June 26, 2013

Catholic Bishops Offer Their Wisdom

Not surprisingly, U.S. Catholic bishops were unhappy with today’s Supreme Court decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In fact, the press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops makes it clear why public policy should take no notice of their opinions. The bishops’ statement says, in part,
The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage.
The word truth occurs seven times in the bishops’ five-paragraph statement. The Roman Catholic bishops believe that they are in possession of the truth, and it is the duty of everyone in the United States to defer to their wisdom. Not all Christians see the “truth” the bishops see, however, and why should Muslims or Hindus or atheists, much less Episcopalians or Lutherans or Jews defer to the views of Roman Catholic bishops anyway, whose first-hand experience with marriage is, shall we say, limited?

The Roman Catholic Church is free to define marriage however it chooses. If it views a couple married in an Episcopal church or by a justice of the peace as not validly married, the church is free to do so. Frankly, my dear bishops, most couples don’t give a damn. What they care about is the recognition of their union by society at large and the privileges conferred on married couples by the state and federal government. For all the religiosity that conservative Christians wrap around marriage, being married or not has little to do with the day-by-day relationship of a person to his or her church, unless, of course, you want to be a Roman Catholic priest.

The bishops go on to emphasize that children need a mother and a father. There is perhaps a case to be made here, but the bishops do not offer a logical argument, merely their own arrogant assertion of the way things are. The implication is that raising children is the essential object of marriage. For many couples, perhaps even for most couples, this is not true—companionship, sex, and the financial advantages of marriage are more compelling reasons for getting married than is having children. This seems especially true now, when so many couples do not see getting married as even necessary for having and rearing children. (I don’t endorse this view, but the point is that what is obvious to the bishops is not equally apparent to everyone else.) In any case, the belief that two moms or two dads are bad for children is not an argument against same-sex marriage, though it might be one against adoption by same-sex couples.

As usual, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops looks silly, self-important, and out-of-touch. Is anyone really paying any attention?

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