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Angelo Matera | 04.03.08

Issues

Driving a Wedge into the ‘Evangelical Center’ on Gay Marriage

Photo Courtesy of CFOC

Why is it taboo within the cultural left to “privilege” marriage in any way?

Several years ago I came across a snarky little news item in New York Magazine titled: “The Smug Marrieds Head Underground: Pro-marriage propaganda to invade subway.” What sort of propaganda was this? They were subway billboards produced by an abstinence advocacy group called Campaign for Our Children. The ads featured happy-faced couples and headlines like “‘Marriage works.” “Married people earn more money.” “Kids of married parents do better in school.” “Married people live longer.” I had to admit that the appeal was a lttle crass—it wasn’t exactly the nuptial poetry of the Song of Solomon—but anti-smoking and AIDS prevention ads can be just as heavy-handed. And with the number of fatherless households at an all-time high, what’s wrong with encouraging marriage? 

Well, for people caught up in gay and feminist identity politics, there’s plenty wrong. I was reminded of that today when I received an email newsletter from the Alliance for Marriage (AFM). In it, founder Matt Daniels was blasting an article in the liberal American Prospect that had accused a pair of black and latino evangelical leaders affiliated with the AFM of spreading “hatred” against gays.

The article’s author, Sarah Posner, claimed that the two leaders—Niger Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference—by “urging the Republican Party to retain its platform language favoring a constitutional amendment to define legal marriage as heterosexual, and urging the Democratic Party to adopt the same” were trying “to scapegoat gay people, something the ‘new evangelical center’ claims to eschew.”

I’ll address the “evangelical center” later, but anyone who’s been paying attention—and Posner clearly hasn’t—knows that more than almost anyone else in the pro-family movement Matt Daniels has deliberately avoided stigmatizing gays by putting the case for traditional marriage—a union between a man and a woman—in purely positive terms. He’s combined the intellectual rigor and the human touch of pro-marriage writers and think-tankers like Maggie Gallagher and David Blankenhorn with an innovative and hard-nosed approach to political coalition building that’s rare in American politics. The AFM—the main sponsor of the proposed federal marriage amendment—is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic working-class coalition that makes the case for marriage in terms of both traditional values and social justice (read John Romanowsky’s GodSpy profile of Daniels here).

I don’t see the AFM newsletter on their website, so here’s Daniels’ critique of Posner’s article:

“In this piece, you see the lazy thinking of our critics on full display.  First, the author complains that we’re trying to repeat the Republican victory of 2004—despite the fact that our coalition leaders are reaching out simultaneously to both parties on behalf of our cause.  Second, the author—a self-styled expert on religion—is too intellectually lazy to avoid lumping all the leaders of our coalition (including Catholic Cardinals, Jewish leaders and others) under one dismissive label designed to narrow the perceived scope of our movement and its support among the a wide cross-section of the American people.  No wonder our opponents continue to be shocked at the depth of support for our cause in America.  In spite of years of efforts to change public opinion through the media and the educational system, the percentage of Americans who want our laws to send a positive message to kids about marriage and family has remained solid at around 70%. This support crosses all racial, cultural and religious boundary lines—and is even higher than the national average among the communities that Sam and Niger represent. So much for ‘Liberal Intelligence.’

Daniels’ unconventional, eclectic approach to politics flows from his personal experience, recounted by Franklin Foer in a 2004 profile in The Atlantic:

“He was born in 1963, the only child of Irish parents living in Spanish Harlem. His father, Guy, was a published poet and had translated the works of the Russian authors Vladimir Mayakovsky and Andrei Sakharov. He was also a fickle husband, bolting from one marriage to the next. Guy left the family when Matt was three. Matt’s mother worked as a secretary and provided a stable home. But during the 1970s the neighborhood became a morass of crime and drugs. ‘I was mugged probably twenty times by the time I got to college,’ Daniels told me when we spoke recently. One evening in 1971, his mother was attacked by four men, who left her with a broken back. Unable to work, she grew dependent on welfare, and on alcohol. The family’s prospects for a better life dwindled.

