The National Catholic Review

 

Earlier this week, the state of Washington became the seventh in the US to legalize gay marriage after the legislature approved a bill that was introduced and ultimately signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Gregoire, a Catholic, had been an opponent of same-sex marriage for years, perhaps for political reasons. She said that her decision "represent[ed] the culmination of [her] journey", where she had struggled with what her faith teaches about marriage. Ultimately she decided that the state did not have a reason to continue discriminating against same-sex couples that wish to marry. 

 

On the other coast, another Catholic governor is struggling with the same issue. New Jersey’s Chris Christie, perhaps positioning himself for a presidential run in 2016, has promised to veto any bill the legislature there passes legalizing gay marriage, and he has suggested that the issue be decided by voters rather than by their elected representatives.

It was in this context that Gregoire wrote Christie a short note asking him to reconsider his position of gay marriage (read the letter to the right).

Catholic governors have an interesting history regarding gay marriage in the US. Of the 9 states that have or have had same-sex marriage rights (same-sex marriage laws in Maine and California were repealed), 5 were adopted through the legislative process. Four of those 5 laws were signed by Catholic governors: John Baldacci in Maine; John Lynch in New Hampshire; Andrew Cuomo in New York; and now Gregoire in Washington (Vermont’s legislature overrode the veto of Gov. Jim Douglas, a member of the United Church of Christ).

In Maryland, another Catholic governor, Martin O’Malley, is pushing for same-sex marriage approval as a bill winds through the legislature. Will he be the fifth Catholic governor to bring gay marriage to his or her constituents?

 

Comments

Michael Barberi | 2/18/2012 - 3:24pm
Amy:

The example you provided to explain one's beliefs lacks "right reason". Anyone can believe that their voluntary human acts are perfectly reasonable, right and good. That is why we have Civil and Church laws, scientific laws, nutritional guidelines, etc. Someone may believe that 1 + 1 = 4, but that does not mean it is true according to the laws of mathematics. Others may believe that smoking crack cocaine is ok. Others may believe that eating styroform is reasonable and will not harm one's health.
 
However, when you want to access whether a voluntary human act is morally right or wrong according to the Catholic religion, you look to the Church's teachings. However, there are some Church teachings that are controversial according to reasonable and intelligible philosophical and theological arguments. That does not mean these counter-arguments are the truth, but neither does it necessarily mean that every papal utterance is the absolute moral truth as well. Some Catholics may believe in every Catholic teaching. However, when it somes to sexual ethical teachings the great majority of the laity, theologians and many clergy do not all agree. There is a profound level of philosophical and theological disagreement.

This is where the role of an "informed conscience" comes into play. An "informed conscious" has a precise meaning according to Church teachings. It means availing one's self to all avenues of information and education about the subject under consideration, to approach the subject with an open mind, to seek spiritual guidance, to sincerely pray, and to respect and give full consideration to the Church's teaching. If you disagree, you must also be open to all new evidence, information and argumentation and consistently re-think your position. In the end, you may disagree and remain a faithful Catholic.

The Church does not condemn an informed conscious. In fact, one must never do something that goes against their informed conscious. An informed conscious can err and the Church asserts that this is the reason that Catholics must abide by the teachings of the Magisterium because Christ will never lead the Church astray in serious moral matters. This reasoning is also not without differing interpretations and controversy. Many serious moral teachings were once proclaimed to be the truth but reformed: usury, slavery, the ends of marriage, and now, capital punishment are a few examples. In the past, sex was only for procreation, sex during menstruation was a mortal sin, sex during pregnancy was forbidden and sexual intercourse had only one licit position. These teachings have since been abandoned.
The moral species of voluntary human acts is complex, especially sexual ethical issues. The Church and many theologians today are recovering new meaning and insight into the moral determination of voluntary human actions according to the ethics of Thomas Aquinas. Other moral theories are also challanging older ones. in order to understand what is the truth. It is a ever-ending struggle. For example, it has been 44 years since Humanae Vitae (HV) was published and the Church still has not found a convincing moral theory that is understandable and compelling to the majority of the laity, theologians and many clergy. This does not make HV wrong, but it also does not mean it is the absolute moral truth.


Frank Gibbons | 2/18/2012 - 11:32am
Amy,

When you refer to "Huffy relgious people" are your referring to those who write for and comment at "Huffpost Relgion"?  
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/18/2012 - 8:49am
Hi Michael (#21),

I see it like this: suppose I have a neighbor who likes to eat styrofoam peanuts. He believes styrofoam peanuts are just as nutritious as food. He thinks some people are physiologically pre-disposed to digest food and others are physiologically pre-disposed to digest styrofoam peanuts. He (correctly) points out that a lot of people eat Twinkies, which are almost indistinguishable from styrofoam peanuts; that in old age some people become incapable of digesting food and have to be intravenously fed; that every time one receives Communion, one eats an indigestible little disc of styrofoam, which suggests the Church's objection to styrofoam-eating is something less than adamantine.

