Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't play DADT

DADT, the  "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" pernicious policy against gay people serving in the U.S. military, has been repealed.  That's wonderful news for our country, and for the brave soldiers--gay and straight--who defend it.

In saying that, it pains me to say that I disagree with the prudential judgment expressed by the military's chief Catholic chaplain, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the Archbishop for the Military Services USA.  

The archbishop writes:

[T]hose with a homosexual orientation can expect respect and treatment worthy of their human dignity. The prohibitions regarding sexual harassment and intimidation refer just as much to homosexuals as to anyone else. However, unions between individuals of the same gender resembling marriage will not be accepted or blessed by Catholic chaplains. Furthermore no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of Catholic morality can be accepted. First Amendment rights regarding the free exercise of religion must be respected. 

If Catholic priests were asked to go against their consciences by blessing gay nuptials, that would be a very troubling development.  But that scenario seems quite unlikely--and if it did occur, it would not be unprecedented:  military chaplains are expected to assist soldiers of all religions or none in crisis situations.  This means that Catholic chaplains are trained, e.g., to assist in saying Kaddish for Jewish soldiers, and Wiccan blessings for pagan soldiers. If Catholic chaplains can practice idolatry to assist fallen pagan soldiers, then officiating at gay marriages would not be an unprecedented intrusion on their rights of conscience.  

That said, it would be very, very troubling.  But really, really unlikely--marriages tend not to take place in the middle of battlefield emergencies, so gay soldiers could easily find, e.g., a mainline Protestant minister to marry them on base.

But all of this is trees.  The forest is this:  separate from the Church's teachings against extramarital sex of any kind, whether by gay people or unmarried straight people, there should be no doubt that homosexual orientation is no more a sin than left-handedness or green eyes.  Under DADT, all gay people, celibate or not, were discriminated against in a way that was not only cruel and insulting, but that forced them to live a lie to serve their country.  No one should have to live a lie just to be who they are.  

As Michael Sean Winters rightly says:
[T]he repeal of DADT is a triumph for truth as well, indeed, a spectacular vindication of the 8th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. DADT required gay men and women to bear false witness and its repeal should be seen as a victory for truth as well as justice.
Indeed, Winters also summarizes my prudential concerns about the larger marriage issue, too:

I think the Church really lost the debate about “traditional marriage” when we acquiesced in liberalized divorce laws. In addressing the issue of gay marriage, the Catholic bishops are well advised to note the Church’s continued refusal to accept civil divorce. Our views of marriage are different from others’ views, and we need not apologize to anyone for that. But, we must be very careful about insisting that our view, however true it is, is the only one operative in our culture. I have no problem in our society’s bestowal of a unique and privileged status on “traditional marriage,” but the fact is the culture does not do that today and has not since the 1960s when no-fault divorce became widespread. If the bishops do not link their opposition to divorce with their opposition to gay marriage, they end up sounding like mere bigots.

The entire U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out against gay civil marriage.  To be in prudential disagreement with the bishops on such a question of politics may be licit--there's no infallible teaching here, to be sure--but it pains me nonetheless.

It seems to me that any straight marriage where no-fault divorce is an option isn't a very Catholic institution, either.  If the bishops want a privileged place for traditional marriage to be recognized by our government--which I think they can advocate while narrowly dodging any Establishment Clause concerns--then perhaps they should advocate for a menu of marriage options that includes hard-to-dissolve "covenant marriages" for those of us in the traditionalist minority, and civil unions (which can be called marriages or civil unions or whatever for all the difference I think it makes on the ground) not only for gay Americans, but for the majority of straight Americans for whom divorce is inextricable from modern marriage.  To me, the battle against gay marriage is mostly a distraction--and for many gay Catholics, a painful one--from what should be a war on divorce.

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