Who knew Hollywood could be more morally persuasive than Jesus Christ?
Yet that is what Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, seemed to suggest last Sunday when asked to explain the remarkable success of the gay marriage movement in the United States in the last decade, both in terms of legislation and increased public approval.
Asked by “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, “Why do you think the church is losing the argument on [gay marriage]?” Dolan offered the following:
Well, I think maybe we’ve been out-marketed. Sometimes we’ve been caricatured as being anti-gay, and as much as we say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re pro-marriage, we’re pro-traditional marriage, we’re not anti-anybody.’ I don’t know. When you have forces like Hollywood, when you have forces like politicians, when you have forces like some opinion-molders that are behind it, it’s a tough battle.
Yes, that must be it. The Catholic Church’s failure to halt America’s steady cultural march out of the Middle Ages can be understood as a simple PR problem.
Surely, the great majority of the American public would naturally adhere to church doctrine on matters of homosexuality if they knew the truth. But alas, they have been hoodwinked by a vast left-wing conspiracy that has brainwashed them into thinking the “all men are created equal” bit in the Declaration of Independence and the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment are meant to be taken literally.
Those poor, misguided fools.
Sarcasm aside, I do wonder whether Cardinal Dolan truly means what he says, and whether he realizes how ridiculous such a statement makes him look.
To begin: “Sometimes we’ve been caricatured as being anti-gay.” Well, that depends on one’s definition of “caricatured.”
Yes, in recent years the Catholic Church has undeniably accrued a reputation of being hostile to gay people and gay relationships. Where does this impression come from? Could it be the innumerable pronouncements from various pulpits about homosexuality being a sin against God’s will? Or perhaps the 1986 letter written by future Pope Benedict XVI calling homosexuality a “tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”? Or maybe it’s good old Leviticus 18:22, which intones, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
With these facts in mind, at least one of the following three things must be true: 1. Being anti-homosexuality is different from being anti-gay; 2. Regarding homosexuality as sinful is not necessarily to oppose it; or 3. The above quotations are simply not to be taken seriously.
Presumably, Cardinal Dolan would introduce a fourth possibility, which is to assert what is roughly the current policy of the Republican Party: He is not against homosexual thoughts; he is only against homosexual acts.
In other words, his objection to same-sex attraction is strictly limited to when it actually occurs in the real world. Gay people are fine so long as they keep their romantic impulses to themselves and remain celibate and emotionally unfulfilled for the entirety of their natural lives.
What could possibly be anti-gay about that?
If it’s true, as many Catholic preachers suggest, that gay people are to be condemned for their sinful thoughts but also welcomed into the brotherhood of man—“hate the sin, love the sinner”—well, Dolan and company will forgive those of us who find the invitation just a wee bit patronizing.
As for the central question—Why has the idea of same-sex marriage become so popular?—allow me to pose an alternative explanation to Dolan’s theory of superior marketing. That is, people became more accepting of non-traditional families when they discovered that—stop the presses!—some members of their own families were gay all along.
As it turns out, a same-sex relationship is nothing more than an extension of the “traditional” families the Catholic Church claims to want to preserve, protect and defend. The values that gay married couples wish to promote and personify—responsibility, devotion, stability—are identical to those of straights.
Same-sex marriage is not an instance of transgressing against mainstream society. Rather, it is an attempt to assimilate oneself into it.
Therein lies the irony and the tragedy of the matter: In the time the church worked so hard to earn its anti-gay bona fides, it could have just as easily—and just as coherently—joined forces with the gay rights cause in the interest of promoting family values as passionately as possible.
It would be a marketing match made in heaven.