Sunday, November 2, 2008

Proposition 8 from a Catholic Perspective

I can best describe my Catholic perspective by departing from the Mormon perspective, which I have examined in previous blog entries. I marveled at the apparent Mormon obsession with same-sex marriage. I realized now that I was wrong.

The obsession is not about sex. It is about gender. This interview with two high-ranking officials of the LDS Church is titled "Same-Gender Attraction". But aren't sex and gender the same thing?

No, and I am glad the LDS Church makes the distinction, because it is very important for them. Sex is about chromosomes (and what you do in the bedroom). Gender is about who you identify as psychologically (and what you do when you are not in the bedroom).

Evangelicals may be obsessed with sex, but the LDS Church rests on the family, anchored by a Male Father and Female Mother.

The Mormon utopia is a well-honed script, where everyone acts their part. I say "acts" and not "plays" because there is no pretending going on. Everyone does their duty, there is no shirking. Utah is the Beehive State for good reason: The LDS Church is a beehive that derives strength from the cooperation and cohesion of its members.

There is no friction in the group because the roles, especially gender roles, are well delineated, with strong positive reinforcement for those trying to lead a good Mormon life (and increasing gradations of negative reinforcement for those who do not).

The strong nuclear family structure, including its highly praiseworthy innovation of a Family Day, one day of the week set aside just for the family along together, provides a safe caring framework for chidren to develop interpersonal skills, a good character with appreciation for the role of mutual obligations and respect. One side effect of this is a fondness for order and distrust of anarchic and ephemeral fads coming from our turbulent greater society.

Too good to be true? That depends on how well you fit the suit. One man's suit is another's straitjacket. Catholics make due with a broader, looser, more chaotic environment, because adherence to Catholic values requires it.

My parents were the ideal Catholics. They wanted a large family and had six children. We too were raised in a manner very similar to Mormons, admittedly in a much more chaotic household. My father had to work long hours and my mother had her hands full.

Somewhat unusually for Catholics, we grew up in an affluent area, so my mother's peers were mostly non-Catholic (and non-Mormon), with two kids, a busy work schedule, and doing their high-powered charity stuff well armed with fancy titles. I suspect many of them may have harbored secret (or not so secret) negative opinions about the traditional lifestyle that my mother was living. My mom was not fazed. She knew that there is no job more important: not in developing the character of a child so much as being a physically present role model of good values as the child forms his or her own character. Like Mormons, Catholic parents also come armed with a script for how to accomplish this best. This needs all the structure that can be brought to bear, so if she could not work outside the home in order to fulfull this mission, then she would not, and did not.

And then along comes a gay son that goes off script. A child hardwired and preordained not to follow in his parents' footsteps, find a wife, get married, have lots of children, and start the process anew. That child was me.

And here is where, generally, as a group and a church, Catholics and Mormons part company.

Mormons value family, but one that fits into the broader LDS context. The Mormon family edifice is a puzzle piece that sits in a larger puzzle, which is more a crystal than a mosaic.Gender roles form the boundary of these puzzle pieces, and a piece that cannot lock to its neighbors, to their mutual cohesion and security, is at risk being left out of the finished product.

For Catholics, there is nothing more important than family. Not God, not Church, not social standing. Catholic atheist is not an oxymoron. Catholics take from their Jewish forbears the obligation to do the right thing for its own sake, even if no one is looking (and even if God is not looking, for atheist Catholics). Like Mormons, Catholics lean heavily on their children to adopt the Catholic way of life, too amorphous a concept to delineate here but well known to any Catholic who has been put through it. As Evangelicals publicly militate to end the right of others to terminate their pregnancy, Catholics work more quietly to improve the conditions for young people to lower the overall number of abortions. Life begins at conception, but does not end at birth. Catholic socal teaching challenges us to gladly pay taxes to fund social welfare, senior care, end-of-life dignity, and is repulsed by the arrogance of terminating the life even of convicted murderers. Catholic families are a necessarily chaotic incubator for these values, and these families fit loosely together in the loose mosaic of like-valued (but not necessarily like-minded) community of Catholics worldwide. Non-Catholics may be surprised at the lack of mention of a priestly hierarchy or Pope. Catholics (as a rule) know better. Priests (and Pope) are like coathangers to help us keep our clothes off the floor, but are not the clothes themselves. They provide paved roads for us to follow (usually the best route to take), but we know when it is better to go offroad to get where we need to.

