NY gay marriage law

A few thoughts on the NY law:

First, one thing about the law should look immediately odd to us. Why build in the religious exceptions?  If gay marriage is what gay marriage advocates say it is — a basic human right — why build in exceptions?  In what other fundamental rights issue would you grant exceptions?  Shall we grant exceptions on anti-slavery laws for southern plantation owners?  The exceptions built into the NY law undercut the very argument for the law.  Either opponents of gay marriage are bigots who are standing in the way of basic rights and hence deserve no legal protections whatsoever or the law is nonsense. I suppose one might say that this was a political compromise.  But, again, in what other basic human rights issue would we possibly stand for such a compromise?

My second reflection concerns the Catholic politicians (both Democrat and Republican) who played such an instrumental role in the legislation. Of course Cuomo is Catholic (recall that his father practically invented the “my religion is a merely private affair so I can obstinately work against authoritative teachings as a politician” politics of most contemporary Catholic politicians). And the two Republican who swung the vote late are both Catholics.

How should the Church respond to these public figures? Should Cuomo and others who flatly ignored magisterial teaching on the issue along with the direct pleas of their bishops be denied sacraments? My view is that a pastoral process of counseling should be undertaken with the individuals. They should be invited into discernment, conversion, and repentance. But if they obstinately refuse to change their public position, something must be done. Why? Because this is scandal in the old theological sense where scandal means that a public person acts as an occasion for sin by others. When public figures like politicians say they are good Catholics while deliberately defying the moral authority of the Church, they engage in scandal since it can lead other Catholics off the path.

Unfortunately, bishops these days seldom have the courage to publicly smack these people down (a noteworthy exception here). If they did, Pelosi would have been refused Communion decades ago. Reflecting on this reminded me of an episode back when bishops did have serious chutzpa. Saint Ambrose (then Bishop Ambrose) lived from 340 to 397. He stood firm against emperors from the east and the west. In one version of the story, he excommunicated Emperor Theodosius and refused to restore the Emperor to full communion with the Church until the Emperor had done 9 months of penance – including walking through the city wearing only sackcloth. We are talking about the freaking Emperor here! That’s awesome.

Will our bishops follow Ambrose on this? I’m not holding my breath.

Some links:

Robert George wonders if Obama is a liar or a bigot on gay marriage. On the one hand, Obama has insisted that he thinks marriage is between a man and a woman. If that is right, then he is a bigot (according to the orthodox progressive belief that gay marriage is a basic human right and that opposition is bigoted). If he does not really think that, then he is a liar.

George Weigel reflects on gay marriage, libertarians, and civil rights.

An interesting interview with Princeton professor Robert George on the passage of the NY law. In particular, the discussion of how sexual liberal views and policies on marriage and sex tend to hurt particularly the poor is worth thinking about.

Finally, ArchBishop Dolan reflects on the passage of the law.

About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
This entry was posted in Catholic thought/religion/culture, Philosophy, Polis (politics, culture), USU Catholic Newman Center. Bookmark the permalink.

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