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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Illinois.

2012-DEC: Responses to Cardinal George's criticism of
SSM based on his church's interpretation of natural law.

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This topic is continued from a previous essay

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Some reactions to Cardinal George's Natural Law argument against SSM:

  • Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon responded to the Cardinal's letter by saying that many older couples do not marry to procreate, and that opposite-sex infertile couples may try adoption. In both cases, using Cardinal George's natural law argument, their marriages could also be regarded as a "legal fiction." To be consistent, they should also be denied access to marriage. 1

  • Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, commented:

    "The plain and simple fact is that reasoning about what is 'natural' is deeply vulnerable to distortion by one's own personal values and preferences. ... Cardinal George insists that same-sex marriage is incompatible with 'nature.' One might just as easily say the same about celibacy. There is such a thing as right and wrong, but invocations of what 'nature' commands is no way to get there." 2

  • Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA rejects the Church's natural law argument. He said:

    "On sexual ethics, nature is neutral. We're moral beings. We may look to nature for some aspects of how we are in our lives, but we answer to a higher standard. Sexual behavior is an expression of human love."

  • Other people of faith also disagree with the natural law argument. On 2012-DEC-21, more than 250 Illinois clergy members, mostly Protestant and Jewish, endorsed the gay marriage bill as "... morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples."

  • Alice Hunt, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, said the natural-law argument seems like a "strategic move" on the part of the Catholic Church. She said:

    "They quickly saw [that an argument based on] biblical marriage wasn't going to work. ... [Cardinal George's reasoning] doesn't work for me because you're still depending on one person or some group of people's interpretation of natural law. When you look at the history of marriage, there are many ways marriage has taken shape over time."

  • Christopher Wolfe is a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Marquette University and the co-director of the Thomas International Center, in Raleigh, NC. The latter is an institute devoted to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Wolf said that natural law plays a role no matter what side of the debate one takes. He said:

    "Everybody's argument on marriage comes down to some kind of natural-law argument. But there are differences as to what that nature is. Are children central to it or not?"

He argues that children should definitely be central.

  • Robert Gilligan is executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. He said:

    "The reason we're vocal about laws that unite more than a man and a woman in marriage is it's incompatible with human nature. We're talking to more than people in the pews. This is something that pertains to believers and nonbelievers." 3

    That is, because the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples is based on a natural law argument, then it applies to everyone: Catholics, other Christians, "NOTAs" (Persons who are not affiliated with any faith group), and members of other organized religions.

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  • Neil Steinberg, a regular columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a letter to Cardinal George. A portion is copied below, trimmed slightly to stay within fair use copyright laws:

    "... As the leader of Chicago Catholics, you have a duty to tell your flock what being a good Catholic means. And were that the extent of your letters, I’d never dream of arguing. It would be none of my business.

    But that is not what you’re doing. What you’re doing is instructing Catholics to pressure legislators, and pressuring them yourself, joined by like-minded clerics, to craft laws that force non-Catholics to follow Catholic doctrine. That makes it everybody’s business. It is the right — I would say duty — of non-Catholics to resist religious notions being imposed on Illinoisans through law.

    In an attempt to justify an unjustifiable intrusion of religion into secular life, you write, in your letter, 'Marriage comes to us from nature' — one of the wilder statements to issue from a prelate, which is saying a lot. 'The human species comes in two complementary sexes, male and female' — no argument here — 'their sexual union is called marital.'

    Really? By whom? Because people nowadays mate like ferrets, while fewer call it 'marital.' What comes to us from nature is not marriage but sex. Some species do indeed mate for life, but that is the exception, not the rule. Biologists say it isn’t fidelity, but random copulation that comes from nature.

    Surely, Cardinal George, you are not endorsing random copulation, natural though it may be. Rather, this is the latest in a long history of the church trying to control sex — first straight sex, and now that effort has fizzled, ... you’re focusing on gays, perhaps because you can or you think you can.

    You worry, in your letters, not about the families you would blithely squelch, but about your own feelings, the risk that devout Catholics will be seen as 'the equivalent of bigots' after gay marriage becomes completely accepted — which it certainly will.

