The Vatican hates gays

Its latest claim, that gay marriage causes polygamy, is as absurd as it is offensive. Where does it stop?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published November 12, 2012 4:41PM (EST)

Pope Benedict XVI                 (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)
Pope Benedict XVI (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

In light of stunning, sweeping gains for marriage equality not just in last week's United States elections but in France and Spain, it was inevitable that the men in long dresses and funny hats would get their dander up. But what's most laughably ridiculous about the Vatican's latest outburst against LGBT rights is that it just can't let go of one of the oldest, dumbest arguments against them in the world.

In an editorial this weekend, Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi — the guy who thinks the Church's widespread sexual abuse crisis needs to be viewed within, I'm not even kidding, "the more general context of secularization" — affirmed that "monogamous marriage between a man and woman is an achievement of civilization." And then he added, "If not, why not contemplate also freely chosen polygamy and, of course, not to discriminate, polyandry?" Why not? If two men can pledge their love in a legally recognized union, who's to stop a woman from marrying a wedge of cheese, right? I mean, where does it end?

Father Lombardi isn't the first person with a head full of faulty logic to trot out the "This slope! It's just so darn slippery!" argument, of course. Last month, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert declared, when pressed about same-sex unions on a campaign stop, "You know, we don't have polygamy and bigamy and all of these things in, in the federal government. It's the states that take care of that." She lost the election, by the way.

And why limit the comparing same-sex unions to polygamy? Why not any crazy-ass combination at all? In September, Australian senator Cory Bernardi resigned after remarking, "The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society – or any other type of relationship … There are even some creepy people out there … [who] say it is OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future, will we say: 'These two creatures love each other, and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union'? I think that these things are the next step." And last year, in  a piece called "If same-sex marriage, why not polygamy?" in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher facetiously argued, "Why, for example, should a brother and sister who have agreed to undergo sterilization as a condition of their marital union be denied the right to marry, if that is their wish?" That right there is the template for How These People Think. Civil rights? What's next? Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

To those who think a loving union between two people is like having a compound full of sister wives or whatever, let me humbly suggest you dial it down a bit. As Andrew Sullivan long ago pleaded, "Spare us this bizarre point that no new line can be drawn in access to marriage — or else everything is up for grabs and, before we know where we are, men will be marrying their dogs. It is intellectually laughable." In a Washington Post essay last month, Emory University religion and law scholar John Witte Jr. explained — using evidence and science! — that nature suggests polygamous arrangements produce "rivalry and discord in the home," in which "children have to work hard to get attention, affection and resources which are dissipated." He added, "Women and children of modern polygamy are often poorly educated, impoverished, and chronically dependent on welfare." Polygamy produces scarcity and competition. Same-sex relationships don't. Maybe that's why there's no huge polygamy pride parade every June.

Nobody expects the Catholic Church, with its long-standing history of fear and animosity toward gays, as well as its sneaky track record of blaming them for its own most despicable crimes, to go all rainbow flag in the imminent future. Opening hearts and changing old norms is going to take a whole lot of time and incredible effort. But it's encouraging that here in the U.S., it was Catholics who helped push Barack Obama toward victory last week, defeating Mitt Romney by 50 to 47 percent. Catholics who believe in marriage equality – oh, and the reproductive rights of our fellow citizens.

So while here at home bishops may rail "against all forms of its weakening" matrimony, and back at the Vatican they may try to instill fear that equal rights will lead to an outbreak of harems, those of us here in the land called Reality aren't sweating it. Frankly, if you're looking for a reason for opposing marriage equality and the basic rights and dignity of your fellow humans, you might as well just stick with, "I don't know, it just makes me feel icky, I guess." Same-sex marriage doesn't lead to polygamy. And, guess what? It doesn't erode hetero unions either. And if you want to suggest otherwise, by all means, look up from your lazy reasoning and just try to prove it.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Catholic Church Lgbt Marriage Equality Vatican