Monday, January 4, 2010

Voting and traditional marriage

It's a question that is likely to come up more and more for Catholics and for many of our fellow Christians: should we vote for active homosexuals for public office?

In theory, I think there might be circumstances in which such a vote might be permissible. After all, the various Vatican and bishops' documents on the pastoral care of homosexuals make it clear that unjust discrimination against a person who is living a homosexual lifestyle is not morally right. Access to food, clothing, shelter, health care, and employment are basic human rights, and public service is a type of employment. While it would be better for public morals for people of good moral character to serve in such offices, it can't be denied that this principle has not been fulfilled by many heterosexual politicians, who have conducted themselves in deplorable ways while in office, and have received votes regardless of the wreckage of their personal lives.

A few caveats should be added to the principle, though, particularly this one: if it is going to fall within the scope of office for the person filling it to set policy on marriage or other matters which are directly affected by a person's views about homosexual acts and their morality, it would not be prudent to vote for a person who views homosexual acts as moral or good. There are other caveats--such as watching to see if the person intends to use a lower office position as a jumping-off place to run for a higher one wherein he or she will be able to set marriage policy--but the point is that the principle of wishing to treat all people justly should inform our decisions.

But principles and practical reality don't always coincide. In our time, when debates about gay rights and gay marriage have become highly charged and permeate the political landscape, it would be imprudent to neglect to consider whether the person who seeks our vote is or intends to be a gay activist, to use his or her position of power specifically to work for the advancement of unjust laws and principles which would make homosexual acts, and relationships based on those acts, the legal equivalent of marriage. Sadly enough, many people who are attracted to members of their own gender and who live lives in which they act on those disordered inclinations seek public office with the intention of advancing the homosexual agenda in law and public policy.

Consider Houston's new mayor, Annise Parker, a partnered lesbian who began her political career as a gay activist. Her election has been lauded by many as proof that Texas in general and Houston in particular is not such a backward, Christian-led state as people on the two coasts fearfully believe. Her supporters derided the attacks of her opponents, who publicized her lesbian lifestyle and history as a gay activist. What, asked many, did it matter what Ms. Parker did with her private life, so long as she was so qualified to be mayor?

But it may end up mattering, if this article is a harbinger of things to come:

HOUSTON (AP) - Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Monday her election to lead the nation's fourth-largest city marked a milestone for gay Americans but was just "one step toward a tomorrow of greater justice." [...]

Parker addressed some of her inaugural remarks to the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community specifically.

"I understand how much this day means to you," she said. "I can feel your excitement and your joy."

But she said she also could feel their "apprehension and your longing for acceptance."

"Your bravery in the face of threat, your grace in the face of insult, sustains me," she said. "I will gladly carry you forward.

"But today is simply one step toward a tomorrow of greater justice."

Several smaller U.S. cities, including Portland, Ore., Providence, R.I., and Cambridge, Mass., have openly gay mayors.

Gay and lesbian rights organizations from across the country endorsed Parker and contributed money to her campaign and staged get-out-the-vote phone banks.

I think it's a legitimate question to ask whether Ms. Parker will use her position as mayor to agitate for gay rights, to work for changes on marriage policy in the city of Houston (remember, it was a mayor, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, who began the fight over gay marriage in California), and otherwise to impose her beliefs about gay marriage on the rest of her constituents. And I think that for those of us who favor traditional marriage, it is not at all an act of unjust discrimination to refuse to vote for someone who we believe might use his or her public office to further the gay rights agenda; I think it's merely prudence and common sense.

It's important to articulate that clearly, though, and to be ready to explain that we would not necessarily refuse to support a same-sex attracted person for public office in general, but that in the present political climate voting for one who both lives an active homosexual lifestyle and seeks to reshape society so that approval and acceptance of homosexual acts and partnerships is mandatory and opposition to these are cast as simple bigotry is opposed to our own self-interests and thus not possible. No one ever votes against his own best interests, and traditional marriage supporters have too much at stake to ignore a candidate's position on gay issues, let alone that candidate's embrace of the gay lifestyle and history of gay activism.


Geoff G. said...

In theory, I think there might be circumstances in which such a vote might be permissible.

Well thank you very much!

This post is emblematic of a much larger problem that we see in politics today: the single issue voter.

I'm quite prepared to admit that each voter will have different priorities when it comes to the issues he or she might want to have addressed. But I also believe that voters have the responsibility to assess the candidates' suitability based on the entire range of issues that encompass the responsibilities of the office they seek.

And this is the problem with voting based on a single issue like abortion or gay marriage (I note that single issue voters tend to focus overwhelmingly on social issues): there are very few politicians that actually have the ability to effect anything other than symbolic change in the social arena.

Consider abortion: the controlling law on the matter is effectively set by the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade and its descendants. This means that the President (mostly) and the Senate (to a degree) are in a position to choose justices that might potentially overturn the ruling (setting aside the chances of a Constitutional amendment, which are negligible).

So what, precisely, is achieved by voting for pro-life politicians at the state or local level, or even for the House of Representatives? Especially when a pro-life candidate may very well be a scurrilous rogue in other ways, and who may well end up doing far more harm in office in other ways?

We do, in fact, have plenty of examples right at hand: politicians who are officially pro-life yet also support torture. Voting for these people has done nothing to advance an anti-abortion agenda and yet has helped enable a profound evil.

So it is with voting for men and women who support a gay rights agenda. The scope for enacting such laws, especially at the local level, is limited, mostly to non-discrimination with respect to public hiring (which I assume is not objectionable) and possibly the enactment of non-discrimination ordinances in the city or the extension of benefits to same-sex couples (both of which may well be controlled by state law depending on where you live).

Yes, Gavin Newsom did issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco, but (a) it was ruled illegal as exceeding his jurisdiction and (b) it was in any case just another symbolic act, with little or no practical upshot.

Meanwhile, cities face all kinds of important issues like fixing potholes, maintaining parks, collecting property taxes, providing libraries, enforcing animal control ordinances, keeping the streets clean and clear, running a police force and on and on and on.

Your post effectively says that none of these things are as important as whatever minuscule effect a city councilor or mayor might have on the same-sex marriage debate.

Frankly, that's absolutely nuts.

Tony said...

I want to vote for a politician who understands that the traditional family needs to be supported as a building block of society. If an active homosexual understands, agrees and most importantly, votes in that direction, then I would evaluate their viewpoints as I would any other candidate.

However I have found few active homosexuals who agree that a heterosexual marriage is better for society.

Tony said...

So what, precisely, is achieved by voting for pro-life politicians at the state or local level, or even for the House of Representatives?

Easy, these positions are in many cases building blocks to other, more important and far-reaching elected offices. Someone who was elected President may very well have started out as the local dog catcher. And if we had a chance to nip a rabid pro-death candidate in the bud, we ought to do it.

This is why I evaluate every candidate on their life and family issues regardless of whether I believe that it will be germane to the office they are seeking/holding now.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There are no pro-death candidates.

This is beginning to remind me of why I am very careful about voting for a candidate who is Roman Catholic. They might feel constrained to follow orders from the Vatican, which violates Article I, Section 9 [18] of the Constitution. The Vatican is a foreign principality. No, seriously, Catholics cover the whole political spectrum, and vote all kinds of ways, and have been very patriotic about resisting blackmail by bishops trying to coerce their vote. Two of my favorite congress reps were priests: Father Robert Cornell and Father Drinan.