What I Meant to Say: A Case for Same-Sex Marriage

 Editor’s Note: A friend passed on this manuscript written by someone named “Foggy Bottom,” which purports to be the notes or an alternative draft of a recent piece, with a similar title, which has received some attention by one “Jody Bottum” in CommonwealWe cannot vouch for its authenticity, but in light of its curious content and approach, we think that our readers will find it of exceedingly great interest.

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I had a friend named Jim Watson.  We used to play bluegrass music together on street corners in New York City.  When we did, Jim used to shout loudly to people passing by, using very crude and explicit language about his gay sexual practices.  That didn’t bother me.  I liked playing music with him.  (And I’m cool because of that.) But Jim became increasing anti-Catholic over time, showing intense and irrational hatred, first towards the hierarchy, and then towards all Catholics.  That didn’t bother me either; I still wanted to play old-timey Americana tunes with him.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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Last time I was in New York, Jim did not return my phone call about playing music together.  I think I have lost him as a friend.  Actually, no one in the arts circles of New York wants to be my friend. The reason is that I am a Catholic and therefore stuck with a Church that annoyingly keeps opposing same-sex marriage.  Frankly, the Church right now is just a big embarrassment to me and a huge rock around my neck.

So, the purpose of this essay is to say that I wish the Church would make life easier for me.  I know that that sounds like special pleading and weakens my case, but hey … if I can re-frame the question, not in terms of what embarrasses me, but rather in terms of what will make the Church more effective, then no one will notice.

I don’t really have any arguments either, but I’m a damn good writer, and I think if this piece gets enough attention then I just might embarrass the Church leadership into agreeing with me, or at least enough Catholics so that no one will connect me anymore with the remaining fools.

Now, on to my non-arguments. I begin with a Bald Assertion: Although all of Western law, foundational decisions of the Supreme Court such as its original polygamy decision, and powerful dissents by Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, are all against court-imposed same-sex marriage—and although I am not a constitutional jurist myself, and haven’t even read those dissenting opinions, or any of the legal briefs—still, I say that THE EQUITIES ARE ALL ON THE SIDE OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE. NO ONE HAS EVER GIVEN A SINGLE COHERENT JURISPRUDENTIAL ARGUMENT AGAINST IT. NO PRINCIPLED LEGAL VIEW CAN RESIST IT.  And if you continue to doubt this, then, superb writer that I am, I will be able to find even other ways of stating the same un-nuanced point, until you finally acquiesce in it.

It’s very important for my purposes that you accept this point, because, you see, as a writer, my goal at the start is to play on the ignorance of my young readers especially and make them feel embarrassed for believing in marriage as solely between a man and a woman.  Ultimately I wish to undermine that conviction, or at least to lead them to accept the courts’ and my distinction between “marriage” and “civil marriage.”  And so, I want them to feel—maybe for the first time—that they are being grossly inequitable, unfair, unprincipled, fundamentally illegal, and basically un-American if they oppose same-sex marriage.

It’s a bold gambit, to be sure, yet it’s very likely to succeed, because after all a young Catholic without much experience of the world—or any poorly catechized layperson, for that matter—will feel that if a former editor of First Things can say these things so boldly, or if they are printed without correction in Commonweal, then they have to be true.  Why would a responsible writer say these things unless they were true?

(And please do not try to embarrass me in turn. Go along with me here by passing over in silence God’s law and the traditional natural law, which I deliberately have chosen not to mention at this point, or, for that matter, refined debates about whether the Founders were Enlightenment figures who wished to found a polity based only on principles of fairness and equality.  These considerations would detract from the simplicity of what I am saying, and the Bald Assertion approach is effective only if what is asserted is extremely simple, or, rather, simplistic.  There is an essential connection between my manner and my message.)

My second non-argument is guilt by association.  The strategy here is to get a Catholic to see himself or herself from the point of view of a Catholic hater.  Take some sheltered Catholic who still thinks that Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley represents how the average American looks at the Church—some simple person who has a native trust and respect for his pastor and bishop, or maybe who has viewed the hierarchy simply in relation to the great Popes we have had in living memory—and rub his face in the fact that because of the priestly scandals, there are lots of people who despise the Church, see it as a font of prurience and hypocrisy, and believe that the Church is exquisitely unsuited, from a PR point of view, from making public pronouncements about sexual morality.  “Oh my gosh, you mean not everyone thinks that Catholics are the good guys?!”—I want to play on a reaction like that.

