At the end of last week, after lengthy and sometimes rancorous debate the New York State Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and that bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately thereafter. New York is the largest and most populous state to have legalized same-sex marriage, a point that is useful to keep in mind since a number of states have proposed to outlaw or have already prohibited such unions.
Leading the charge against same-sex marriage has been the Catholic Church. Not content with prohibiting Catholics from entering into same-sex marriages, the leaders, cardinals, bishops and priests have proclaimed that their view of morality and the will of God are so divinely inspired that they have the right to impose that view on non-Catholics as well.
Freedom of speech and freedom of religion certainly empowers these prelates to state their point of view. But if what underlies their speech is the right to deny freedom to others, all freedoms are devalued. After all, there was a time when Roman emperors viewed all Christians as enemies of the state and put them to death for their beliefs. How odd it is that 2000 years later Catholics pronounce political death sentences on politicians that do not support their point of view.
As a practicing Catholic I certainly would feel less queasy about the political activism of the Catholic Church if the now vocal leaders haven’t been oh so silent on the issue of child abuse by Catholic priests. The vehement statements of outrage against same-sex marriage dwarf any statements of dismay, disgust or apology by the Catholic Church when it comes to the abuse of children by priests.
Entire parishes and archdioceses have been bankrupted by the damages awarded to the victims of the Catholic Church. Yet the acknowledgements of guilt and complicity have been tepid when compared to the bellicose roar of the church hierarchy in denying the legitimacy of expressions of love that do not comport with their moral universe.
And the Catholic Church is not the only glass house resident that should be very wary of stones in the neighborhood. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, the new “It” girl of the G.O.Tea Party has proclaimed that as president she would lead the battle to have a constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage throughout the entire United States.
To my recollection, this is the same Michelle Bachmann who has ranted against the intrusion of government into the private lives of Americans. This would be the same Michelle Bachmann who is leading the mock battle against the mock demon called “big government”.
Personally, I cannot think of a greater intrusion into the private lives of Americans than for government to dictate who can marry whom and what relationship is valid and valued and what relationship is invalid and devalued. Visions of “big government” and Big Brother come to mind as we watch the borders between church and state being smeared and obliterated by those who would presume to place their moral standards above those of others.
Since Michelle Bachmann went to law school one could reasonably expect that she would shy away from the apparent contradiction of wishing to reduce the intrusion of government in the lives of Americans on one hand while wielding the Thor-like hammer of the Constitution of the United States to smash the rights of privacy and the freedoms of love and association that Americans supposedly enjoy. The constitutional and legal glass house in which she resides cannot possibly stand up the stones of hypocrisy that she is casting with her own hand.
The point is not the obduracy of the Catholic Church or the mindless and pathetic hypocrisy of Michelle Bachmann. The point actually goes beyond the current debate regarding same-sex marriage and civil unions.
I would suggest that we are witnessing the renaissance of a time best left forgotten when imposing moral standards and views on life were accomplished with threats and violence. Ostensibly, the clearly wobbly beliefs of the framers of the Constitution were tested by issues like slavery and suffrage for women. But the sound concepts of freedom and the rights of individuals bound by a union focused on the common good are worth remembering and citing.
Those sound concepts are being remixed and spun in ways that are taking us back into a time of intolerance and injustice. It is time to remember that in such matters it can get late early.