John C. Nienstedt is the Archbishop of the Diocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which makes him the ranking Catholic god-botherer in the region, I guess. We’re supposed to call him “Most Reverend” — priests are really good at attaching laudatory titles to themselves — but I won’t be doing that, ever. “Most Intolerant,” maybe, or “Most Boneheaded”.
Anyway, he has an op-ed in the Star Tribune. The Catholic Church is facing some rough times right now, with declining attendance, a dearth of priests, and a scary percentage of the people willing to become priests being clearly socially and sexually dysfunctional, so you’d expect him to write something about the real problems the Catholics are grappling with right now, doing something to bolster the flagging reputation of the priesthood. And I guess he thought he did: he wrote about gay marriage.
Those gays, getting married—it just wrecks my thrillingly heterosexual marriage to think that two men or two women might be having fun out there, together. And now it’s wrecking the church, too!
Actually, Nienstedt just makes the same boring and false arguments against gay marriage that they always do. This is probably more a matter of distraction.
Citizen: “Hey, there’s a priest raping a child, stop him!”
Priest: “No, look over there: there are two adults trying to engage in consensual sexual activities in the context of shared legal and social obligations! Stop them, quick, before they get insurance! It’s an EMERGENCY!!!“
And really, Nienstedt makes some pathetic arguments. He’s promoting a Minnesota marriage amendment that would dictate that the only true and valid long-term relationships to be recognized by the state involve strictly one (1) man and one (1) woman. Look at what he claims:
We might learn caution from experience. Back in the early 1970s, the experts told us that no-fault divorce would liberate women from bad marriages without affecting anyone else. We now know that as many as one-third of women fall into poverty with their children as a result of divorce. Social science caught up late with the common-sense wisdom that children need a mom and a dad working together to protect them.
…says Father Nienstedt, high-ranking member of a blatantly patriarchal hierarchy. Why do women fall into poverty after a divorce? Because they are discriminated against in the workplace, because they get the bulk of the financial obligation in caring for any children, and because many men (and, I suspect, especially the men women want to divorce) fail to meet their responsibilities in contributing to child care. The problem isn’t divorce, the problem is a patriarchal culture, which the church does nothing to reverse and actually promotes, and the male privilege that allows fathers to escape with diminished responsibility.
Divorce is a good and reasonable solution to marital unhappiness, unless, of course, you’re part of a culture that wants to keep women dependent on a mate.
Hey, maybe one tack we should take in promoting gay marriage is to instead play up gay divorce: we have to give gay men and lesbians the ability to break their bonds with their partners. Oh, and by the way, we’ll have to let them get married first before they can divorce.
Throughout history, human beings in virtually every society have recognized that, to make a marriage, one needs a man and a woman. What is more, it has long been acknowledged that marriage is not just about the happiness of adults but concerns the well-being of society — that is, the common good. Marriage exists in civil law primarily in order to provide communal support for bringing mothers and fathers together to care for their children. Same-sex unions cannot serve this public purpose.
Forget the ignorant ahistorical argument in the first part — gay marriage hasn’t been that unusual, and it’s particularly surprising that a Christian priest would fail to have noticed the frequency of polygamy in the Old Testament — and let’s consider his “common good” argument. I would actually concede that one essential function of a stable human society is that it provide a mechanism to care for our offspring, with their ridiculously long period of dependency. Marriage is one method for accomplishing that, by pairing two people together to share the burden of child-rearing. One method…so does this priest support the idea of communes? That’s even more efficient, and I can tell you that just two people, separated from other family support by the demands of their jobs, really have to struggle to keep their sanity. This is hard work, not that a celibate bureaucrat would know.
And I think that if you look back over history, most cultures have seen it as the responsibility of a whole tribe to help raise children, not just two people. This convention of assigning all responsibility to just two and only two, who are necessarily in a heterosexual relationship, is new and weird.
I think also that if you actually look at civil law, most of the reasons for getting married are economic. Children are just one aspect of that law. If marriage just exists in the law to promote children, then what about all those marriages that are childless? Are they invalid? Maybe it’s not obvious to a priest, but people do like to be together for reasons other than procreation. I’m done with having children, my youngest daughter graduates from college in two weeks, and no, my marriage will not be dissolving at that moment. Or ten years from that moment. It won’t be over until I drop dead. And you know what? I like it!
As for the claim that “same-sex unions cannot serve this public purpose”: why not? Lesbians have it easy, artificial insemination can get them pregnant; gay men don’t have that option yet (give the biologists a few more years, though…), but even so, adoption is possible, and sometimes, gay men even have children by previous relationships. Two men, two women, a man and a woman, a cooperative commune of many men and women…they can all serve that public purpose. Oh, and in all those cases, who is having sex with whom is pretty much irrelevant to the children, since these typically are not Catholic Sunday schools, so the children won’t be participating in the sex. This argument is a complete non-starter.
Would you believe Nienstedt’s argument gets even worse?
What will happen to children growing up in a world where the law teaches them that moms and dads are interchangeable and therefore unnecessary, and that marriage has nothing intrinsically to do with the bearing and raising of children? Do we really want first-graders to be taught that gay marriage is OK, or that the influence of a mother and a father on the development of a child somehow doesn’t matter?
I think a world where moms and dads are interchangeable in their roles and responsibilities in child-raising would be a fine place to live. Aside from nursing (and again, biologists will fix that someday, too), men and women can change diapers, attend PTA meetings, play ball, give hugs, cook, and read bedtime stories equally well, with individual variation. Interchangeability does not imply that they are unnecessary. I grew up with a mom and dad who could both read to me; that did not imply to my mind that they were therefore both superfluous.
We already know that marriage is not intrinsically about having kids. People have them without getting married, married people stay married without having them. Children grow up just fine with that simple fact; I know I did.
And dear sweet jebus yes, I want first-graders to be taught that gay marriage is OK! Teach them that gay people are fine and normal and ordinary, that old limiting stereotypes are hateful and foolish, and that only beastly decrepit bigots sit around whining that someone else might be finding happiness in life. Let’s steer young kids away from the hypocritical joylessness so well represented in Catholicism at an early age!
And finally, that last line…it’s a lie. No one is planning to teach that parents don’t matter, since they do — parents matter profoundly. I do think, though, that we can’t let repressed celibate jerks dictate who can be parents, and deprive people who might want to be parents of the privilege simply because a priest does not approve of their love.