In very a simplistic comparison: nonreligious children are guided by hope, Evangelical children by fear, Jewish children by guilt, Catholic children by shame, and Mormon children by the threat of exclusion.

When faced with a gay child, Catholic parents are wracked with shame. Where did we go wrong? Where did we fail our child? How can they have a family of their own?

Mormons seem to add to this list one more bridge, and for too many gay Mormons this is a bridge too far: how will my child fit into the LDS Church which, embedded in our larger hostile world, provides an overarching, cohesive, cradle-to-grave-and-beyond universe. A child who falls from this all-encompassing embrace is left with nothing. There cannot be, for it is not dissent that threatens the Mormon ideal, but disorder. A house divided cannot stand. The needs of the whole outweight the needs of the one.

For Catholics, that is far too high a price to pay. The needs of the child are exactly why the family even exists at all.

A Catholic family, though divided, must stand, and will. God himself may abandon (or in turn be abandoned by) such a family, the Law may send one to prison, all of this only strengthens our resolve. If a gay son cannot be straight, then the law, and theology, must give way. Coming to grips with a gay son was very difficult for my mother. Deciding how to vote on Prop. 8 was not. As she repeated told me growing up, she would run up to grizzly bears, jump off bridges, or break through the gates of Hell itself to rescue her chidren. Her greatest fear was that we would not lead a happy and fulfilling life. If same-sex marriage will bring happiness to her children, then she will make it so.

My husband is a proud addition to our family, and at every family gathering he cannot attend (because he has his own parents as well to visit) my family asks why he could not come and how he is doing.

I have written extensively on the various reasons — legal, ethical, moral, psychological, political — that justify my right to marry the man I was meant to be with. My family needed no such rhetorical efforts. Catholics are not typically the intellectuals, trendsetters, troublemakers, entrepreneurs. We are a quiet resolute people, with a few bedrock principles that guide our otherwise amorphous and not easily categorized beliefs. One of these is family.

Marriage was created for the family, not the family for marriage. My Dad is very easygoing, and likes just about everybody. But remember: if you vote yes on Prop. 8, you are not only separating me from my husband, you are separating my father from his son-in-law. And that, no Catholic father will stand for.

Pro-family, pro-marriage: Vote No on Prop. 8.

It is the Catholic thing to do.


Scott B. said...

So close. Sooooooooooo close. I almost found myself nodding my head as you were describing Mormon families, their relationships with each other, with the Church, and with society. No quite...but oh, so close.

Unknown said...

It is no wonder that I missed the mark. I am not Mormon, and was merely playing at sociologist.

I am intrigued, though. What exactly did I get wrong? [in the mean, that is— obviously there will be individual diversity of thought that deviates from this mean].

Unknown said...

Wow. I am emotionally drained. While awaiting elucidation from Scott, I decided to do my own fact-finding on the experience of gay Mormons.

Intrigued by a YouTube reference in the latest blog entry of Soy Made Me Gay, the inspiring blog of a gay Mormon boy determined to remain both gay and Mormon, I went to YouTube and searched for "gay Mormon coming out".

Three hours later I am still watching. The anguish of young people worrying not just about estrangement from their parents but expulsion ("excommunication", they call it) from the entire world they have ever known, has made me realize how embarrassingly ignorant and unqualified (and selfish) I am to comment on a Mormon perspective of Proposition 8. I found myself shouting at the screen with each video, "Just leave, they don't want you!", before reminding myself how devastating such a loss must be.

It is humbling that for me, the defeat of Prop. 8 will be the victorious end of a long night's journey into daylight. For gay Mormons, it seems, this is only the beginning of more heartache.

If this is the Mormon God's plan, then He clearly is not the Catholic God I was raised with. I wonder what Jesus would make of all this...

Anonymous said...

FYI, the video I was referring to was . The kid in the video is not LDS (as far as I can tell, anyway).

Scott B. said...

Elucidation will come...but I'm so busy today at work right now...maybe at lunch.

Scott B. said...

Also, soymademegay is an awesome blog.