Is the Catholic Church even trying to make sense on marriage equality?

A tough-talking letter to American Catholics on gay marriage reveals a shocking new level of ignorance

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published May 9, 2013 2:49PM (EDT)

         (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

It must be so frustrating to be a Catholic bishop right now. Gosh, what must it feel like, to be part of a group that's struggling to be taken seriously, and whose wishes are increasingly ignored? Tough break, guys. In the wake of Delaware's historic decision earlier this week and as Minnesota now moves toward potentially becoming the 12th state to approve marriage equality, the Catholic Church is sending out the alarm to its American flock, with a new message on "Marriage and the Supreme Court." Predictably, it's quite a corker.

The new letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be distributed in church newsletters throughout May and June. In it, the bishops unsurprisingly state their support for the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, and call Catholics "to prayer, penance and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage and religious liberty."

In the letter, an organization composed of nearly 500 unwed, celibate men goes to explain that "Marriage is the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman, for the good of the spouses and for the procreation and education of children. One man, one woman — for life."

It bears repeating that if the idea of two men or two women pledging themselves to each other in a manner that grants them legal protection and societal validation ticks you off, that's your thing. But for heaven's sake, stop pretending that marriage isn't a man-made institution, one that we humans have defined in different ways throughout the course of history. Stop forgetting that if you're looking for "traditional" marriages, the Bible itself is chock-full of them -- defined by incest, rape and bigamy. Stop conveniently ignoring that the church says that matrimony is for the procreation of children but doesn't restrict the elderly or infertile from enjoying the benefits of religiously sanctioned unions.

And don't repeat the flat-out vicious untruth that "Redefining marriage in the law says many false things: women -- mothers -- are dispensable; men -- fathers -- are dispensable; what adults want trumps what a child deserves and has a basic right to." Because I have to tell you, that's what grasping at straws looks like. I've yet to find anything from anyone – except the opponents of marriage equality, that is -- suggesting that anybody is out to make either mothers or fathers "dispensable." Trust me. I'm a mother. And every time two dudes get married, I still keep my job. Did my heterosexual dad eradicate fatherhood when he left my mother before I was born? OK, then. Think it through. It's embarrassing how you're not even trying to make sense here. And when you say that "Redefining marriage serves no one's rights, least of all those of children," you've revealing a stunning amount of ignorance about gay and lesbian families, their offspring and their rights. Stunning.

But the bishops aren't entirely off the mark. They are the right on the money when they declare that this issue is fast becoming "the 'Roe v. Wade' of marriage." Oh, you mean that thing where the United States Supreme Court asserted that the Constitution wasn't written to uphold the worldview of one religion? That Americans should have the freedom to make their own choices about major life issues that affect them directly, without the interference of the church? That how and when we create our families is a deeply personal decision, one that should be respected and upheld? That, despite your best attempts, this isn't a theocracy? Thanks for the message, gentlemen. I sincerely hope you're proven entirely correct.

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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