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Rights and Wrongs: On the San Francisco Resolution | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | November 5, 2010

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On May 3, 2006, City Council of San Francisco passed an amusing, "non-binding" resolution, subsequently signed by the Mayor (Gavin Newsom, now lt. governor-elect of California). The resolution urges "Cardinal Levada (former Archbishop of San Francisco and presently head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) to withdraw his directive—given when he was Archbishop of San Francisco—to Catholic Charities forbidding the placement of children in need of adoption with same-sex couples."

The explanatory "whereas-es" within the resolution tell us that such "forbidding" is "an insult to all San Franciscans." Why? Because "a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great City's existing and established customs and traditions such as the right to same-sex couples to adopt and care of children in need." One wonders just how "old" these "existing and established customs and traditions" really are, even in San Francisco? It is more likely, on the issue mentioned, that the San Franciscans who survived the famous earthquake would have sided with the cardinal.

The first implicit premise of the Resolution, reduced to its essence, is as follows: "No foreign entity can have any opinion or attempt 'negatively' to influence anything that goes on in any great city any place in the world." Presumably, it would be fine if some ranking foreigner would "positively" attempt to influence what goes on in this great city.

But do the people of any city, San Francisco included, really want to buy this odd doctrine that tolerates no outside commentary no matter how well grounded? Have they nothing to say about aberrations in other lands and places? Is every "custom and tradition" so precious that it is automatically right, even if contradictory? Has opposition to foreign holocausts, for instance, never been expressed by a citizen of such a fair city? Has no one in San Francisco commented on the status of women in Islamic cultures?

The next implicit premise can be stated as follows: "Established customs and traditions ground a right which takes precedence over any other higher law or principle." The consequences of such a premise are serious. Custom, as Aquinas said, can establish or interpret law in certain cases.

The term "right" as used in the resolution, in effect, comes out of Hobbes, where nothing is presupposed or acknowledged, no order or law of nature exists except force. Human nature is said to be a blank to be filled in with whatever we want to put there. That is our natural "right." It does not have to answer to any higher law about what human beings are. A "right" is whatever we want it to be. All it needs is customary or legal sanctioning. Such is a horrifying political principle that logically justifies every tyranny that ever existed among us.

The second "whereas" formulates the Vatican's position in this way: To allow "children to be adopted by persons living in such (single-sex) unions would actually mean doing violence to the children." This alien view is said to be "absolutely unacceptable to the citizenry of San Francisco." The question, of course, is this: Is the Vatican statement, as such, reasonable, whoever might accept or reject it? It is a statement of principle, not geography. Does or does not that particular form of union "do violence" or injustice to a child and its true good?

Is the Vatican or Cardinal Levada speaking as "a foreign power" or are they simply calling the attention of reasonable people of good will everywhere, including San Francisco, to the fact that children should be placed where a mother and a father function together? The lack of both male and a female parent in the case at hand means that we deliberately deprive the child of something irreplaceable that belongs to him, is due to him, qua child. Do we really want to do this?

The San Francisco Resolution, as if it suspects some flaw in its own argument, is careful to add "children in need." It has to add this clause because obviously it must appeal to the imperfect case to make its point. The important thing, however, is not "need," especially the supposed "need" of a same-sex relationship, but what the child is owed as such, namely, a mother or father.

The third "whereas" tells us that the Vatican's reasoning is really "hateful and discriminatory rhetoric." It is "insulting" and "callous." It is "insensitive" and "ignorant." Goodness! One could hardly call the official use of such terms to be itself calm or reasonable. The "Board of Supervisors" confesses that it has "seldom encountered" such things. We suspect that this latter is true of that political body. If they had, they would think more cautiously and reasonably. The Board seems to be isolated from the normal instincts of common men and women everywhere about what they and their children are and need.

