Explanatory note: On March 7, 2013 Dr. Neal Sumerlin was published in the News & Advance in support of same-sex marriage in an article titled Homophobia Rules Supreme. I responded a few days later and my letter was subsequently published with severe edits. It is important to note that the editor of the paper – not Dr. Sumerlin – added the unfortunate title. As a result of the public exchange, however, he and I agreed to dialogue privately. After a private exchange of letters, we both agreed further that we would offer them publically in a blog format.
If you offer a comment on any of these posts, please keep it civil – serious responses only – or it will be deleted.
Full version of Letter to the editor of the Lynchburg News & Daily Advance (Edited version was printed on March 17, 2013.)
Fr. John – I should like to respond to Neal Sumerlin’s letter of March 7. Perhaps he did not title his essay “Homophobia Rules Supreme,” but nonetheless, that is what was printed. It is disheartening that those who find homosexuality morally objectionable are continually subjected to ad hominem attacks. Morally serious people on both sides of this question should not be characterized as driven by blind phobias, so let us please stop the name-calling.
I do agree with Mr. Sumerlin regarding lifestyle choices when he says that, “despite claims on both sides, there really is no conclusive scientific evidence one way or the other, and human sexuality is far too complex to reduce to such simple explanations.” Point taken. I fully admit that my objections to homosexuality are not ultimately sourced in science, but in a system of morals informed by a long and consistent Christian tradition. It is the same system upon which I base my objection to theft and murder, which is not grounded in what science may say about a particular perpetrator; my objections to these acts are grounded in a moral transcendent. Science may tell us much about what can be, but it tells us nothing about what ought to be.
I do not care to intrude into the private lives of people who live next door to me, but privacy is not really what is at stake. We’ve been living next door to homosexuals for all of history. The debate over homosexuality and who marries whom is not about protecting privacy or about furthering civil rights, but about redefining marriage altogether.
The arguments are troubling because the demands of those calling for same sex marriage are based largely upon claims that people who love each other and are in committed relationships ought to be free to marry whom they will. Fine. On that basis, then, shall we assume that, once obtained, this “right” will be limited to loving, monogamous, same sex partners only? The clerk of court has a long line for gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry, but there is another line already queuing up that includes those who wish to marry two or more people. On the logic of the arguments offered for same sex marriage, there is no basis whatever for denying “civil rights” to a bi-sexual man who wishes to marry both a man and woman at the same time, as long as they share a loving, committed relationship.
You may think this is farfetched. It is not. Let us not imagine that same sex marriage is the finish line. While they may be a minority now, there are folks aplenty who want that and more. We have an increasing number of neighbors who subscribe to one of the world’s largest religions, Islam, which expressly sanctions polygamous marriages for up to four wives. Since they are interesting and talented and happen to live next door, is it time to embrace polygamy?
If you want to draw the line there, please don’t call me names because I draw my line a bit more narrowly. We’re both drawing lines over definitions. Once marriage is redefined as same sex proponents would have it, there is no longer any basis for denying all kinds of marital bedlam. I do not suppose for a moment that those who advocate same sex marriages, having won the field, will suddenly stake out their victory as the new conservative position, and immediately turn around and deny the status of marriage to multiple partners, polygamous unions, or perhaps to men and boys. In many states it is lawful to be married at 16. So why not, say, between a 24 year-old man and a 16 year old boy? After all, civil rights are civil rights.
I can hear the “O posh!” already. But those who wish to extend marriage to same sex couples – but not to other minority groups such as polygamists and boy-lovers – should soon expect to find themselves in the awkward position of having to draw the line somewhere. But after saying “yes” to same sex couples, won’t it pinch badly to deny a marriage license to a threesome, deeply in love and wanting nothing more than relief from discrimination?
Rather than name-calling, let us all calmly look at each other across the table and affirm that we are both morally serious. But let us also agree that this debate is not simply about legitimizing same sex marriage. At some point, if you put enough sand in the sugar bowl, it isn’t sugar any more. As they are currently advanced, arguments to legalize same sex unions will inevitably provide the framework for legitimizing all forms of human cohabitation as marriages. In so doing, we will not have redefined marriage, we will have destroyed it. I neither hate nor fear my neighbors who disagree with me, or who make moral choices of which I disapprove, but I am convinced that this is morally unacceptable and very bad public policy.
Neal Sumerlin responds here: http://allsaintschurchlynchburg.org/june-16-2014-neal-sumerlin-responds-fr-john-325/