    Sex is not the central defining element of marriage — that would be commitment a.k.a. staying together, often raising children, sometimes cleaning the house, paying bills, talking quietly at night, having a relationship recognized by society and law, a vessel solid enough to navigate the tempests and calms, storms and lassitudes of the years. Marriage is about love and responsibility. And here homosexuals are on an even playing field with straights. Yet here you are mum — as if, because you don’t see them, they’re not here.

    But they are here, and you’re hurting them, or trying to. Religion is a tool — a hammer that can be used to build a house or to hit someone in the head. Your choice. Rather than try to make life better for gays — a long-oppressed group only now achieving freedoms most take for granted — you choose to set your faith as a stumbling block before them. Rather than help the more hidebound members of your church see why this is rightly happening now, you vigorously rally them to desperate, last-ditch resistance. That is your misfortune, and theirs, and ours." 4

  • Randi Belisomo in WGNTV discussed Cardinal George's open letter. Some readers of her article posted some interesting responses:

    • Chris Vogel wrote:

      "The bad news is that the Roman church still considers itself entitled to tell everyone else what to do, and to demand that the law impose their idiotic beliefs on everybody. The good news is that modern secular governments do not permit the church its traditional responses to difference: torture and mass murder."

    • Timothy Canezaro wrote:

      "God Bless everyone on this New Year's day and also on the Solemnity of Mary which we celebrated in our Churches across Chicagoland today. As Catholics, we welcome the words of our Cardinal anytime he wishes to express them to us.

      The thing as Catholics that we all already know and do anyway is always defend and speak out for three things which are currently under attack by our elected officials; Family, Marriage, and the Sanctity of Life."

    • Bill Maroney wrote:

      " 'Legal fiction?' Is he serious???? I'm amazed (not really) that the cardinal chose to use the first day of this new year to call for the continued discrimination against those who want nothing more than the right to legally marry the person of their choosing. He did not call for an end to violence in our streets or homes or schools.....he did not call for being more charitable to those we share this planet with. Shame on him!

      This just in..........HUGH HEFNER, 86, marries blonde ..., 26. ... Sanctity of marriage???????? Give me a break. Contact your legislator and encourage them to do the right thing. MARRIAGE EQUALITY FOR ALL!

    • "Chris" wrote:

      "I am a Catholic that has been attending the AGLO (Archdiocesan Gay & Lesbian Outreach) Mass in Lakeview for about 2 years now. Although I am saddened by our Cardinal's position, I just hope that people don't see this as a reflection of all Catholics. With that said, one thing I really wish my church could better understand is that our religious beliefs should not be forced on others through political activism. The government is here to stand for the equal rights of all people - and that is how it should be." 5

The essence of many of the conflicts over Cardinal George's letter is a lack of agreement on Natural Law:

  • Cardinal George views the interpretation of Natural Law by the Roman Catholic hierarchy to be the only valid understanding. They regard it as binding on persons of all Christian denominations, of other religions and of no religion.

  • Others interpret Natural Law in a variety of ways, based on their religious, ethical, scientific, and cultural backgrounds. They often reach different and even opposite conclusions from Cardinal George.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Randi Belisomo, "Supporters, opponents put heat on lawmakers over gay marriage." WGNTV, 2013-
    JAN-02, at: http://wgntv.com/
  2. Geoffrey R. Stone, "Cardinal George, Same-Sex Marriage and the Law of Nature," Huffington Post, 2013-JAN-01, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  3. Manya A. Brachear, "Gay marriage vs. natural law," Chicago Tribune, 2012-DEC-30, read on DEC-29, at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/
  4. Neil Steinberg, "Dear Cardinal George: Marriage is... (hint: it’s not just sex)," Chicago Sun-Times, 2013-JAN-03, at: http://www.suntimes.com/
  5. Randi Belisomo. "Cardinal George issues letter opposing gay marriage bill," WGNTV, 2003-JAN-02, at: http://wgntv.com/

Copyright © 2012 & 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2012-DEC-30
Latest update: 2013-JAN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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