Intent on escape by his own means, Daniels won a scholarship to Dartmouth. But after graduation he found himself back in his old environment: his mother was dying of congestive heart failure, and he returned home to care for her. During this time he began searching for a spiritual mooring. He worked in a homeless shelter and in three soup kitchens, all run by black churches. The ministers welcomed him into their congregations, and it gradually dawned on Daniels that he had been born again. ‘That became a foundation for the rest of my life,’ he says.

Daniels had found not only religion but also a professional calling: helping the urban poor. In 1993 he entered the University of Pennsylvania law school on a scholarship conditional on his commitment to a public-interest career. For most people the public-interest path leads to liberal organizations. But Daniels grew increasingly averse to the liberal values of his professors…”

Foer goes on to explain how Daniels’ later research into the harmful effects of family breakdown on children led to his public interest work on behalf of strengthening marriage laws.

Reading about Daniels’ background, you realize how absurd it was for Sarah Posner to lump the AFM with the “Christian Right.” In her article, she riffs about how the Christian right was built on “other-izing” people. Yet, what is Posner doing but “other-izing’ people who value traditional marriage for its own sake, not out of hatred for “the other.” The letters sent by Innis and Rodriguez (read them here) contain nothing negative about gays. They say family breakdown is the leading cause of social ills such as youth crime and dropout rates, but they don’t say that homosexuality or gay marriage causes family breakdown. All that Innis and Rodriguez ask is that “the legal status of marriage as a union between man and woman” be defended. Yet Posner insists on labeling them as scapegoaters. Who’s other-izing who? .

I would also ask: who is more embracing of “the other?” Matt Daniels, who went back to his poor East Harlem neighborhood after graduating from Dartmouth and committed himself to protecting the values of the grassroots Christians who were his lifelong neighbors? Or the upper-middle-class, left-liberal religion journalism arrivistes who write books mocking the values of traditional Christians with whom they have little in common?
Like so many others on the left, Posner can’t get her mind around the idea that there might be a connection between traditional values and social justice. Posner writes a regular column in the American Prospect chronicling the misdeeds of the Christian Right, called The FundamentaList. Reading it, you get the sense she’s become a mirror of what she hates. Nowhere is Posner’s straight-jacked thinking more evident than in her statement about Mike Huckabee, who, she says, “has managed with Zelig-like panache to at once embrace the religious right and reject it.” In other words, when Huckabee—a pro-lifer— challenges his fellow pro-lifers to extend their concern to human life beyond the womb, he’s being schizophrenic. Go figure.

Is it any wonder then that she can’t figure out the AFM? Like Mike Huckabee, who was criticized from the right for violating Republican orthodoxy, Matt Daniels’s organization defies categories. For instance, unlike the Christian Right, the AFM routinely reaches out to Democrats, if only because the blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, and other ethnic groups in its coalition operate mostly in the Democratice party. You’ll also find the AFM advocating for typically Democratic concerns, like giving workers more control over their lives with flexi-time and family leave.

Daniels has done such a good job of steering the AFM between left and right (it doesn’t oppose civil unions, for instance, which means its position is identical—at least on paper—with that of Barack Obama), he’s incurred the wrath of right-wing anti-gay activists. Franklin Foer’s article, for example, was subtitled: “Matt Daniels believes he’s found the solution to the political problem of gay marriage. So why do his fellow conservatives want to divorce him.”

That both Conservatives and Left-liberals have a problem with Daniels’ group suggests there might be a subconscious conspiracy between them to discredit any “third way” position that might break the red vs. blue state deadlock about marriage. A truce based on “third way” principles—recognizing the human dignity of men and women who identify as gay by allowing legislative compromises such as civil unions and anti-discrimiantion laws, while constitutionally protecting the traditional definition of marriage—wouldn’t satisfy the extremists, but it would satisfy the millions of Americans who hold a balanced view on this issue (not to mention the millions who would like nothing better than to make this issue go away).

