This week I received two e-mails concerning the legalization of same sex marriage in the state of New York. One from the Empire State Pride Agenda asking me to call/e-mail my Assembly member, which I did. Bad luck, my very own Assembly member had sponsored the bill. At least it proved that I live in a not too homophobic district!
The other e-mail came from the Archdiocese of New York with these words:
“On April 16 Governor David Paterson introduced legislation intended to legalize same-sex “marriage” in the State of New York. Action is needed now to protect marriage as we’ve always known it – the union of a husband and a wife. Click here to send a message to your state lawmakers or visit www.nyscatholic.org, click ‘Take Action Now,’ then click the alert to “Help Protect Marriage.”” I did not click.
Those two mails recapitulate our dilemma, don’t they? While I do believe marriage needs protecting, I am perplexed as to why same sex marriage is such a threat.
One could argue that marriage has not always been “as we know it”. The Patriarchs, David, Solomon and many holy others were blessed by Yawheh with many wives. We also know that the RC Church did not institutionalized the sacrament of marriage until the XIth century. It did so at that time,in part because men had a tendency to throw away old wives along with their children so they would not have to support them, resulting in long lines at the door the Church’s charitable monasteries. And in part to keep a tight control on social institutions, and so limiting the secular power of the King. Until then, in the West at least, marriage had been essentially a civil contract, in the tradition of Roman laws, contract which could be broken only for reason of adultery (from the wife that is). The husband could have a mistress as long as he did not settle her, in his home, along with his wife.
So pleeeeaaase, no “as we’ve always known it.” Give me something else! The natural law argument is much more interesting. Except that the Bonobos taught us through their sexual habits some new and captivating things about natural law. Indeed the more we know about the laws of nature, the more the natural law “as we’ve always known it” does not hold water.
I would rather hear a discussion on the nature of marriage. St. Paul calls it a mystery. What does it mean? What makes a marriage: the social contract between two families? That has been the case, and still is, in many places and for millenniums. Is it the commitment between two spouses? Is it the sexual intercourse? Is it procreation? Is it the protection of a stable family for the purpose of raising children? Is it a place where human love, lived together, receives protection and support?
By restricting marriage to its one man-one woman prerequisite, the Church precludes a broader reflection on the mystery of marriage. We, catholic lesbians, can bring our own experience, our own praxis of same sex love lived within the context of a committed, celebrated Christian marriage. That should help all marriages!