Weighing In

I know I'm late to the game and I've purposely not commented much on this issue, but after reading a letter by the Bishops of New York State (you can read it if you like here), I thought I would simply weigh in my thoughts on the matter.  Mind you, I'm not saying the Bishops are wrong.  I think from the Catholic perspective and as members of the religous community, what they said makes complete sense.  However, I think in some respects they're confusing symptoms with the cause.

Let's begin with the issue at hand, the recent legalization of "gay marriage" in New York State.  To begin, I learned in college that it is not the role of the government to legislate morality.  Essentially, it cannot.  Some will argue (as was quoted by our parish priest) that laws must be rooted in morality or we become a society of rules only.  I don't beleive that.  Murder isn't illegal because it's immoral (though I believe that it is), it's illegal because no one has the right to deprive me of my life.  My stance on gay marriage, at least as it concerns legality, is that this is an issue about legal rights, not about whether two people of the same sex getting married is moral.  I can't tell you for sure if I think gay marriage is immoral or not.  Truthfully, I can't bring myself to judge two people who love each other and wish to commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives.  I live by the standards of love your neighbor as yourself and judge not let you be judged.  So I'm going to leave that one with God.

I do know that the church teaches any sex outside marriage is immoral and that marriage in the Church can only be between a man and a woman.  I happen to believe that as well.  I won't go into too much detail on the issue of sex outside of marriage but the Bishop's statement linked above does go into how marriage is being weakened by things like children out of wedlock, cohabitation, high divorce rate, etc.  Again, I think this are symptoms of a much larger problem.  We, as Catholics/Christians and as Americans seem to value marriage less these days.  Perhaps it's because making that long term committment is hard.  Ellen and I have had our share of struggles in our marriage.  But I think part of the reason we're still together is our deep faith in God and commitment to each other and our kids.  That's not to say that there aren't marriages that are bad for a couple and they shouldn't dissolve that union.  But perhaps that couple should have taken more time, did more reflection, and thought more deeply about whether they SHOULD have gotten married.  But that's a whole other conversation.

In reading the Bishop's comments I took away that I should have been against this law.  But I don't buy into the concept that giving any couple the legal rights associated with what the State calls "marriage" somehow weakens what Catholics call "marriage".  Marriage in the sense meant by Christians has already become weaakened by so many other things.  If the Bishops, Catholics, and the clergy really want to strengthen marriage, let's go after the real causes of the decline of marriage.  The divorce rate has been over 50% for a while now.  This law is not going to affect that statistic.  If you're going to complain about something, go and fix the real problem instead of pointing fingers and saying "see, THAT is going to ruin marriage as we know it".  I hate to tell you, marriage as we know it has been on the rocks for a LONG time now.


Kate said…
Amen. I love your perspective. Although I am a strong supporter of same sex marriage because some of my very closest family and friends are gay and I can't look at them and say they shouldn't have equal rights.

What I respect the most about what you had to say is even from a purely religious standpoint, there are so many parts that are far more dangerous to "marriage." AND so many forget the part about about not judging and the golden rule, which are the 2 cornerstones of Christianity (for me at least).

I think many people get married for the wedding and not the marriage and there are so many things that compound this problem including the pressure and expectation for everyone to pair up and throw an extravagant party for their family and friends. Of course, the people who make their living off weddings benefit from weddings over marriage and divorce. If 50% of people divorce, that's a great way to get repeat customers.

The other part that I believe is a huge part of the problem is people don't expect to go through rough times. Each person getting married for the long haul needs to accept and be ready to work at it, even when the going gets tough because people can't be together for a lifetime without having conflict. I also believe that people should earn their way out of a marriage.

For Josh and I, divorce is not an option, so if there are hard times, we are ready and willing to work at it. And if we ever got to the point where we were considering a divorce (theoretically), the lengths we would go to save our marriage would be nearly endless. Counseling and whatever else we could have access to. I feel like some people are ready to run when they hit the first speed bump.

As far as sex before marriage...I really don't know what to think about it. My opinion is I don't have a right to judge, I just need to decide what I believe for myself. I shared with a friend what my history is (which I thought was very tame), and she judged me. I couldn't believe it, if she thought I was bad...she is in denial about the rest of the world.

I'm not sure it matters so much what it SHOULD be, but rather what is. To try and figure out how to make everyone wait until marriage, well that's not realistic, so let's deal with what is.

And I find myself very hypocritical because for myself, I don't believe in going crazy and sleeping with everyone, but I also thought my friend whose first kiss was her wedding kiss was also pretty crazy. Somewhere in the middle is where I lie, but I think it's different for every person!
sydwynd said…
Kate: Sex before marriage is a tricky issue. I can't really take the moral high ground on that one. No comment beyond that. However, I don't subscribe to the "never been kissed until I got married" idea either. What's wrong with showing affection for someone you're dating and care about?

I really think the Church and Christians should focus on what they can control, and that's getting people within their flock to take marriage more seriously and prepare more for it. A friend of my wife and I is a counselor and she told my wife one of the 5 stages of marriage is misery. I think that's where most couples give up. But I can say, being on the other side of misery, it gets WAY better (if very different) once you get past that. I think too many couples don't give it enough of a chance. Love changes as your relationship matures. That doesn't mean it's still not love.
Jude said…
Both of you make great points here.

I agree about not judging 2 people who love each other and are devoted to being together for a lifetime, just because they are same-sex. Equal rights is as important as treating others as you would have done unto yourself... perhaps it is a part of the same thought.

Vince you brought up valid points a few years ago regarding civil unions vs. marriage. And I REALLY agree with your statement today that perhaps so many need to look harder at the question "should we be getting married" in the first place. A lot of couples probably shouldn't. I think the divorce rates are so high because people think it's too easy to get out of a marriage via divorce if it doesn't work out.
sydwynd said…
Jude: I found the link about stages of marriage (there's actually several schools of thought with different numbers of stages). It's part of the Retrouvaille program (a group that helps Catholic couples with marriage difficulties). Those that split up during the misery phase are much more likely to get divorced again if they remarry. That's the part most people don't get. And nobody teaches young couples that part of their marriage is probably going to be VERY hard. We teach kids and young adults a lot of things but not how to manage one of the most significant relationships in their lives. Pity.

Jammie J. said…
I'm a bullet point kind of gal, so here goes my bullets. (ha)

* It *is* God's place to judge, not ours. Unless counseling is sought within the church... then it's the church's job, on behalf of God, to come alongside and guide, but never to judge.

* My primary issue, at least with the way the California law was written, was that if a church declined to perform the marriage rites, then that opened the church up to a legal liability -- in other words, they could be sued for declining to perform a ceremony that was against the beliefs of the church.

* Divorce sucks. In my opinion, it definitely should be avoided if at all possible. The exception being abuse or adultery.

* Pre-marital sex should never be taken lightly or done on a whim or in the heat of the moment. That's how diseases are spread. It's a fine line that parents walk in guiding their children toward saving themselves vs. wanting their kids to come to them should they need help, even on something they've been told they shouldn't do. Very tricky.

My mom always told me (among other things) to plan for the marriage, not the wedding. Which is one of the primary reasons my wedding was so very simple. The emphasis wasn't on the cake or dress or guest list, but rather about meaning it for a lifetime.
sydwynd said…
Jammie: Bullets are good! I pretty much agree with what you said. I don't like the idea of a church gettting sued for not performing a marriage. After all, having a religious ceremony for a wedding is a priviledge, not a right. Getting married in the eyes of the law is a totally different thing. I like the idea of preparing for marriage and not a wedding. I'll have to use that on my kids.

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