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Dear Cardinal George: Marriage is... (hint: it’s not just sex)

Cardinal Francis George | Sun-Times files

Cardinal Francis George | Sun-Times files

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:16AM



Dear Cardinal George:

So marriage is all about boinking?

Forgive me for being blunt — lucky you didn’t read the above before I watered down the gerund, out of concern for your sensibilities. But that idea — sex = marriage — is the gist of the letter you sent to the faithful last weekend: Marriage is about sex, gays can’t have sex, at least not good old-fashioned heterosexual sex, thus gays can’t get married, and any attempt to allow them to marry — for instance, any new law passed in Illinois — is a “legal fiction” and a “serious danger”; oh wait, the “serious danger” part is in your second letter, to government officials, urging them to follow your religious dogma when forming laws for the State of Illinois.

Where does one begin?

First, Cardinal, thank you for your insight. Given that I have been married — 22 years and counting — and you haven’t, perhaps you wouldn’t mind if I reply to your letters with a letter of my own. Letters are so friendly.

I should be clear at the get-go, since so many readers have such a hard time with this: I am not Catholic, and my concern is not about what Catholics do or don’t do in practicing their own religion. It’s a free country, sort of, and all may follow whatever faith they like. 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, roundly rejected by both society and most Catholics, 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.

Well, yeah, that’s the drawback of being a bigot, no matter how you gild it in theology. But worry not — look at the church’s stance on females. While society long ago let them be doctors and lawyers and, yes, even clergy, the church refuses to follow suit. Yet it lives with the anti-women stigma just fine. It’ll be no different with gays, and the church’s position will be just one more antiquated cruelty the world will tolerate. You’ll hardly notice.

Because marriage — and here you’ll have to listen to an old married guy — isn’t just about sex. Yes, that’s part of it. But someone who gets married for the sex is like someone who flies on an airplane for the meal — there are easier, cheaper ways to go about it.

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.

With respect,

Neil Steinberg



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