Will Same-Sex Marriage Bring About an Unraveling of Natural Law and Unleash the Forces of Social Disorder?

Gil Bailie quotes historian Glenn Olsen on The Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page:

For a Catholic, part of the strangeness of living in America is living in a land only superficially touched by natural law teaching. … When someone favorable to religion today wants to defend some bizarre practice, such as killing chickens in one’s rites, the defense very well may take the line that religious belief per se must be respected. Of course in a national experience properly rooted in the natural law this would not be so. In a Catholic position, reason and revelation must be in harmony, and one has no obligation to respect a religious belief which is in opposition to reason.

And Bailie adds,

This is important because there exist today religions that solemnly sanction the killing, not of chickens, but of infidels and apostates and others. In trying, for example, to redefine marriage to include homosexual relationships, we undermine the natural law argument for deeming polygamy illicit or for refusing to interfere with a religion whose highest authorities sanction both polygamy and the murder of homosexuals.

Natural law certainly has an illustrious history, and the laws enshrined in our own Constitution have their roots in it. But it cannot be used as a platform for contemporary American jurisprudence because it has no stable meaning. You can ask a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Muslim to define it, and you will get very different answers. So for historian Glenn Olsen, whom Bailie quotes, natural law must be understood as the Catholic variety. I am not a Catholic, but I am an American citizen, and so I would not like to see our country’s legal tradition uprooted to make way for natural law redux.

Sacrificing chickens is of course bizarre, but so is baptism, whether for the dead or the living. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation seems very bizarre to most non-Catholics, but neither it nor baptism hurts anyone, so a state that respects religious liberty has no compelling interest in prohibiting these practices. Sacrificing chickens is no more bizarre than transubstantiation or baptism, but it is borderline form of cruelty, depending on how the chickens are slaughtered and whether they’re eaten afterwards. Denying contraceptive insurance coverage to one’s employees may be motivated by religious belief, but it deserves no respect from government because it results in harm to the employees.

So I would disagree with Olsen when he writes, “…one has no obligation to respect a religious belief which is in opposition to reason.” Reason is simply the wrong criterion. We respect unreasonable beliefs all the time, and there is no real harm to anyone. Most religious beliefs are in fact irrational, but it’s only when they become harmful that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting them.

But there are two meanings of “respect.” One is “allow,” as in “the state respects religion.” The other is “have regard for.” I may not have much respect for a belief, but I will respect your right to hold it. However, I may disrespect a religious practice while also supporting efforts to have it outlawed. Denial of contraceptive coverage on religious grounds falls into this latter category.

Killing infidels and apostates, which the Catholic Church used to approve not so long ago, is a religious practice that deserves no respect in either sense of the word.

The Church’s campaign against same-sex marriage (SSM) is based on an irrational belief that I do not respect but that its adherents have a right to hold. However, I do not believe Catholic institutions (other than churches) should have the right to discriminate against homosexuals in hiring or in provision of services.

As for polygamy and the murder of homosexuals, both are of course odious, but no less odious than the effort to link them to same-sex marriage. There is a vast difference between murder and marriage and between polygamy and monogamy. In each case, the former is harmful and the latter is generally beneficial. Recognizing this difference gives us the proper basis for legislation regarding murder and polygamy.

The grim scenario in Bailie’s final paragraph assumes that natural law is preventing both polygamy and the murder of homosexuals. It is not, of course. Constitutional law is serving this function, so there is no need to worry that same-sex marriage will unleash the forces of social disorder and lawlessness. It has not done so in countries or states where SSM has been legalized.

Such scenarios are one more example of the fear tactics and scapegoating that Gil Bailie routinely resorts to. The underlying formula is always the same: X (an individual or group) causes social disorder; order can be restored only by stigmatizing and expelling X. This is the classic scapegoating paradigm as articulated by Gil Bailie’s own mentor, René Girard, and it is unmistakably present in everything Bailie has written about homosexuality during the six or so years that I have been following his blogs. It is one thing to say that homosexuality is wrong according to God’s law, but it is another to suggest that homosexuality is a root cause of social disorder and civilizational collapse. Such irrational accusations are calculated to stoke fear and generate unanimity about the guilt of the intended victim.

Girard’s theory of scapegoating is very powerful and perceptive. I believe he must feel deeply saddened to see it used as an instruction manual for scapegoating.

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