Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Proposition 8: The State, Rights, and Duties.

An excellent and timely homily, given yesterday, by our friend Fr. Anselm Ramelow, O.P.

Fr. Anselm is a Dominican Priest and Professor of Philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology here in the Bay Area.

Homily on feast of St. Leo the Great


As you are perfectly aware, the success of Prop. 8 caused a lot of rebellion in this city; yesterday a group was demonstrating in front of the Cathedral, shouting obscenities, today there are demonstrations in various parts of California. Opponents still claim that “gay marriage” is a matter of rights, and they try to override Proposition 8 again, against the majority vote.

Since you will not get the Catholic position from the San Francisco Chronicle (at most they will give you a report on Catholic dissent), let me try to say something tonight (St. Leo the Great would certainly approve of this message).


The first thing is to let you know as Catholics about the teaching of the Church. Her perpetual teaching regarding homosexuality has not changed and indeed cannot and will not change. To give you one clear statement, I am quoting n. 2357 of the CCC:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The Catechism gives several scripture references; I will only quote the passage from the first chapter of Romans to you, which relates this topic to the idolatry of pagan Rome, i.e. to a darkened sense of who God is (be prepared for some strong language; this is the word of God, though, and we need to hear it):

20 Ever since the creation of the world, his (God’s) invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; 21 for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 While claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. 24 Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.

What does this mean? It means that sexuality cannot be divorced from our view of God. As John Paul II has explained in his theology of the body, the family and the sexual complementarity of man and woman are an image of the Trinity itself. When God says: let us make man in our image and likeness and: male and female he made them, then we are invited to see divine and sacred things in sexual relations. In the New Testament, marriage can therefore be elevated to a sacrament, reflecting the fertile relationship between Christ and his bride the Church; the Eucharist itself is the marriage banquet that celebrates our salvation.

By contrast, if we follow St. Paul’s thought, then he is saying that homosexual relationships do not express this, but that they are rather proclaiming a totally different god, demon or idol.

While this is the understanding of the Catholic faith, it is not a matter of mere faith that we would impose on other people, but something that also follows from pure reason and the natural law: “gay marriage” in so far as it claims to be marriage, is about sexual acts. I.e., it is not about the love of friendship. That kind of love, the love of friendship, can, of course, exist in all sorts of relationships. Nobody denies that this will be a genuine good, but it is not marriage. The love of marriage on the other hand is of a different kind in that it integrates these aspects into a sexual relationship. It forms a bond of a very different kind than that between friends, or parents and children, or grandparents, or caretakers and those entrusted to them.

Sexual acts by their nature are designed to produce offspring. Homosexual acts cannot do that, even though they are using the organs of procreation. In other words, it is an improper use of these organs. It can certainly never represent their normal function and intended situation. This is obvious for anyone who believes that this world and our bodies and their organs were created purposefully by an intelligent and loving God.

But it is even obvious to those who deny this, i.e. those who say that everything is the outcome of random mutation and natural selection; even Darwinists would agree that sexual organs are made for procreation.

Now the state has neither right nor duty nor interest to be involved in marriage, except because marriage is the place where future generations and citizens originate. In other words: the state is involved in marriage, because marriage is procreative. “Gay marriage” by its nature does not do that; it therefore has no more claim to special political recognition than any other kind of partnership, as for example grandparents living with their grandchildren or caretakers – for these there is no marriage either, even though they might feel love and affection for each other as well.


Now I am perfectly aware that there is a growing number of countries in this world, in which I would be thrown into jail for saying this, i.e. for preaching the faith of the Church. Go and try saying this, for example, in Sweden, Canada or Colombia. Without Proposition 8, this might become an issue in California as well. Broadcasting licenses for Catholic radio stations, for example, would be revoked, if they would present this Catholic position. Also, conscientious objection to hosting gay events or marriages or renting space for such occasions, or even declining to be professional photographers at these events will be impossible. Already now courts have fined photographers and others for their conscientious objection.

What that means is: Proposition 8 is not about the rights of gay people, but about our rights of free speech and conscientious objection.

Teachers at public schools, for example, do already have to teach children about the equality of gay relationships (Senate Bill 777). But surely no Catholic teacher can comply with this; rather, today’s Gospel would speak to this situation:

“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,but woe to the one through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neckand he be thrown into the seathan for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard!"

Without Proposition 8, this situation would extend even to Catholic schools, which would otherwise lose their accreditation.

How about teaching your very own children? You cannot refrain from warning your children about false ideas about sexuality and the implied practices. Would you not scream, if you see your children running out on the street, into the moving traffic and being run over? Would you not defy anyone who tries to stop you from rescuing your child, just because it is not politically correct, or because others choose to claim as their right to run out into the moving traffic without looking?


Catholics do believe that there is that deathly traffic out there; and much worse than this, because that kind of traffic only kills the body. In other words: we do indeed believe that there is a hell and we do believe that homosexual acts would lead you there.

We therefore have not only the right but the duty to warn people about the danger they are putting themselves in. It should be a matter of charity and care to do so, not an act of hatred or homophobia. It is in fact the very teaching of the Church that rejects persecution of people with a homosexual orientation. Let me quote from the Catechism again:

2358. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

There are, by the way, many people with same-sex attraction trying to live in this way, with the help of support groups like “Courage”, to whom I am actually one of the chaplains. We might also want to think, what we would be saying to people who are making this effort, if we were to advocate gay marriage: are we telling them that they are actually fools for trying to live according to the Gospel?

We certainly do not want to do that, as little as we want to discriminate people for their sexual orientation. But notice that the Church can say this without therefore implying a “right to marriage”, which is by its nature impossible. Much of what gay people are seeking can already be taken care of by civil union as it is. Any step beyond this would make claims on the rights of other parties involved, not the least those of children.

In other words, we are not here to take away any genuine rights or to insult anyone. But we are here to defend our own rights:

1) the right to disagree, i.e. the right to believe otherwise and to say so;
2) the right to defend the salvation of our own souls through conscientious objection;
3) the right to warn those entrusted to us, the faithful in the Church and the children at home or in our schools, through the exercise of free speech;
4) and last, but by no means least, the right to be concerned for our brothers and sisters with same sex-attraction, who are endangering themselves, and whom we want to warn, so that they can be with us one day with God in heaven.

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney

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