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Rusty Reno doubles down

November 21, 2014

Rusty Reno had no difficulty dispatching recent smears against the so-called “Marriage Pledge” as spiteful, for indeed, neither the pledge nor its authors, Radner and Seitz, are in the least spiteful. Instead, I say, Radner and Seitz are wrong, and their misnamed Marriage Pledge (which should be called what it expressly is, a “Pledge not to Certify as ‘Married’ Couples that Are Married”), should be dropped so that we can return to the business of opposing “same-sex marriage” without abandoning true marriage to the power of the State.

I won’t repeat here my objections to the Radner-Seitz Pledge itself (here, here, here, as complicated by form here, and for background go here), nor will I parse out every objection I have to Reno’s recent doubling down on it. But a few points need highlighting.

“And if my pastor signs a New York City form … he’s signaling that what New York calls marriage is pretty much the same thing as what the Catholic Church calls marriage.”

Okay, I don’t have a New York City marriage form in front of me, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that it says something like “NAME and NAME did, on such-and-such date, before me as officiant, marry” with spaces for everybody’s signature. Now, unless that form also has a Preamble that says something like, “By the way, I totally agree that two men or two women can marry and I’d be happy to officiate at that kind of wedding…” etc, then I fail to see how an officiant signing a form certifying that some man and some woman got married is, in the slightest, a signal that New York and the Catholic Church understand marriage alike. Forms are made of words, and neither Radner-Seitz nor Reno have shown how the words on these forms make signing such forms an unconscionable cooperation with “same-sex marriage” for ministers (or, by the way, for the parties; more on that below). Instead, Radner-Seitz and Reno simply assert that claim. Sorry, guys, but that’s not how claims are proven.

The most I can get from Radner-Seitz’s and/or Reno’s commentary is that civil marriage forms can be used by same-sex couples to claim status as married and therefore Christians should not use those forms to certify their marriage because, well, because same-sex couples can use those forms. But if that is the objection, it falls thus: Abusus non tollit usum — just because something can be abused does not mean it cannot be used. A hammer can be used to kill people, but one may still use a hammer to drive nails; a medical license authorizes a doctor to perform abortions, but it also authorizes a doctor to deliver babies; and, in some states, a wedding certificate can make same-sex couples appear as married, but they also certify heterosexual couples as married. If I may buy and use a hammer to drive nails and a med school grad may apply for a medical license to deliver babies, then why may not a minister fill out and sign a marriage registration form to certify a man and woman as married?

From their unproven (and I think, incorrect) assertion that signing civil marriage forms is to commit the Church to the State’s definition of marriage, Reno leaps to claiming that said signing “causes a bit of a crisis of conscience when one does something that signals a falsehood.” A bit of a crisis of conscience? A bit? C’mon, signing a falsehood about marriage should provoke a major crisis of conscience! What is this “bit of a crisis” stuff? In any case, I see no crisis of conscience whatsoever in signing these forms for I see nothing whatsoever false about certifying that this man and this woman married. Because they did.

Before Radner-Seitz and Reno continue challenging consciences, it would be nice if they proved what is so evil about the specific actions under scrutiny.

I say again, they have not proven that logically prior claim.

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Additional passages from the above article, my reactions red-lined.

[Signing a civil marriage form] also works against a minister’s vocation. His job is to teach the Gospel, which includes marriage. Given high divorce rates among Christians, it’s pretty clear we’re not doing a good job. [I grant that ministers are not fully doing their jobs, but high divorce rates are not proof of pastoral negligence. In times of plague, many people die; a high death rate is not proof that doctors are not doing their jobs] Muddling up the new government-defined marriage with the biblically-defined marriage [I caution against making our defense of marriage purely ‘biblical’, for marriage is not a purely ‘biblical’ institution, nor did Christ treat it so. Making our marriage defense purely ‘biblical’ hampers our ability defend the natural institution of marriage]—which is the symbolic consequence of signing a government marriage document in New York today [I deny this claim, as above]—only makes things worse. Thus the need to get out of the government [This new label ‘government’ muddies the discussion. Is ‘government’ marriage the same as ‘civil’ marriage? If not, how do they differ? If they don’t essentially differ, why change the name?] marriage business. Sometimes we need to teach with actions, especially when our words aren’t working very well. [Indeed, refusing to sign civil forms will send a very clear message, in fact, it will send two messages. The message to the State, we will not cooperate with you even when you ask us to certify couples who are truly married as being truly married. The message to our people: signing civil marriage forms is an impermissible cooperation with the State’s acceptance of “same-sex marriage” and we ministers won’t do it, but it’s fine by us if you sign these forms. You’re just sheep anyway.]

Another thought: If the objection to signing these civil registrations is that they can be used to certify people as married who, by Christian doctrine and indeed natural law, are not married, then I wonder why the sudden vehement objection to signing them when, after all, those very same forms have been used for decades to allow legions of civilly divorced people to remarry in the eyes of the State. “Ah!” I can hear it now, “But we (Catholics, at any rate, other religious groups seem less bothered by it) never signed forms in such cases. We only signed them for people we concluded could marry.” Exactly my point: we are not signing civil (or State, or government) wedding forms for same-sex couples to wed, we are signing them for men and women we have concluded are able to marry.

Update: A chronology of (mostly) my comments on ecclesiastical cooperation with civil marriage.

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