Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same-sex marriage, immigration, and human dignity

I wish I had time to think through and write a post or three on some recent Federal court cases. But I only have time to make a quick note and raise a question.

First, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked a big chunk of Arizona's law that brought immigration enforcement to the local level.

Second, yesterday U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled California's marriage-defining amendment to their state constitution as unconstitutional.

Both these rulings are of interest to Catholics, and I would note that (despite the apparent difference in subject matter) both are interesting for the same reason. The reason is that they ultimately are about how the government upholds or denigrates the dignity of the human person.

This is even the apparent concern of the judges who made the rulings. However, this is where competing notions about the foundation of human dignity arise.

From a Catholic perspective, human dignity is based in the gift of being made in the image and likeness of God, and is augmented by God's call to communion with him in the life of his Son.

It's not at all clear to me what basis these judges have for their ideas of human dignity.

So here's my question: in a nation that A) treats illegal immigrants - and those who employ them - with horrendously inconsistent laws and enforcements, B) regards marriage as a merely contractual arrangement, D) promotes research on human embryos, having been convinced that they're merely "blobs of tissue", and C) is willing to torture both foreigners and its own citizens ... how can we present to our elected officials and to the public generally a clear and consistent idea of human dignity? How can we preach the Gospel in such a way that it falls not on deaf ears?

That's a real question, not a rhetorical one. I'm working on some bits of an answer, but I have other ducks to get into a row just now. Hopefully I'll be able to post a few more ideas soon.


  1. Perhaps I misunderstand you, but you seem to indicate inconsistent laws towards immigrants and their employers and laws regarding marriage as somehow being equal.

    I'm not sure that that is what you are saying, but at quick glance, if so, that is already possibly a problem. Immigration is subject to prudential judgment. CST teaches that a person has a right to immigrate and also that the state has a right to set limits on immigration. So Catholics (and others) of good will may disagree with given laws and the result may be inconsistencies in laws and enforcement. The laws should be cleaned up perhaps, but there can be licit disagreement on what those laws are.

    But the family (and marriage as an antecedent) is the foundation of society. No society can undermine this by arbitrarily changing the definition of marriage to be other that what it is without drastically threatening all in society. No one can licitly disagree on a "little bit of marriage" for same sex couples.

    I may be missing your point. But part of clarifying things for politicians (and ourselves) is understanding those things upon which we can licitly disagree and those upon which we may not.

    Just a quick thought before the weekend.

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  3. Philip:
    you seem to indicate inconsistent laws towards immigrants and their employers and laws regarding marriage as somehow being equal.

    It's true that the matter of regulating immigration and employment belongs to prudence, and can find a variety of legitimate and even morally praiseworthy solutions.

    But inconsistency among laws and inconsistent enforcement of laws - on whatever matter - undermines the fundamental relationship of law to justice. It is in that sense that it is an equal problem with the attempt to redefine marriage, or to justify torture, or to permit the murder of innocents.

    However, you're right that I wasn't as clear as I could have been. Thanks for helping me out!

  4. I suspect there will necessarily be inconsistencies as there will be prudential judgments in a democracy (or at least republicanism) that validly lead to different conclusions. As such one can hope for consistent laws and even consistent enforcement but given the vagaries of human prudential judgment as well as the nature of democratic societies, we can only hope for a partial solution.

    I would say this is not the case with marriage. Politicians should only accept one solution.