Marriage Equality Comes to Florida: Parsing the Bishops’ Response

First: Congratulations, Florida!

Second: Shame on you, Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

There were much better ways to respond—you didn’t find them. You could have written something like this:

Our understanding of the nature of human sexuality compels us to insist that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. We are sorry that the state of Florida does not share our view, because we are worried that this development in society’s understanding of marriage might have negative consequences on society. Further, we worry that it might impact our freedom to practice our faith as Catholics and to act as a force for good in the world.

That statement is full of problems—like the fact that your understanding of human sexuality is highly debatable, and the fact that the idea that marriage  equality will cause societal problems is both counter-intuitive and counter-factual. But at least that’s an honest statement.

Instead, Bishops, you went with this. Here’s a portion of your press release, tweeted out by the National Organization for Marriage:

How society understands marriage has great public significance. Because of this, redefining civil “marriage” to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society. Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults. Such a redefinition of marriage does nothing to safeguard a child’s right to a mother and father and to be raised in a stable family where his or her development and well-being is served to the greatest extent possible.

Let’s parse a few of those statements.

1) “Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults.

The affective gratification of consenting adults? You don’t believe this, bishops. Even if you think gay marriage is impossible, you know that gay couples want to get married for the same (good) reasons that straight couples want to, first and foremost among them a desire to commit to and protect the people they love. You know that marriage is much an act of sacrifice for gay couples as for straight ones.

2) “Such a redefinition of marriage does nothing to safeguard a child’s right to a mother and father…

Sigh. I’ll give you half a pass for this one, Bishops, since you’re just following the example of your Catechism, which talks about “the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.” Of course, as Michael Boyle outlines in this post, that’s a nonsensical thing to say, and I suspect you know that, too.*

3) “…and to be raised in a stable family where his or her development and well-being is served to the greatest extent possible.

But this? There’s no way you believe that recognizing and encouraging stable gay relationships won’t help children grow up in, well, stable families. Unless you’re among those “no-such-thing-as-a-stable-gay-relationship” folks, in which case, your grasp of reality is probably too weak for you to be leading your flocks.

So the question is, if you don’t believe this stuff, why did you write it? Why didn’t you stick to your honest (though still problematic) objections to civil gay marriages?

Bill Lindsey attributes your reaction to willful blindness. In a beautiful post (unmissable!) that connects the flood of couples marrying in Florida to today’s celebration of the feast of Epiphany, Lindsey writes:

For me, the photos of couples marrying today in Florida are epiphanic. They flash forth some critically important transformative messages, out of (or upon) the “ordinary” lives we lead day by day.

I’d like to think they do the same for everyone seeing them. But one of the messages of the biblical story of the epiphany seems to be that some of us see, while others don’t, isn’t it? Because their eyes are not open. Because they do not intend to open their eyes and look.

I’ve compared reactions like yours to willful blindness before, Bishops. But there comes a point when willful blindness has to be called dishonesty. At some point, if you refuse to open your eyes, and it continues to result in you writing and speaking and avowing untruths, then we’re going to know that the truth isn’t really your thing. What else could we conclude?


*It’s one thing to say that society should ensure that its most vulnerable members, children, are raised in the best situation possible, which usually will be by the child’s biological parents (but not always, as the Catholics recognize when they advocate adoption in crisis pregnancy centers). That’s not the same as saying a child has a right to be born (or, more absurd, to be conceived) into certain circumstances. Think about it: if a couple can violate a child’s rights in conceiving that child, that implies that the child has rights before he’s conceived, i.e., before he exists.

2 thoughts on “Marriage Equality Comes to Florida: Parsing the Bishops’ Response

  1. This is a great post. It would be perfectly understandable for the bishops to state that same-sex marriage doesn’t fulfill the requirements of sacramental marriage. They don’t need to endorse it. But it’s outrageous that they would fail to acknowledge the fact that there are many gay people who are deeply committed to their partners who are denied the societal privileges of marriage (social security, tax benefits, other legal issues). If I’m not mistaken, Pope Francis himself pointed that out not long ago.

    Ugh. If it makes you feel better, my bishop, of St. Petersburg, FL, seems to be much more understanding and pastoral when it comes to same-sex marriage and other social issues. And I recently attended mass at a church in Tarpon Springs, where the priest wrote a great piece in their bulletin about how important it is to love and welcome all LGBT Catholics free of judgement. Hopefully those voices will remain strong in the face of all this hatred, especially in Florida, where craziness often prevails.

    Here’s a link to my bishop’s blog:

  2. Thanks for reading, Kristina! It is heartening to hear that your bishop had a better response than the Florida Conference of Bishops. I guess it doesn’t surprise me–the issues seem to be more related to the higher levels of leadership, don’t they?

    Again, thanks for reading and commenting!


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