OK, I think, if he likes to eat styrofoam, let him. I don't want to go to his parties. I would prefer not to look at pictures of him eating styrofoam, or hear him describe it. I don't give much weight to his opinions on cooking. I don't want him to recommend to the neighborhood children that they try eating styrofoam. I do not think schools should be obliged to teach that styrofoam is as nutritious as food, but I have no objection to their teaching that a non-negligible minority of people think eating styrofoam is just good for them. I certainly don't think anybody should beat him up or throw rocks at him for eating styrofoam.

Now he wants a license to open a restaurant. Should he be able to get it? In my book, OK, cool, no biggie. Nobody has to eat there who doesn't want to. I can't imagine it's going to put the bakery next door out of business. That's the Massachusetts way: every crackpot should be allowed to pursue his own mania as he likes, as long as it doesn't pose a public hazard.

And I have to admit, every time I hear some huffy religious person fulminating away about how annoyed God gets when people eat styrofoam, I feel a little more sympathetic to the styrofoam-eaters. Huffy religious people are, in my opinion, a much greater public hazard than styrofoam-eating. I think the historical record has pretty much proved that.

But I still think styrofoam-eating is gross.
Marie Rehbein | 2/17/2012 - 11:25pm
All the reasons why marriage exists for heterosexual couples have to do with the potential that most of them have for bringing new people into the world.  There are concerns for claims of inheritance.  There are concerns about financial responsibilities to one's offspring.  There are concerns that siblings not accidentally marry (something that should also be of concern regarding sperm banks).  Other than concern about offspring, there is not really any issue that cannot be addressed without resorting to marriage.  If people want to name legal heirs, they can.  If people want to give others power of attorney, they can.  If married filing jointly needs to have a comparable category for other household types, how hard it that?  The issue at this point, which is likely to become irrelevant if same-sex marriage is accepted, is that people grow up imagining themselves having a wedding, and some people grow up to find themselves disqualified from being able have that kind of celebration, even though in most respects they are not different from the couples who do get to do that.
Michael Barberi | 2/17/2012 - 4:23pm
David: You extracted and isolated a small paragraph from my entire posting and disagreed with it....however you missed my point. I simply stated the position of the Church. I made no reference that I agreed with it. The following paragraph should have been clear to you where I stand on the issue of conscience and same-sex unions.

Amy: I am not certain what you are suggesting, but Aquinas would disagree with you about the role of emotion in voluntary human action and theological ethics. The role of emotion in Thomas Aquinas's work was brillantly analyzed by Diana Fritz Cates in her book "Aquinas on the Emotions". Emotions are interior motions that have a complex relationship to a set of powers or capabilities by which we receive and process information about ourselfs and our world. There are significant differences in philospher's ways of describing or representing emotions. There are positive powers of emotions. The can enable a person to quiet or dispel a state that one judges to be contrary to virtue.

I am no expert but the process of thought you described is one of many ways of reasoning. I would suggest a different perspective about the moral elements involved in analyzing the morality of voluntary human action (any such action such as same sex marriage or contraceptive acts):

1. Motivation to and imagination of the good in the states of affairs to be accomplished
2. Formulation of end-goal
3. Circumstances and dilberation about the realistic achievment of end-goal
4. Intention to end-goal
5. Deliberation and reasoning about the various means to end-goal
6. Choice of mean to end-goal
7. Movement to mean to end-goal through the powers of the will and other powers

The definition of marriage by civil authorities can be different from the Catholic Church's definition. The Church's foundational principle and anthropology relative to unitive sexual morality has been serious challanged by many theologians. Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler brillantly argued a case for some homosexual acts through the notion of complementality. Maragret Farley also argued that some homosexual acts can be just, in her book "Just Love". I paraphraze Salzman: "Therefore, some homosexual and heterosexual acts, those that meet the requirements for holistic complemenality, just, and loving sexual acts, are truly human. Whether any given sexual act is truly human is determined, as is every moral judgment in the Catholic tradition, not by the application of abstract moral principles but by a careful, hermeneutical analysis of how these principles apply in real, concrete human relationships."
JOSEPH CLEARY II | 2/17/2012 - 11:53am
The irony in NJ is that that the existing civil union statute guarntees ALL legal rights of a married couple are also given to a civil union - in fact it says just that in the statute. At this point the only exception is that the state doesnt call it ''marriage''. 

