Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Church of Enablers

With 100% of the 25,423 precincts having reported their results, and only provisional and some late absentee ballots remaining to be counted, California's Secretary of State reports early this morning that Proposition 8, which overturned the 4-3 decision by the California Supreme Court to allow same-sex couples to marry, is carrying the entire State by a margin of 52.5% to 47.5%.

This includes the County of Los Angeles, where the margin was closer---50.4% to 49.6%, as well as the County of Santa Barbara, which voted against the measure by a margin of some 8,156 votes (46.9% Yes, 53.1% No). And it includes the following other counties, which are all part of the Diocese of Los Angeles as well:

Orange 57.3% Yes 42.7% No

San Bernardino 67.1% Yes 38.3% No

Ventura 53.3% Yes 46.7% No

Riverside 64.3% Yes 35.7% No

Only a small slice of the northwestern part of Riverside County is in the Diocese of Los Angeles, but it includes the city of Riverside itself (the remainder is in the Diocese of San Diego). So while it is not possible to break down the votes from Riverside that represent just the portion of the County that is in the Diocese of Los Angeles, it is a fair assumption that the "No" votes were spread throughout the County, and not concentrated just in the City of Riverside. The City represents approximately 15% of the County's population (approximately 300,000 out of a population of 2,000,000). And if one totals all of the Yes and No votes from each of the Counties comprising the Diocese (including 15% of the votes from Riverside County), one obtains this result:

Diocese of Los Angeles

Yes 2,348,826 (53.8%)
No 2,017,391 (46.7%)

Does The Episcopal Church itself reflect the sentiment of the population in which it finds itself? Listen to its Bishop, Jon J. Bruno, in a statement issued yesterday:
I call upon Californians who supported Proposition 8 to make an honest and dedicated effort to learn more about the lives and experiences of lesbian and gay humanity whose constitutional rights are unfairly targeted by this measure. Look carefully at scriptural interpretations, and remember that the Bible was once used to justify slavery, among other forms of oppression.

It is important that we understand that we are a state that lives with freedom of religion – and freedom from religious oppression.

In my view, and in that of many Episcopalians, Proposition 8 is a lamentable expression of fear-based discrimination that attempts to deny the constitutional rights of some Californians on the basis of sexual orientation. It is only a matter of time before its narrow constraints are ultimately nullified by the courts and our citizens’ own increasing knowledge about the diversity of God’s creation.
In other words, for Bishop Bruno and the Episcopalians for whom he speaks, the enactment of a constitutional amendment, required as the consequence of a decision by an activist but bare majority of the California Supreme Court, to preserve the traditional Christian definition of marriage (see the Book of Common Prayer), is nothing more than "religious oppression."

Let me ask the good Bishop: Was it an act of "religious oppression" for the Church to adopt the Book of Common Prayer in 1789, and again in 1792, with its traditional definition of marriage, and to maintain that definition through today? If so, then why do you remain a member of it?

We have here a Bishop of the Church going even farther than he and four others did in September, when they all joined in a statement denouncing Proposition 8 on civil (but not religious) grounds. I pointed out in this post the hypocrisy of Bishops using their official religious titles and status to make a statement on a proposition of civil law. But now Bishop Bruno has made clear what he did not in the earlier statement: The Episcopal Church is engaging in "religious oppression" by holding on to the traditional definition of marriage, and the passage of a civil amendment constitutes a further act of "religious oppression" by those who supported it. This is simply beyond the pale, and calls the Church into undeserved opprobrium. Bishop Bruno has vilified his own Church. So I ask him again: If that is how you really feel, why do you remain a member?

With the promulgation of such an outrageous statement, Bishop Bruno and those Episcopalians who think and speak as he does are turning the Church into a Church of Enablers. They are using the Church to provide comfort and support to the group of homosexuals who see themselves as "victims" of yet one more act of "discrimination." And in doing so, as the numbers above show plainly, the Diocese of Los Angeles is sacrificing its mission to minister to all of its constituents in favor of a misguided effort to be seen as "inclusive" by jettisoning its Scripture and liturgy. (In his statement quoted above, Bishop Bruno equates an interpretation of the Bible that condemns homosexual acts with the interpretations of it used once to justify slavery. As William J. Webb has comprehensively shown, this is an utterly false analogy.)

This is tragic, because maintaining the traditional definition of what marriage is cannot be discriminatory, any more than is maintaining a definition of when a child becomes an adult. The latter law "discriminates" against those who are 17 and under only in the sense that a line has to be drawn, and one group will fall on one side of that line, and the rest will fall on the other side. But that is not true discrimination---the act of singling out a group of people for invidious treatment.

Similarly, for centuries, to be considered "married" has also involved the drawing of a line: between those couples who made certain vows and commitments, and those who had not. The line had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the husband or the wife: as +Gene Robinson has showed us, homosexuals were free to enter into the state of marriage also.

