I’m not surprised that Archbishop Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York defines “freedom” as doing what he and his clerical buddies tell you to do, or “limited government” as government that limits private actions that depart from Church doctrine. That’s his job.
Nor was I really surprised to find that Gov. Rick Perry can’t make sense of the Book of Genesis. That’s not his job.
But you’d think that an Archbishop, even if not personally a Bible-reader, might at least have one on his staff. So when his Eminence refers to:
an undeniable truth â€“ one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity, hoping for children â€“ that has served as the very cornerstone of civilization and culture from the start
then I can only scratch my head.
Monogamy is a fine idea, but it’s not in fact the historical norm: in lots of cultures and civilizations in the past, powerful men mated with, and sometimes married, multiple women. And it’s not in fact the Biblical norm, either. Adultery – understood as sex between a married woman and a man not her husband – and pre-marital sex are forbidden, but not polygamy.
Abraham had Hagar as well as Sarah. Jacob had two wives and two concubines: their twelve sons are the ancestors of the Twelve Tribes. David had eight wives; Nathan calls him out for his pursuit of the already-married Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, but once Uriah has been killed David marries Bathsheba and begets Solomon, without any criticism. Solomon had a whole harem-full of women, and gets criticized not for their number but for the fact that some of them were non-Israelites.
So if monogamy is, as His Eminence says, the ordinance of God, it took God – according to the Bible – a long, long time to make up His mind.
Footnote I’m not without sympathy for the Church’s position here. After all, it was in the business of defining “marriage” long before the State of New York was; family law didn’t become a state, as opposed to a Church, function until after the Wars of Religion. By allowing same-sex pairs to call themselves “married,” the state is telling the Church that it’s wrong about the meaning of one of its sacraments. So the proposal to have the State define, license, and protect pairwise domestic bonds as a purely civil matter, leaving the ritual of marriage to the churches and to civil society, seems to me a reasonable compromise.
But, as far as I can tell, Barack Obama and I are the only ones who think so. And His Eminence is disingenuous – to use no stronger term – when he disclaims any interest in denying gay couples civil rights, when at the same time he defends the Defense of Marriage Act. Every step forward for gay rights – including the steps the Archbishop now says he approves of – has been made against the virulent opposition of the Church. If Archbishop Dolan had had his way, gay sex would still be a crime.
Having insisted that the state enforce its views (and the views of its sister churches) on those who don’t share those views, the Catholic Church is now confronted with having the state come in on the other side of the question: not, of course, to require the Church to marry, or consider as married, anyone it doesn’t want to marry, but simply to extend the civil status called “marriage” to any adult couple that wants to claim it. Yes, that’s a black eye for the Church, but not one it hasn’t earned.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. It’s in the Bible.