Last evening I attended A Catholic Family Conversation on LGBTQ Issues with speakers Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher, moderated by EJ Dionne. The event was held at Georgetown University, sponsored by the school’s Democrat and Republican clubs.
Sullivan was thoughtful and articulate in his presentation as he told his own story and shared with the audience why it’s important for LGBT people to have the same civil rights as all other people. Saying that the first person he came out to was God, at an early age he understood that “this thing” (i.e. his experience of same-sex attraction, only later to be labeled as homosexuality or being gay) was part of his very nature, his very core; part of who God made him to be. I can identify!
While Sullivan’s starting point in the discussion was his own lived-experience, Gallagher’s starting point was an abstraction. This, I think, exemplifies the fundamental flaw in the arguments of those who seek to deny God’s gay and lesbian children their rights and rightful place in society. Gallagher’s argument goes essentially like this:
Because there is something unique and special in the way humans procreate; and because this involves the coming together of a man and a woman in the act of sexual intercourse; and because the child produced from such intercourse deserves to be raised by the mother and father who created him/her; the social bond which we call “marriage” is unique and limited to those couples who can procreate. Thus, because same-sex couples cannot produce and raise children in the same way as heterosexual couples, they therefore should not be afforded the same social recognition of their relationships in the institution which societies throughout history and across cultures have called “marriage.”
So what’s the problem? Well, the many self-evident holes in that argument notwithstanding, the problem is that she’s barking up the wrong tree; she’s arguing the wrong issue. No one who seeks to advance the rights of gay people within society at large or within the Church is in any way “attacking” heterosexual marriage or seeking to change the way children are produced and raised. The starting point for advocates of LGBT rights is the lived experience of those of us whom God created gay. That’s what this is about — simply recognizing that there is now, always has been, and probably always will be a significant part of the human family whom God creates gay or lesbian. Given this unavoidable fact, we’re faced with the question of how God’s gay and lesbian children can and should live within society.
Gallagher may well have legitimate concerns about the “breakdown of [heterosexual] marriage” or “what’s best for children” or any other social issue that warrants its own discussion. But many of us who hope for change in church and society regarding gay people are concerned less with issues and more with people. In fact, I have to wonder if the evening would have unfolded differently if that distinction had been recognized from the beginning. If this had been a “Catholic Family Conversation about LGBTQ People,” would that have made a difference?