It will be interesting to see whether, in this election, the leaders of the much-ballyhooed “evangelical center” that Posner referred to do the right thing, and join with groups such as the AFM, and the Catholic bishops, who embrace this third way, “both/and” approach, affirming both the common good and the dignity of the human person, or—and there are, unfortunately, some signs of this—they stick to the left-right, either/or script and move uncritically from the right straight to the left, thanks to the mesmerizing effect of Barack Obama.

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(12) COMMENTS

By Dave AT 04.04.08 01:34AM Not Rated

Dave

This was such a difficult article to read because I have friends and family (all catholic) on both sides (liberal/conservative) fn the issue.

I’m definitely with the bishops (USCCB) on this one.


By chassup AT 04.04.08 12:04PM Not Rated

chassup

I agree that the polarization in the current political arena has gone way beyond cheering for the home team, and looks a lot more like the Hatfields and McCoys.

However, I do find some things troubling in the article—especially advocating a “third way” based on Catholic thought that includes things that are against Catholic thought.  Specifically, advocating for civil unions or other preferential treatment under the law for homosexual persons and calling it “social justice.” 

From “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” USCCB, November 14, 2006 ...“the Church does not support so-called same-sex “marriages” or any semblance thereof, including civil unions that give the appearance of a marriage. Church ministers may not bless such unions or promote them in any way, directly or indirectly. Similarly, the Church does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couplessince homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan.”

It is obvious that the unhinged left and unhinged right are shouting past each other and seeking to drive everybody from the middle on many issues, but seeking the middle isn’t always a good thing.


By Angelo Matera AT 04.04.08 12:45PM Not Rated

Angelo Matera

Dear Chassup—
You bring up a good point, which I’ll address more fully in a future post. Let me just say that first, some civil union laws are less bad than others, in terms of “giving the appearance of marriage.” So it would depend on specifics. Second, the criteria set out by JPII in Evangelium Vitae for accepting political compromises on abortion apply here, and the Catholic Bishops could probably participate in a coaltion that allows civil unions, for proportionate reasons, if the compromise doesn’t make matters worse, of if it avoids a future outcome that would be a lot worse. I believe limited civil unions would be an acceptable price to pay for a federal marriage amendment that enshrines natural marriage in our society once and for all.

The AFM has been criticized by more conservative pro-family groups for their stand on this. But keep in mind that the AFM board of advisors includes Catholics such as Fr. Richard John Neuhas, Mary Ann Glendon, and Hadley Arkes, all 100% orthodox and loyal to the Magisterium, so that gives me assurance that this has been considered. 

Poll numbers show that young people are much more sympathetic to gay marriage than prior generations, out of a misplaced but sincere compassion for their gay friends and relatives. Given that reality, and the tenacity shown by pro-same-sex marriage groups to change things through the courts, I think a grand compromise takes on greater importance, if only to prevent a complete redefining of marriage, which would be disastrous.

In terms of compromises, personally, I’m also intrigued by the idea of a law that would give two people the status of siblings, which would accomplish most of what gay activists seek in terms of hospital visitation, inheritance, etc. While even here there are concerns that we would be diluting the definition of family, mercy dictates that the reality of family breakdown, and how people are coping with it, has to be accommodated in some way.


By Angelo Matera AT 04.04.08 12:52PM Not Rated

Angelo Matera

I also just noticed that Archbishop Chaput of Denver and Archbishop Murphy of Rockville Centre are on the board of AFM too. My guess is that they can live with the AFM stance on civil unions for the reasons I outlined.  But I’ll look into it.


By peterwilson1 AT 04.04.08 03:07PM Not Rated

peterwilson1

Appeasement is a very slow process…but usually ends in capitulation.  I smell appeasement in this article.