The case in NJ is not over rights , but over the defination of a word. 

Why the fuss- pure politics by Democrats in NJ who have been steamrolled by Gov C for two years. Which is why Christie- who said when he ran for office he would veto same sex marriage - proposed to put the ''word defination change'' to a popular vote.







 
Walter L | 2/17/2012 - 1:26am
After New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia allowed same sex marriage, Washington became the seventh state in the nation to lawfully permit it. Governor Chris Gregoire signed the bill surrounded by supporters and gay rights advocates. But even as the ink was drying, opponents to the bill were vowing to battle to repeal the legislation. Source of article is here: Same-sex marriage signed into law in Washington State.
JIM MCCREA | 2/16/2012 - 8:10pm
" Same sex unions or marriages are a religious issue when it pertains to Church teachings. The Catholic Church prohibits same sex unions and marriages. Same sex couples cannot be married in the Catholic Church. If Catholic same sex couples marry under civil law, the Church does not recognize such marriages and teaches that sexual relations among same sex individuals is immoral. "

So what?

When Catholic heterosexuals don't do sexual things that are immoral within the confines of their matrimony, I'll worry about what the Catholic church has to say about immorality.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/16/2012 - 5:55pm
"Mr. O'Loughlin, what is your own position on same-sex 'marriage'?"

I don't know about Mr. O'Loughlin, but my position is that "same-sex marriage" is an illogical farce. Just like the "war on drugs," "raising the debt ceiling," and thirty years of "testing" the Osprey "tiltrotor helicoptor." Just one more illogical farce; how much harm can it do?
Joshua DeCuir | 2/16/2012 - 11:10am
"The Catholic governors who support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples are following sound ethical principles of another great Catholic governor:  Mario Cuomo from New York.  In a landmark 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame entitled "Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor's Perspective," the elder Cuomo laid out some important principles to guide Catholic government leaders."

Let's just take this little bit of hyperbole at face value, i.e. that Cuomo did in fact lay out a sound ethical blueprint for Catholic politicians, that sound ethical principle is wholly different from what is at play here.  Cuomo was talking about the moral responsibility of a Catholic politician with respect to legislative approval of actions that the Catholic politician thought immoral as a matter of conscience.  In other words, Cuomo was addressing a situation where laws were passed allowing a situation that the Catholic moral politician, as an individual and because of the Church's teaching authority, had moral objections to, but which as a matter of public policy he felt obliged to respect.  Cuomo's principle was one of "there is more than one way to skin a cat," and by signing the legislation I am not "promoting" the evil.

It seems to me the situation here is totally different, and therefore Cuomo's "ethical guideline" wholly inapplicable.  Here you have a situation where a Catholic is stating he doesn't view a situation the Church teaches is immoral as in fact being immoral, and he has taken an action actively promoting the situation (as opposed to Cuomo's view), and on top of that, is now asking ANOTHER Catholic politiciant to join him in the game.  Gregoire is clear that he doesn't view same sex marriage as immoral, contra the Church's teaching, and has therefore taken on the job of actively promoting the situation, both within his own state, and now in New Jersey.  So this is a entirely different moral situation from the one Cuomo was addressing.


Anne Chapman | 2/16/2012 - 10:54am
David, do you agree with the principle that those who are elected to represent the people of a district, state, county etc. in a pluralistic society are constitutionally obliged to act as representatives of their constituencies rather than as agents of their religion?

If you believe that they are morally obliged to represent the particular beliefs of their own religion, then do you think that all people who hold sincere religious views should refrain from participating in politics?
ed gleason | 2/16/2012 - 6:32pm
David; you say what you know not to be true... what's that about ?
 "married to other gays in the local parish church'
 you know this is not true and don't blame the small type on your IPod
Stephen O'Brien | 2/16/2012 - 3:49pm
Mr. O'Loughlin, what is your own position on same-sex ''marriage''?
Joshua DeCuir | 2/16/2012 - 11:18am
"David, do you agree with the principle that those who are elected to represent the people of a district, state, county etc. in a pluralistic society are constitutionally obliged to act as representatives of their constituencies rather than as agents of their religion?"

Two responses:

1. Since you are describing this view as a "constitutional" obligation, would you point to precisely where in the (federal? state?) constitution you perceive such an obligation?