Naturally I am presuming that this person knows nothing about the hatred and persecution of Catholics in the Reformation, which was similarly in some sense a reaction to widespread, prior immorality in the Church.  I am presuming he knows nothing about the Know Nothing movement or other longstanding sources of anti-Catholicism.  I want him to come to regard the animus against Catholics today as a new thing, for which the hierarchy is largely to blame.

You see, I want to set Catholics against the hierarchy here, because I think the hierarchy is going in a bad direction.  That is why I am representing opposition to same-sex marriage as something that originates with the hierarchy.  You will note that cagily I say nothing about ordinary Catholic mothers and fathers, attempting to found a family, and what kind of culture they want their children to grow up in.  I say nothing about the idea that the primary concern of the Catholic layperson is the correct ordering of the domain of the secular.  It suits my purposes better to focus on politics and policy, and to make the bishops the main movers.  (But of course I know that that many ordinary Catholics oppose same-sex marriage too: that is also why I am writing this piece.)

There might be a remaining doubt among my readers about whether the same-sex marriage movement, or at least hatred of the Church as arising from that movement, has any relationship to historical anti-Catholicism.  But my readers will be too ignorant to form a judgment on this.  So I can just disarm them by saying that, if someone could really show that the movement has that origin, then “to hell with it!”—And then I’ll just leave the point there.  I won’t say that it does have that origin; and I won’t deny it.  I’ll simply say that, if someone can really show that it does, then I can no more support that movement than they can.  And then I’ll subtly move on to my next non-argument.

My third non-argument is refutation through changing the subject.  I am a conservative, and, even though I am publishing in Commonweal, some of my readers may be conservatives as well, at least in the wider blogosphere.  In any case, the Catholic Church is “morally conservative.” So I need to raise the objection that it is actually profoundly anti-conservative for me to favor such a radical program of social re-engineering as same-sex marriage: no culture has ever embraced same-sex marriage; every culture has intuitively sensed the connection between marriage, reproduction, and the survival of civilization; so how can a conservative reasonably support it?  That’s a good objection, and, frankly, I have no answer to it.  I’ll just change the subject, then: My friend Jim Watson was a Democrat.  There are some Republicans who are gay activists.  And CPAC disinvited me from their annual convention. (Boo hoo!)

Now at this point let me pause and tell you how grateful I am that I do not have much of a paper trail of writing against the gay rights movement or same-sex marriage.  This is a relief to me, because I would have no hope of Jim Watson being my friend again, or any of those gracious and magnanimous guys in the New York City arts community, if I did.  Moreover, I can say with complete believability that, judging from my history of publications, there is very little to prevent someone from drawing the conclusion that I always knew that same-sex marriage was American, and that opposition to same-sex marriage profoundly un-American.

But I do need to recant a couple of things.  First, I want to apologize to the world, and especially to the BBC and David Boaz, for once using the word “homosexuals” instead of “gays” in a little piece I published in the Washington Times in 2011 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the BBC miniseries on Brideshead Revisited.  This shows how un-sensitive I was, even only a few years ago.

Second, I kinda sorta want to recant the help I gave Dave Coolidge.  I helped to raise money to support Dave’s work in defense of marriage.   I don’t really want to recant, because Dave was a kind of saint who died of brain cancer at a young age, in 2002, fighting same-sex marriage until the end.  However, back then, I never would have said, as I see so clearly now:  “DAVID, YOU HAVE NEVER GIVEN A SINGLE COHERENT JURISPRUDENTIAL ARGUMENT AGAINST IT. NO PRINCIPLED LEGAL VIEW CAN RESIST IT.”  He certainly thought that he had, and that it could. Poor schmuck; he went to his early death pointlessly fighting a lost cause that did no favors to the Church.  (Yes, I’d probably lose Dave’s friendship now, but what really exercises me is no longer strumming the banjo with Jim Watson.  A person is judged by his enemies, after all.)

I was tricked into helping Dave because in those days I was under the influence of W.H. Auden’s poetics, and, you see, Auden hated organized homosexuality, calling it “the Hominterm.”  (So you can see that I am giving you a true recantation here, not something postured, because I am indeed admitting that back then, like Auden, I was motivated by hatred.  At the same time I’m trying to excuse myself by hiding under Auden’s mantle.)  Yep, that explains it. Also, René Girard made me do it—after all, he taught me to be suspicious of those who try to excuse themselves with false claims of victimhood!

Poor schmuck, that David Coolidge!  But at the time I was one of those who “remain faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid,” as the great Nietzsche said. (Another frank admission of my homophobia, that!)