By Debra Murphy AT 04.09.08 04:14PM Not Rated

Debra Murphy

The polarization on this issue (as with abortion politics) reminds me of the concept that the Perfect can frequently be the enemy of the Good. It’s one thing to reject constitutional amendments or civil legislation written in language that puts, say, gay marriages on a par, moral or institutional, with traditional procreative marriage, and another—a mistaken form of utopian wishful thinking—to reject outright civil and legal options which permit our gay family and friends to decide who is to inherit their property, have hospital visitation rights, or make decisions for them in the event of their incapacity. The latter seems to me a matter of human justice, and one which Christians ignore at great risk.

As for the Posner-esque approach to political argument, it reminds me, too, why we all need to be cautious about “hate speech” legislation. When civil disagreement can be argued (via ideology and outdated forms of Francophile lit crit) into a form of “hate”, the state of public discourse is at low tide.


By chassup AT 04.10.08 05:51PM Not Rated

chassup

“...civil and legal options which permit our gay family and friends to decide who is to inherit their property, have hospital visitation rights, or make decisions for them in the event of their incapacity.”

Currently, in the US, homosexuals, as well as other non-married heterosexuals, already enjoy the individual rights for which you argue using existing legal instruments.  As a married person, I must execute a will just like a homosexual to speak for me after death.  I must execute a power of attorney or living will to protect my wishes when incapacitated. The only civil or legal options not enjoyed by homosexuals are those they shouldn’t enjoy, societal endorsement.  One of the harshest punishments suffered by married couples, by the way, leaves homosexual partners unscathed—taxation policies. 

Would you consider it “a mistaken form of utopian wishful thinking” to remove such a penalty just for being married?


By Debra Murphy AT 04.14.08 12:56AM Not Rated

Debra Murphy

To suggest that because I believe that it is “utopian wishful thinking” to prohibit other forms of domestic partnership as a means to further the cause of sacramental marriage, somehow implies that I must ergo favor tax penalties against “married filing jointly” couples, is non sequitur. Where did you get such an idea? On the contrary, a willingness to legalize other forms of domestic partnership implies, I think, a wish to see such couples sharing both the burdens as well as the bennies of such partnerships.

As for the notion that everything that can be got (legallly and in terms of benefits) by way of legal marriage can be got just aa well by drawing up numerous separate legal documents—trusts, wills, etc—would be onerous even if true, which it isn’t. Legal marriage is a shortcut to any number of socially sanctioned benefits, in both the private and public sectors.

Just one example from personal experience: consider the tzx situation of a married couple filing jointly, in which one is a salaried earner and the other starts a home-based business using a portion of the spouse’s salary as seed money. In the early years of the business, in which more money is going out than coming in, a business loss of $5K reduces the taxable income of the couple by $5K, resulting in the couple’s joint tax burden being reduced by, say, $1250, or whatever. This would not be the case with a legally unrecognized form of domestic partnership, in which each person is considered single, period. 

My husband and I were recently reviewing our wills using a Quicken program, and I came across the following paragraph in the section on the status of domestic partnerships recognized by certain states:

“The federal government does not currently recognize any same-sex relationships, no matter what state law says. (This is because of a federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act.). So same-sex couples who enter into marriages or marriage-like relationships are not currently entitled to the federal estate and gift tax benefits married couples enjoy—or to Social Security benefits, immigration privileges or any of the more than 1,000 benefits extended to heterosexual married couples.”

Another point worth considering: it is not only gay couples who set up long-term domestic partnerships that look to gain from a broadening of the law in this area. Many of us, myself included, have known spinster or widowed siblings who have set up household together for the long haul, and who would benefit from some form of legally regularized domestic partner situation.


By chassup AT 04.14.08 01:21PM Not Rated

chassup

I did not intend to imply anything, I was pointing out your selective outrage and offering an example where traditional marriage is not always given preference, perhaps I was heavy-handed, forgive me.

You seem to be at odds with the reason for the distinction—traditional marriage is provided state, federal and societal privileges as a way to affirm, cultivate, encourage and defend the institution. I have no interest in affirming, cultivating, encouraging or defending homosexual behavior or other non-married partnerships. I think it is “utopian wishful thinking” to desire equality in all things.