Such acid language of the Board does not engage in reason. Objectively, the Vatican calls our attention to good sense and reason. Children need two parents, a man and a woman. Both have something different but necessary to contribute to the child's good. The Church does not hold this view because it is revealed or religious, or because it is "ignorant." Rather, from long experience, it understands what human beings are. It seeks to preserve the good of intact families, including children up for adoption

The next "whereas" informs us that "Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city and the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear." But the question is this: "Is someone who proposes the truth of something suddenly to be officially silenced because that truth is not recognized by the customs of someplace or any place?" Have we discarded any pretense of freedom of discussion and argument in all public fora?

The final "whereas" instructed Archbishop Niederauer to "defy all discriminatory directions of Cardinal Levada". Be loyal to San Francisco; betray the Church. Great advice! Evidently, while the Board objects to "foreign" interference in its affairs, its view of church and state is that it can, none the less, interfere in the affairs of the Church. The Archbishop and the Cardinal understand that it is precisely by not betraying reason and the Church that both are really being loyal to a City named after San Francisco.

In the final "whereas," the Board, earnestly recalling the Inquisition as related to Cardinal Levada, instructed him to rid us of this "discriminatory and defamatory directive." Cardinal Levada should be calm in all this. We often read in Scripture that those who speak the truth will be reviled and hated, drawn before judges and no doubt City Councils. Indeed, they are to expect it.

This resolution subsequently went to the courts. After a federal judge had dismissed the case in 2006, a three-judge panel upheld the resolution. Next, on October 26, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court took the case in full consideration. They ruled on merits of the case and the legal standing of those who brought the suit, the Thomas More Law Center. It may well go to the Supreme Court. The Court upheld the action of the Board.

Six judges of the Circuit Court examined the merits. They split 3-3. Three judges said that "They (the Board) have the right to speak out in their official capacities on matters of secular concern to their constituents, even if their statements might offend the religious feelings of some of their other constituents." Not a few wonder about the outcome if the folks had been Jewish or Muslim and not Catholic.

Three other judges thought that "For the government to resolve officially that 'Catholic doctrine is wrong,' is as plainly violation of the Establishment Clause as for the government to resolve that 'Catholic doctrine is right.'"

The heart of this issue is rather simple. The case and emotion of the Board are governed, as its example seems to indicate, by one proposition: Gay marriages are marriages. That proposition equivocates on the term "marriage." No law can change the essential difference between a man-woman marriage and a single sex marriage. To insist that they are identical evaporates any meaning from nature. It is to have Plato's lie in our souls about what is.

The more reasonable position has little to do with Catholicism as such, though Catholics certainly understand it. The fact is that children are begotten of man and woman, who are, because of their diversity and unity, both responsible for their child.

Children need a parent of each sex, whether they be "in need" or not. Compassion does not trump principle. The Board obscures what human life and nature are about. It does this by the suasive power of civil resolution. In the end, it is not the Board that is protecting the needs and nature of real children, but the hapless Vatican.

In San Francisco, such a voice perhaps cries in the wilderness, but it cries the truth about children and their needs. It puts children first, not the self-interest of single-sex advocates. To refuse to deprive children of what they most need, a mother and a father, is this really so difficult to understand? Is it really "hateful?" "ignorant?" "discriminatory?" "insulting?" or "callous?" to use the Board's own words, for anyone to strive to give all children what they most need, a mother and a father?

Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:

Marital and Family Commitment: A Personalist View | Monsignor Cormac Burke
Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church | Donald P. Asci | Introduction to The Conjugal Act as a Personal Act
Entering Marriage with Eyes Wide Open | Edward Peters
Who Is Married? | Edward Peters
Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend Michael Hull, S.T.D.
Male and Female He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley | An excerpt from Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Authentic Freedom and the Homosexual Person | Dr. Mark Lowery
Sexual Orientation and the Catholic Church | Dr. Charles E. Rice
Contraception and Homosexuality: The Sterile Link of Separation | Dr. Raymond Dennehy
Privacy, the Courts, and the Culture of Death | An Interview with Dr. Janet E. Smith

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.

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