Thank God, too, that when I was editor of First Things, I was led as if by divine providence to avoid the topic in my editorial choices!  Could you imagine if the journal had taken a clear and strong-minded direction on this kind of thing back then—if it hadn’t been so controlled by my own avoidance tactics, and my dishonesty—what a very different reputation I might have now!  Not a reputation, I assure you, that I could easily overturn by an essay such as this present one!

But really the main thing I need to recant is that I signed the Manhattan Declaration.  I regret doing so very much, because it was so dreadfully written by Robby George. (Not that he cannot write at all: one of his books, published back in 1995, did have real skill.)  Artful writers simply cannot sign declarations which are not written with the artfulness that characterizes their own work (and so we find that generally we cannot sign declarations at all).  Let it be clear that I never wish to be associated again with writing that is turgid, politically clumsy, and strangely disorganized!!!

Conceptually, too, the Declaration was a disaster.  It very crudely compared contemporary America to the decline of Ancient Rome.  Well, one automatically loses the argument if one does that!  (Psst—if you’ve read Bernard Bailyn and know that the Founders were fond of comparing corrupt governments to the decline of Ancient Rome, then would you please keep mum about that?!  Thank you.  So much of the craft of good writing, you know, depends on this kind of artfulness.)  But can you imagine that the Declaration lumped together the pro-life movement with defense of traditional marriage, and then added to these two the issue of religious liberty?!  Those three issues are about as related to one another as a small weed, a giant sequoia, and an umbrella. (In case you did not catch the comparison, the family as the basic cell of society is the small weed.)  Of course, after Obamacare and the HHS Mandate it is even clearer how absurd that all was.

Let’s turn at last to the actual intellectual questions raised by same-sex marriage.  This means turning to a papal encyclical.  Pope Francis writes in Lumen Fidei that the family is the “first setting in which faith enlightens the human city” (section 52). Well, that does not help my argument at all.  I quote it just because that is the sort of thing that a Catholic does.

Oh, so what was I saying?  Oh, yes, I have a Grand Theory of intellectual history which, I am convinced, is so important and so true, that on its basis we should stop opposing same-sex marriage.  (Yes, of course, this implies that I am more convinced of my theory than of the plain truth that the natural family is the basic cell of society.  But that is the nature of Grand Theories.)  My theory is that marriage was enchanted, until the sexual revolution, or maybe only until divorce became legal.  But Francis Bacon denied any enchantment of reality, and Diderot did too, because he wanted to strangle kings with the entrails of priests.  The Supreme Court has recognized the existence of enchantment, but only privately: they have held, and all the equities say, that each person should be permitted to define his own concept of mystery. This notion of mystery from the Supreme Court is so powerful, that it can re-enchant anything whatsoever, no matter how gritty or repugnant it may at first seem.  Catholicism is all about enchantment. Therefore, it follows, Catholics should support same-sex marriage.

In closing, I want to warn you in advance not to pay attention to other leaders, besides the bishops, who can be expected to oppose me, namely, the philosophers of the “New Natural Law,” such as John Finnis, Germain Grisez, and Robby George.  These august thinkers actually hold that my theory of enchantment is largely nonsense.  But do not listen to them. They try to offer in its stead only clear, rational principles, which they use to undergird legal arguments. But theirs is merely a “thin” theory of natural law, which, besides, has persuaded no one.  Catholics should favor instead a “thick” theory of natural law, especially soupy and obscure versions, like my own.  It does not matter whether anyone would ever find this “thick” kind of theory persuasive, and it does not matter whether my “thick” theory can win back the good opinion of elite culture towards the Church: it is my Grand Theory, and it is true.  Whatever political disputes we as Catholics may have with one another about how to proceed as regards civil marriage, when it comes to the battle over thick and thin versions of natural law, one would never be justified in capitulating!!

So then, stop trying to defend marriage, and stop trying to shore up the natural family in law, public policy, and education!  I hope that you have seen how crystal clear it is that you would be spending your time much better, and making my life a lot easier, if you turned your attention instead to giving large capital gifts to charity, the evangelization of Asia, and facing martyrdom by preaching Christian morality in other countries!  Now there’s a coherent program for you: my vision of Christian discipleship is nothing at all like a weed, a giant sequoia, and an umbrella!

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Joseph Bottum, author of the Commonweal piece on same-sex marriage that inspired Dr. Pakaluk to write this satire.


  • Foggy Bottom

    Michael Pakaluk, the author of this satire, is Professor of Philosophy and Chairman at Ave Maria University. He earned his doctorate in philosophy at Harvard University and is the author of six books.

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