The marriage “privilege” is not intended to be fair.  It is intended to offer special privilege to married couples and additional benefit to married couples who procreate, all with the goal of benefiting our society as a whole.  This is an example of our laws following the lead of the natural law.  I am not offended if homosexual or other non-married partnerships don’t have access to some tax-sheltering options enjoyed by married couples.


By Kathleen Lundquist AT 04.14.08 04:03PM Not Rated

Kathleen Lundquist

So far in this discussion, I’m with Chassup, in that:

In my understanding, our society has favored the institution of marriage with certain tax perks and ‘rights of sharing’ because of the benefits marriage provides for children, not out of any sense of fairness or ‘social justice’ for the couple themselves.  These benefits include a stable home environment in which early childhood socialization and education takes place, economically useful skills are learned, etc.  This is why marriage (in the civil sense) has been protected and specifically supported by Western law and custom up to this time (whether or not it was Christianity’s influence that magnified these benefits in the minds of previous civilizations’ lawmakers).

I believe the modern idea of “happiness in love and marriage” is influencing our thinking here more than we admit.  We heterosexuals have mangled divorce law into an exquisite system of torture for children in order to accommodate our ideas of ‘happiness’ in relationships.  Historically speaking (and I would say in actual fact), marriage laws do not exist to guarantee our success or happiness in the person we married.  Marriage laws do not exist to guarantee some form of ‘social justice’ in the present; they are about securing the future of society through strong, well-adapted offspring.

The fact that we’re having this discussion at all witnesses to the fact that marriage as we have known it (in this child-centered sense, let alone in the sacramental sense) has already been pretty much dismantled in our society and holds little sway in most Americans’ minds.  If the goal is, as Angelo M. says in another article, to “reconfigure” our society’s institutions and cultural touchstones in the image of the Trinitarian God, I believe that resisting societal approbation of homosexually-based households is necessary.  If, on the other hand, we believe that such reconfiguration of society’s conception of marriage and child-producing relationships is “utopian wishful thinking” and holding the line at this juncture is hopeless, then I do see the point being made about social justice in the short term.

In sum: Since the high ground on sexual morality issues has been all but conceded by the Church to the culture (in the form of no-fault divorce, contraception and abortion being freely available) is there any other rational ground on which to make a stand against civil unions for homosexuals?  If these earlier battles had been fought and won, would this even be an issue?  Where are we now, really, and how do we work toward that redemption/reconfiguration of culture on this score without inadvertently making things worse?

P.S. I don’t see any problem with obtaining legal protections and rights for other non-sexual family units (widowed sisters, guardianships, etc.)


By chassup AT 04.14.08 05:54PM Not Rated

chassup

KATHLEEN LUNDQUIST: you stated— “In sum: Since the high ground on sexual morality issues has been all but conceded by the Church to the culture (in the form of no-fault divorce, contraception and abortion being freely available) is there any other rational ground on which to make a stand against civil unions for homosexuals?”

First, I don’t think the Church has conceded anything, society certainly has. (as well as many deceived Catholics)

Second, yes, I do think we can… must… make a stand against civil unions. It seems counterintuitive, to me, that people who advocate or tolerate no-fault divorce, abortion, even contraception still look to marriage as a beneficial institution. Our current culture places no stigma on any of these behaviors, including premarrital sex and cohabitation, so why bother getting married? Even those who call for laws that actively cause the destruction of marriage and family seem to understand the institution as beneficial.  Yes, I think traditional marriage is worth defending, and we don’t have to rationalize it, it is good.


By star AT 06.28.11 03:52AM Not Rated

star

” Male and female God created them . ” Marriage is between a man and a woman. God’s laws never change. It is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. A family is a fundamental unit in which society is based. A healthy society is made up of families nourished with the graces of God ; families who follow the path of Righteousness / God’s Commandments. The path maybe rough sometimes, but isn’t the way to Heaven ” narrow and full of thorns ? ” Let us pray for all , that we may accept whatever crosses come our way to deserve the Heavenly Kingdom that is promised to those who persevere in trust, faith and love in our Lord Jesus !
Jesus loves us !


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