence speaks a very different story).

He's come up with an interesting way to verbally invalidate anything that isn't a church sanctified marriage - the Bishop has begun using the term "de facto union" to describe family units which fall outside of his narrow bounds:

The term, “de facto unions”, not only includes the 0.6% of same-sex coupledom, but a whole series of heterosexual human realities whose common element is that of being forms of cohabitation which are not marriage.

De facto unions are characterized precisely by the fact that they ignore, postpone, or even reject the conjugal commitment.

Stop right there. Because this is the point where the Bishop's entire argument collapses when brought into the secular world of governance and law. (Which is precisely what not only the GLBT rights discussion is about, but also what has driven changes in our government's approach to marriage outside the sanctification of the churches in areas such as common-law households)

Within the body of the Catholic Church - or any other Church, I don't really care how the group chooses to define marriage and what rituals they wrap around it. Whatever "floats your boat".

However, Bishop Henry is missing things quite badly. He proceeds to attempt to demonstrate how non-marital relationships are inferior:

Some other persons who live together justify this choice because of economic reasons or to avoid legal difficulties. The real motives are often much deeper. There is often an underlying mentality
that gives little value to sexuality, influenced more or less by pragmatism and hedonism, as well as by a conception of love detached from any responsibility

In other cases, de facto unions are formed by persons who were previously divorced and are thus an alternative to marriage.

Few things annoy me faster than some moron making broad sweeping statements about the motives of people they clearly haven't even tried to interact with. Such is the case with Bishop Henry here. The motives of couples that choose to live "outside" his sanctified notion of marriage are none of his business, nor can he legitimately claim to have any real knowledge of such situations. It's obvious that the Bishop is working from stereotypes that were unrealistic by the 1970s, and has yet to wake up and smell the coffee.

His second point about "love without responsibility" is a classic Catholic guilt line - basically sex not only can have consequences, but you should feel horrendously guilty about them. Marriage does not "sanctify" sexual activity, and goodness knows I've known more than enough couples who are 'married in all but name' and raise families quite successfully. For the Bishop to claim that such relationships are lesser simply because they are not "sanctified" by his faith is pure, unadulterated crap.

It's interesting how the "Family Values" crowd turns out to be outright hypocrites in these matters. They love to parade about and claim that they are "all about the welfare of the children". However, if you look at Bishop Henry's logic today, it's fairly apparent that his position is sufficiently broad that it would also suggest removing recognition for long-term "common-law" relationships as well. The laws were changed in the 1980s to render long-term common-law relationships (those of a duration greater than 1 year) legally equivalent to married - especially where matters such as common property and other legal/economic entanglements are concerned. This was done quite specifically to benefit children who often found themselves destitute when one of the partners kicked the other out.

While I'm sure that Bishop Henry will look at such situations as reinforcing his point about the instability of common-law relationships, he would be ignoring the immense industry that is divorce law in Canada (or the United States), as well as the perfidity of those who within the "sanctified boundaries" of marriage engage in practices ranging from spousal abuse to child neglect or worse. He would also be ignoring the number of completely dysfunctional couples who "stayed married for the children", only to wind up raising children who were psychologically damaged by the constant tensions and conflict in the household. (Oh yes, let's not ignore the cases where one spouse or another simply walked out and never came back)

Now, just in case you think I'm being over the top about interpreting Bishop Henry so broadly, consider the following paragraph:

Furthermore, equality before the law must respect the principle of justice which means treating equals equally, and what is different differently: i.e. to give each one his due in justice.

This principle of justice is violated if “de facto unions” are given a juridical treatment similar or equivalent to the family based on marriage. If the family based on marriage and de facto unions are neither similar nor equivalent in their duties, functions and services in society, then they should not be similar or equivalent in their juridical status.

If the Bishop's position were to be reflected in law, we would step back to an era that existed somewhere in the 1960s (if it was that good). Equality before the law means just that. Why should a couple who has been sharing their lives for fifteen years have a different set of rules when it comes to the legal status of that relationship simply because no cleric ever "blessed" that union.

There are compelling reasons to legally recognize a variety of "atypical" family structures. Those that come to mind include protecting the partners and any children involved from destitution should the relationship break down. This means that common property has to be treated equitably, regardless of whether a sanctified marriage exists or not.

The second point, and this has happened with far greater publicity in the United States than in Canada, is the protection of the wishes of either partner with respect to wills and decisions about end of life medical intervention. In far too many cases a partner's biological family will shut out a long-term partner from the decision making process (especially where it is a same-sex relationship), and will apply to the courts to render any existing will invalid. This behaviour is inhuman at best and despicable is probably a better way to frame it. In these situations, long term partners are not granted any relief by the courts, and wind up grieving alone and sometimes are subjected to immediate poverty as key assets were held in common.

As I say, I don't care what Bishop Henry wants the Catholic Church to do. I do care when Bishop Henry starts trying to dictate that the rest of the world should behave as he believes is proper. In his objections to legal recognition of atypical family structures, I argue that the Bishop is dead wrong in both his suppositions.

Claims about the "needs of the children" with respect to same-gender couples are largely assertion with no corroborating evidence to support them.


Anonymous said...

Anything not conforming to Nasti Ratzi's definition of holy marriage is attacked by Fried Henry's "wide stance" condemnation.

It has the same credibility as Senator Larry Craig's "I'M NOT GAY" pronouncement.

Stephanie said...

What I want to know is how did a never-married, celibate priest become such an expert on "interpersonal complementarity" and the "communion of life and love at both the physical-biological and the psychological levels".

He has zero experience in any kind of relationship, straight or gay. Any ideas he has about how couples relate is at best only theoretical but more likely just ideological with no actual reference to reality.

Niles said...

He's a vigorous subversive argument as to why religious organizations are to be excluded from the *legal* contracting of the *legal* institution of marriages, licensed, or common-law. A religious organization's only function in modern marriage is to reside over a customary ritual for a parish 'witnessing' of a pair's partnering.

The legal part of any religious marriage ceremony comes about from a legal JP status on the part of *someone* involved in the ceremony and license obtained the good old fashioned civil way.

Rants like this are just confirmation that when religionists demand to legally differentiate the same sex couples in our society, they're NOT STOPPING THERE. They're looking to condemn anyone and everyone not conforming to their sect's beliefs.

As a pragmatic hedonist who has loved irresponsibly outside the bounds of Catholic dictates, I commend the Bishop for making certain his congregation withers by being the dog in the baby Jesus's manger. Long live separation of church and state.