But now a group comes along who wants to enlarge---or more accurately, change---the definition of marriage to throw out the sex of the partners as a defining factor, in order to make marriage no longer a privileged status granted to qualified couples, but instead a "fundamental right" belonging to an individual, regardless of sex or sexual orientation. The parallel to my minority/adult example would be as though a group came along who wanted to define "adulthood" by an irrelevant factor such as the completion of a certain grade of education, or by the growth of pubic hair. Yes, the law providing that a minor becomes an adult on turning 18 can be said to "discriminate" against those who graduate from high school earlier because of their abilities, but only if those high-achievers see themselves as "victims" of the "discrimination."

Homosexuals in California admit that their movement to achieve "equal status" in their relationships was all about the rights which they see as flowing from marriage, such as the right to visit a spouse in the hospital, and to receive the spouse's pension benefits on the latter's death. But they have been given those rights in California already---the only thing they have not been "given" is the label of "marriage" for their relationships. And that is no more of an act of "discrimination", as I say, than is defining an adult as someone who has turned 18.

For marriage is not an institution defined by the sexual orientation of the partners; as I said, one who is homosexual is as free to marry a partner of the opposite sex as is anyone else. Marriage does define itself by the sex of the partners, and it has always done so for a sufficient reason: because one of the results of marriage can be the birth of children, marriage provides those children with a guaranteed lineage and rights of inheritance. (That the children adopted by gay couples now have the same rights in California does not logically require us to alter the traditional definition of "marriage". Since no discrimination is occurring in the law, then why suddenly decree that marriage must be redefined to accommodate the legal developments of the early twenty-first century, after it has stood for that many centuries already?)

The "right" to marry is technically not a right at all, in the Hohfeldian sense of that word. As Professor Hohfeld's analysis showed, a "right" is the correlative of a "duty"---if I have a "right", you have the corresponding "duty" to respect and honor my right. But "alienation of affection" is no longer recognized as an actionable wrong in the law: that is, if I am engaged to marry Miss Jones and you steal her away from me, I have no right to sue you. So I have no legal "right" to marry any particular person, but I cannot be considered married until I have chosen a particular person (with their consent) and married them. In exactly the same way, I cannot be considered an adult until I have actually turned 18, and I cannot be a legal driver until I have met the qualifications for a driver's license. A "right" in each of those cases cannot be said to arise until the act supposedly secured is over and done with, and the requisite qualifications have been satisfied, so that is no "right" at all.

Instead, marriage itself is a "privilege" in society, in the Hohfeldian sense. A privilege is something the State confers upon you, and its jural opposite, according to Hohfeld, is a "No-Right." Translated for non-lawyers: if some people have the "privilege" of being considered as married in the eyes of the State, the rest of the people who do not qualify for that privilege have no right to claim it. The essence of a privilege is thus "discrimination": adulthood is a privilege, a driver's license is a privilege, and so is a marriage license. But there is no discrimination in any invidious sense; only "discrimination" in the legal sense of drawing a line---which is to say, no discrimination at all, as people commonly mean that term.

So, Bishop Bruno, not only are you spreading and supporting needless calumny about your own Church, but you cannot even analyze the most basic aspect of what is wrong with your entire position in this matter. As Cranmer would say: "His Grace suggests you take up sports announcing."

[UPDATE 11/05/2008: It is not just Bishop Bruno who is enabling those who see themselves as "victims" in this common-sense refusal to expand a traditional and well-defined term so that it would lose all meaning. Check the left-wing bloggers whose posts are discussed (but thankfully not linked) here. Not one of them understands the legal difference between a "right" and a "privilege"---or even cares that they don't, for that matter. They are too busy turning their elitist scorn against the voters whom they have decided to blame for "taking away" their so-called "right." Rather than trade new insults for theirs, however, the proper Christian response is to pray for the clarity that will lighten their hearts. Like Hans Christian Andersen's Ugly Duckling, there are none so anguished as those who think they have to be that which they cannot be, until they learn to love what they are.]


  1. Bishop Bruno claimed there are "constitutional rights" that are being "unfairly targeted."

    Is he speaking of U.S. or Californian constitutional rights, and where in either constitution is this written?

  2. Bishop Bruno can only be speaking, UP, of the "California constitutional right to marry" as "found" (not in the Constitution, but made up out of whole cloth) by four intellectually superior minds on the California Supreme Court, as compared to their three intellectual inferiors who, try as they might, just could not find any such "right" in the written language.

    As I showed above, what the four "found" is not a "right," but a State-granted privilege. But by calling it a "right", they managed to impose a "duty" on all the rest of us to acknowledge their collective wisdom. The trouble is, the people in their common sense would have none of it.