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24.10.03

Catholic Church Kinda Sorta Maybe Supports Gay Rights

Church Open To Same-Sex Benefits Talk

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts yesterday told lawmakers that the state's bishops would "join the discussion" of granting domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples, but that they remain opposed to legalizing gay marriage or civil unions.

... A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, echoed [Church lobbyist Daniel] Avila's position, saying the church is primarily interested in extending benefits that affect education and health matters in gay families with children. Such benefits would be unrelated to the institution of marriage, he said.

"I think what's actually being said is that the benefits that are necessary for the protection of children and families don't necessarily involve any kind of a redefinition of relationship or marital status," Coyne said.


What's interesting about this development is how the Massachusetts Church's position takes a different tack from most anti-gay-marriage arguments, including those made by Catholics. One very standard form of argument is to make a tight link between heterosexuality, the raising of children, and marriage -- usually in a form like "the only purpose of marriage is child-rearing, and only heterosexuals can have children, therefore only heterosexuals can get married."

As far as I can tell, given the confusion in what precisely the Church is advocating*, this article shows Catholics challenging both premises of the argument above. Their rejection of the idea that homosexual couples can't have children is obvious. And unlike many (including the Pope), they don't get around the problem by arguing that child rearing by homosexual couples is illegitimate. Whether because they've given up that fight as unwinnable, because they see that in most cases their ideal option of being raised by the biological mother and father isn't an option that's available to the children being raised by homosexual couples, or because they realize there's nothing wrong with being raised in a homosexual household, I can't say. But whatever their rationale, they've taken an important step in accepting homosexual parenthood as something that should be legitimized and supported by society and the state.

This position could easily lead one to support gay marriage, but the Church has attempted to get out of that conclusion by denying the other premise of the standard "marriage is for the children" argument: that child rearing is the sole purpose of marriage. In advocating the extension of only some of the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples, they seem to be saying "these are the elements of marriage that are about child rearing, and which -- for the sake of the children -- should be extended to any family." This implicitly identifies the other aspects of marriage, which they would deny to homosexual couples, as being about the married people rather than about the children. I'm a bit skeptical that the elements of marriage can be so neatly classified, and of course I don't see any reason to deny the non-child-related elements of marriage to homosexual couples. But what the Church has done here with its position is interesting.

*I don't know how much of this is the writer's fault and how much of it is the existence of dissent among members of the Catholic hierarchy, which can't be directly acknowledged due to the institutional and theological arrangements of the Church.

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