Jac Wilder VerSteeg: Archbishop draws strange parallel between Dred Scott, gay marriage

It’s hard to be a straight-down-the-line Catholic and maintain logical consistency. It’s easier to be a cafeteria Catholic, picking and choosing which church positions to embrace. It’s even easier to be – as I am – a cafeteria non-Catholic; we don’t have to feel guilty about diverging from the Vatican’s official line.

The Most Rev. Thomas G. Wenski doesn’t have a choice. He has to be a straight-down-the-line Catholic. Wenski is, after all, archbishop of Miami. When Pope Francis stepped in to smooth U.S.-Cuba relations, Wenski of course had to support the pope. When Pope Francis called on the world to face the facts on climate change, Wenski preached forcefully on the importance of the pope’s encyclical.

In both those cases it’s easy and practical for non-Catholics to support the church’s position. The Cuba embargo has been an abject failure and has increased human misery. Scientific proof for man-made climate change is so clear there is no risk in acknowledging it, unless you happen to be a GOP presidential candidate. For the church, if not for Republicans, the days of persecuting Galileo are over.

But the Catholic Church and other religious institutions have no such practical or scientific basis for their opposition to gay marriage. Wenski in the past has said that children seem to be hard-wired to thrive better with two parents of two genders. The implication is that such “science” is a good reason to oppose gay marriage. