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The Church’s Right to Speak on Gay Marriage, and Our Failure on Divorce by

St Thomas MooreThe Church’s Right to Speak on Gay Marriage, and Our Failure on Divorce

29 Thursday Aug 2013

First, Jody Bottum is already beginning to backtrack from his original piece on gay marriage a little bit.  He alleges people are “misinterpreting” his piece; I’d argue he just wrote it poorly.  Here’s his interview with Al Kresta about it.

Next, I thought I’d link to a month-old article by one of my old ND Law professors, Rick Garnett, on the religious liberty implications of the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage.

Next, I wanted to address a question put to me by my friend (we’ll call him Matthias), a fellow ND grad who’s in medical school.  In response to my recent review of Bottum’s about-face on gay marriage, he says,

The libertarian in me still has trouble with the whole extension of Church teaching onto the state. I get that there are secular reasons for wanting to promote heterosexual marriage, but it seems the state does not care about those. Why should the Church still care (aside from religious liberty concerns)? Divorce is legal and the Church doesn’t seem to be bothered.  If in 50 years we end up with MacIntyre’s little communities of virtue, should the Catholic community wage a campaign against a secular community to stop gay marriage? If not, why should they now?

The Validity of the Catholic Church’s Moral Teaching For the State

Obviously, it is a little difficult for the Catholic Church to apply its authoritative, infallible teaching on articles of faith onto the state in the context of a liberal democracy.  Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has authority from Jesus Christ to teach on two subjects: Faith and Morals.

The teachings of Faith are only known to us through Divine Revelation: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Morals are frequently taught to us explicitly by God in Scripture and Tradition, but can also be discovered by the light of unaided human reason.

Now, the truths of the natural law can also be interpreted infallibly by the Catholic Church because they are part of God’s revelation: in Scripture, in Tradition, and by His act of imprinting that law on our human nature.  Nevertheless, the principles of the natural law do not depend on specifically Christian Revelation in order to be known.  Thus, even in the context of our (overly) secular democracy, there is no reason to avoid promoting arguments from the natural law, even if those ideas are initially proffered by the Catholic Church’s Magisterium.  The Church is merely helping us to know with certainty those truths of the natural law we could come to know on our own only with difficulty and the probable admixture of error (if I may borrow St. Thomas’ line from the Summa Contra Gentiles)

We are not asking society to accept the Eucharist or the Trinity; we are making secular arguments, which society can choose to recognize or not.  Giving legal favor to a legal arrangement in which (1) new citizens are provided to the state (2) in a stable, committed setting where (3) they can be effectively raised as law-abiding citizens (4) by their own biological parents IS A GOOD THING.  The state has this interest whether her current leaders recognize them or not.  Though the state/society/the majority of voters or legislators seem not to care about these arguments, it doesn’t mean it is illegitimate to proffer them.

But why should the Church care about gay marriage when she didn’t care about divorce?

It’s kinda sad that Matthias would deem the Church as not caring about divorce.  It doesn’t reflect poorly on him; it reflects poorly on the Church.  Granted, divorce is not inherently immoral in the way gay marriage is; in fact, divorce can be completely legitimate in various situations (for example, if one spouse is abusive).  Nevertheless, the Catholic bishops in America WERE vocally anti-divorce, and certainly opposed to the modern regime of no-fault divorce–up until a little Church event that took place in the 1960′s, called the Second Vatican Council.

After the Council, the Church in the United States lost its collective mind.  With so much internal dissension on nearly every issue under the sun, with (often misguided) reforms taking place in almost every aspect of the Church’s life, and a near-total rebellion on the question of contraception, the Church was completely unable to stand as it should have against the cultural revolution brought on by no-fault divorce.  The Church doesn’t talk about no-fault divorce at great length nowadays, sadly, because it would be nearly impossible politically to overturn it.  We are fighting gay marriage now precisely so we don’t get to that point, as well as for the serious religious liberty reasons Rick Garnett talked about in the article above.

The demolished state of modern marriage is a testament to how destructive a force no-fault divorce was.  The fact that the Church didn’t do anything to stop its progress is yet further testament to how terribly the Church in the United States was stinking it up in the 70′s.


While I can’t really answer Matthias’s queries about MacIntyre’s small faith communities (not knowing enough about the concept to talk intelligently about it, though I can’t see what would be wrong–beyond political difficulty–with waging such campaigns to outlaw gay marriage), I hope I’ve given a clear enough explanation to justify the use of the Church’s ethical teaching in the context of public policy.  I think one could make broader arguments about the legitimacy of using theological arguments in liberal democratic public policy debates (like the leaders of the Civil Rights movement did), but that’s another argument for another day.

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