Fr. Roger J. Landry
May 18, 2012
Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama surprised no one when he announced — contrary to repeated affirmations during his 2004 senate and 2008 presidential campaigns that Marriage is the union of a man and a woman — that he now believes that Marriage can be a husbandless or wifeless institution. The reason that no one was surprised by anything other than the timing of his announcement is that his political actions always belied his words.
Under his leadership, his Justice Department has not only refused its constitutional obligation to defend the laws of the land by refusing to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, but has in fact taken the position that it’s an unconstitutional act of bigotry to hold, as DOMA does, that “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” One couldn’t expect him to remain a “bigot”— like President Bill Clinton and the 85 senators and 342 congressmen from both parties who overwhelmingly supported DOMA — for long after such a legal declaration.
Likewise in his foreign policy, the administration has ceased to defend religious freedom abroad, restricting it only to “freedom of worship” in order to advance, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described in a 2009 Georgetown address, the “right” of people to “love in the way they choose,” a euphemism that foreign countries readily recognize means the push for the normalization of same-sex activity and marriages. The president couldn’t be pushing for the right for the redefinition of Marriage abroad as a foreign policy priority without eventually coming out of the closet to reveal his support for it at home.
The president called his public switch an “evolution” in his May 9 conversation with ABC’s Robin Roberts, which is interesting for several reasons.
First, he created a taxonomic conundrum by evolving “back” to the position he openly held in 1996 — the year DOMA was passed — when he was campaigning for the Illinois state senate and told IMPACT, a gay activist group, in a questionnaire “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
Second, the term evolution — which he has been using for two years to describe the interior ethical flux he said he was in — is clearly a loaded one. Not only does it imply a progression from Neanderthal to enlightened ideas, but it also suggests that the only people opposed to such positive development would be the same fundamentalist primitives who believe the world was created in six 24-hour periods.
Most striking of all, however, is that the particular type of evolution the president said he had gone through was above all theological. “I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue,” the president said to Roberts, describing how politically he has gone from supporting civil unions to same-sex marriages. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word Marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth, but … at a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. … In the end the values that I care most deeply about and [the first lady] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people. … We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing Himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
The president portrays his evolution as a Christian moral imperative occasioned by the application of the Golden Rule to the situation of those seeking to marry those of the same sex. It is indeed a good sign that the president wants to draw his motivation from Christ’s words, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12) in both the personal and public parts of the White House. It’s clear, however, in terms of the consistent application of this lapidary moral principle, that the president still has much evolving to do. If he applied it to the victims of abortion, he would be hard pressed to desire that physicians do to him what abortion doctors do to our younger, smaller, more vulnerable fellow human beings. If he applied it to the situation of conscientious Catholics in America, he would not be trying to compel Catholic institutions, business owners and individuals through their insurance plans to fund practices they believe are immoral.
He also needs to evolve toward a correct interpretation of the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule does not mean to do for others whatever they’d like, but to do for them what is for their true good, just as we’d always want others to act in promotion of our true good. The Golden Rule for parents with regard to their kids’ appetites is not to feed them all the cotton-candy, chocolate and ice cream they’d like, but to make them eat their vegetables. The Golden Rule for teachers who care for their students is not to give them little or no homework and easy A’s, but to exercise their developing minds and even to flunk them if they fail to perform. The Golden Rule for friends of those who are addicted is not to enable or ignore their problems but to intervene forcibly to get them help, even if it be against their desires. The Golden Rule is not about others’ wants, but their genuine needs. It’s always linked to the truth about the good. Jesus was not violating the Golden Rule when He said that to save our life we must lose it: that our true good will come only by doing the naturally unpleasant things of denying ourselves, picking up our cross each day and following Him. The Golden Rule is about Christ-like love, which occasionally involves not giving others what they want if it would be harmful, in the same way we would hope that others wouldn’t indulge our desires if we’d be engaging in an unwitting masochism.
The president needs to evolve, finally, in his grasp of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus gives us the Golden Rule (Mt 5-7). Jesus also says there that the least in His Kingdom would be the one who relaxes one of His Commandments and teaches others to do the same. He condemns as adultery in the heart any form of lust and challenges us to cut off body parts rather than to sin. He teaches to pray to the Father, “Thy will be done,” not “Thy will be changed.” He warns about false prophets and declares that it’s not those who invoke the name of the Lord in speech but only those who do the will of His Father, who hears His words and acts on them, who will enter the Kingdom. We’re not following the Golden Rule of Jesus unless we’re seeking to live by all of Jesus’ saving teachings and trying to help others to do the same. Anything short of that is a Golden Rule made out of false gold.
When people are hocking false gold and others are buying it, so many people get hurt. And that’s something none of us would want to be done to us, and that we should never do to others.