2. Even if the elected representive's primary duty (constitutional or otherwise) is to represent the "people," he or she must always do so consistent with his or her own conscience.  So it really isn't as neat a matter as slicing-and-dicing "the people" versus conscience.  I'll put it to you this way.  Say I am elected as a member of Congress from a very conservative disctrict where polling shows a very large majority of the people in that district support the proposition that "International terrorism is a great evil and the US Government should be vigilant in its efforts to defeat terrorism, including taking extreme actions against individual terrorist suspects to present future attacks."  A bill is drafted and presented for a vote banning water-boarding.  I refuse to vote for the bill on the basis that, although as a Catholic, I view water-boarding as torture and as outside the bounds of moral action, but because a large number of my constituents are very conservative and support ending terrorism, I must represent their views and so cannot vote for the bill.  Would that comport with your understanding of my duty?
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/17/2012 - 7:29am
David (#16) is talking nonsense again. Deductive logic can not disprove validity as long as one's axioms and definitions are consistent. If each of two systems of axioms are consistent but incomplete, deductive logic has no capacity to distinguish between them.

Normal human beings do not start or end with feelings. (I was surprised to learn from the Examen that St. Ignatius Loyola did, and I think less of him for it.) Normal human beings follow this algorithm:

(0) Abstract definitions from available data in which to express axioms.
(1) Use deductive logic to derive theorems from them.
(2) Generate more data by testing the theorems.
(3) Revise definitions and axioms.
(4) Repeat (1) - (3) indefinitely.
(5) Leave your feelings out of it. ("Mala voluntas passionibus succumbit deordinatis easque exacerbat", CCC #1768)

In the present case, the question is whether the concept "marriage" should be redefined, what would follow from such redefinition and how accurately it would reflect reality.
Michael Barberi | 2/16/2012 - 6:30pm
The issue of same-sex unions, and in some cases the term marriage is used, is both a civil issue and a Church or religious issue.

As a governor or politician, the approval or disapproval of a piece of legislation (whether a governor should sign the bill into law, or a politician to vote it up or down) is a civil issue. As such, the issue involves the civil rights of ciitzens and states. This does not mean that a politician cannot be influenced by his/her religiious beliefs.

Same sex unions or marriages are a religious issue when it pertains to Church teachings. The Catholic Church prohibits same sex unions and marriages. Same sex couples cannot be married in the Catholic Church. If Catholic same sex couples marry under civil law, the Church does not recognize such marriages and teaches that sexual relations among same sex individuals is immoral.

If a politician is Catholic, he/she should be guided by their sense of civil and religious duties. If the politician follows his/her conscious as to what is right and wrong, and his/her sense of civic and religious duties, there is no moral law superior to an informed conscious. That is a Catholic teaching. You can disagee and still remain a faithful Catholic. The Church will say that such Catholics are invincibly ignorance or that they are being influenced and misguided by the evils of the secular world. The Church will never condemn an informed conscious. A conscious can err. However God will not judge us by what is objectively right of wrong, but on the sincerity of our hearts in doing what is right, true and just, even if we make a mistake.
Vince Killoran | 2/16/2012 - 4:04pm
David uses words like "feeling" and "approving" in his last comment.  Perhaps this is part of the problem: this is not about David's (or mine for that matter) "feelings" about the legalization of same-sex marriage.  It's a matter of individual rights for our fellow citizens.
ed gleason | 2/16/2012 - 2:30pm
My journey to support gay marriage began when a Catholic gay friend asked me what was  my and bishops stance about a hetrosexual couple getting married for the ninth time by an Elvis impersonator in the basement of city hall. And why  the bishops and I could care less.. no answer from me .. do you have an answer  that will not bore us to death.??.
I just found out that Gingrich's 4th wedding to the third wife [ first marriage to third wife was civil] was attended by bishops .who and .how many? TBA   
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Francis DeBernardo | 2/16/2012 - 4:59am
The Catholic governors who support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples are following sound ethical principles of another great Catholic governor:  Mario Cuomo from New York.  In a landmark 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame entitled "Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor's Perspective," the elder Cuomo laid out some important principles to guide Catholic government leaders.

One principle was pragmatic:  "The Catholic public official lives the political truth most Catholics through most of American history have accepted and insisted on: the truth that to assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom."

Another principle was a realistic observation:  ". . . on divorce and birth control, without changing its moral teaching, the Church abides the civil law as it now stands, thereby accepting-without making much of a point of it-that in our pluralistic society we are not required to insist that all our religious values be the law of the land."

A third principle was that of prudence and conscience:  "While we always owe our bishops' words respectful attention and careful consideration, the question whether to engage the political system in a struggle to have it adopt certain articles of our belief as part of public morality is not a matter of doctrine: it is a matter of prudential political judgment. . . .My church does not order me-under pain of sin or expulsion-to pursue my salvific mission according to a precisely defined political plan."

Whether consciously or not, this new generation of Catholic governors have imbibed Cuomo's wisodom and are exercising sound religious and political judgment.