Alaska Writer Takes On Bishop Over Marriage Equality

marriage equality 2An op-ed in Alaska’s Juneau Empire newspaper presents one of the best Catholic defenses of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples that I have seen in a long time.  Jim Hale, a heterosexually married Catholic man wrote the piece, entitled “Marriage, gender, and religion,” in response to a July 7th op-ed from Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau, entitled “Liberty and justice for all requires the truth.”

What makes Hale’s argument so good is that he takes on the bishop’s definition of marriage as being primarily about sexual activity, and he does so from someone who is, in fact, married:

“As Bishop Burns notes, the Church defines marriage as ‘a sexual union.’ No one who has ever been married would define marriage that way. As the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid writes of marriage, ‘All’s far from done when pleasure’s over.’ And the task of marriage isn’t just to create babies; all living things reproduce. Marriage is a mutual commitment of two people to create themselves — to forge in their love and loyalty to each other an atmosphere where each can discover all the inchoate power of his or her own soul. It’s demanding, to be sure; it asks of us a certain largeness of heart that we may not always be comfortable with or even capable of. But that’s love — and in the end that’s the only thing that makes a marriage sacred.”

Hale does not deny the role of sexual activity in marriage, but he notes that as a society we have evolved into a different understanding of sexuality, particularly in regard to its connection to procreation

“As a Catholic, I love the Church’s adamant defense of that fecundity as sacred — how could it not be? But in the history of human culture we have somehow gotten that fecundity and the desires that engender it all mixed up with stuff that is not sacred, stuff like power and prejudice, pornography and prostitution, misogyny and homophobia — stuff that desecrates the sanctity of creation by placing false limits on the growth and flourishing of the individual human spirit.”

He points out the absurdity of arguments which claim that same-sex marriage will harm or detract from heterosexual marriage:

“It is a rank false dilemma to suggest that same-sex marriage in any way compromises or detracts from the beautiful fecundity of God’s universe or that same-sex marriage ‘removes the basis’ of traditional marriage and somehow inhibits marriage between a man and a woman and the concomitant procreation. It does not. A gay man will not go cruising for a woman to marry and impregnate simply because he can’t marry the man he loves; unable to marry the woman she loves, a lesbian will not be out there hunting down a man. And it is an insult to think so. The Church’s position privileges procreation and physiology (‘complementarity’) over love.”

And as for Scriptural arguments, Hale proposes looking at the Bible in a more hoiistic manner than fundamentalists do:

“[T]he history of the Bible as a religious document, as a guide for how to live well, is the story of how readers over the ages have slowly and carefully winnowed what is timeless and universal (and hence divinely inspired) from the time-bound biases and assumptions of the ancient cultures from which the books of the Bible emerged. No one today can reasonably defend the deep misogyny or the promotion of slavery that we find fairly often in some books of the Bible. Lose the bath water, but keep the baby.”

The sheer practicality of Hale’s argument makes a larger point than just his case for supporting marriage equality.  Hale’s reasonable perspective is an important illustration of the need for lay people to be involved in the development of church teaching, particularly in matters of sexuality, gender, marriage, and intimate love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



9 replies
  1. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    Marriage is certainly more than sexual pleasure and so people in same gender marriages, I believe, understand that and make commitments in many areas, just like opposite gender marriages. Having been married for 50 years, there is no way that elibate clergy can ponder what it feels like to be married and how sex enhances the relationship and how it is part of the great fabric that two people create. They have no idea about the nuances and even the humor married people enjoy in intimacy.

  2. jono113
    jono113 says:

    The Hale article illustrates the necessity to distinguish between “the Church” and “the hierarchy of the Church.” The hierarchy speaks from an isolated place to a diminishing audience; whereas, the Church in the fullest sense of the baptized speaks from the reality of human experience.

    • Chaplain Bill
      Chaplain Bill says:

      @barbararuth – I am not “bashing” anyone. I am making what I believe is an obvious comparison. The UCCB’s red herring is that gay marriage is dangerous to children and threatens the very institution of marriage itself. I merely stated that the current statistics of single parenthood are far more a threat than a stable same-sex union.

  3. terenceweldon
    terenceweldon says:

    Hale is absolutely correct. As others have noted in this debate, the reduction of marriage to a simple sexual union for the purpose of procreation is insulting and belittling to heterosexual married couples, reducing them to little more than baby factories.


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