Several readers last week accused me of being “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, as if the U.S. Supreme Court weren’t right now debating what the New York Times calls “one of the great civil rights issues of the age.”
It isn’t just me. When I asked on Facebook for suggestions what I should ask Archbishop Blase Cupich when he stopped by the newspaper Thursday, the first suggestion was: “What are his thoughts on civil rights for LGBTs, regardless of Church teachings?”
A good question. But awkward. I was in no rush. As our hour was winding down, I diplomatically observed that his predecessor, Cardinal George, had strong views on this topic; where did he stand? Cupich’s answer was elaborate, but I’m going to share it in its entirety:
“In Washington state there was a referendum on this and, my position was very clear. First of all I didn’t want anybody using this debate to in any way demean or denigrate people who have same sex attraction — gay people, lesbians, bisexual, trans — I didn’t want to be part of any of that, because there were voices in fact to demean people. My issue was, not against somebody, but what are we doing in re-defining marriage? Because marriage traditionally has been that union by which we continue the next generation, and there was specific code of law that would support families that take the risk and the responsibility of bringing children into world and preserving the human race. My argument was, what are we doing in not giving those kind of special laws and protections to that group of people who do something to benefit society.”
Let me interrupt here to point out two things: first, in the 2012 referendum he refers to, Washington State voters approved of gay marriage, 54 percent to 46 percent. Second, that his answer would fit perfectly had I asked, “Hey, is it a good idea to scrap marriage entirely for straight people?”
The archbishop continued:
“There was a domestic partnership law in the state of Washington which gave the same rights as marriage, the bill was to just rename it and make it all marriage. I objected to it because I think there’s something unique about the marriage between a man and a woman.”
Here, I did object: it isn’t as if gay couples don’t raise kids (kids whom, I didn’t have the chutzpah to mention, often are the products of failed heterosexual relationships, adopted from unions that fail for reasons other than being undermined because gays are allowed to wed in 36 states and the District of Columbia).
“For instance, I found it interesting the new marriage law in Washington state placed within the code the same requirements that a heterosexual couple previously had, that is, the law against consanguinity marriages, in terms of relationship.”
[“Consanguinity,” by the way, means blood relations.]
“That’s there because of the genetic deformity that could result in consanguinity marriages. But that’s being imposed on gay couples and you wonder: Why? That gives a hint there’s something different and unique about heterosexual couples coming to marriage, for society. I think families are so much in trouble, they’re under so much pressure, it does take a risk to bring children in the world, to educate them, to preserve the human race, I think society has a vested interest in specially helping those couples do that. That was my argument.”
To me, everything the archbishop said, except for his conclusions, is an argument for gay marriage. First, the risks of incestuous children — not a huge social ill, certainly — is not a concern for same-sex marriages. Second, he emphasized the difficulty of raising children. As the father of two teens, I can vouch for that. But you know what makes it even tougher? Society refusing to acknowledge the full validity of your union.
Assuming Cupich isn’t slyly advocating for gay marriage, and I don’t think he is, the core of his argument hangs on an unspoken, unsupported assumption: He’s implying a harm; that we need marriage to help straight couples, and gays wreck it, ineffably, by their participation. But there is no harm. The only harm is imaginary and self-inflicted, the exact demeaning degradation that he repudiated at the start of his remarks. Someday an archbishop will acknowledge this. But that day is not today.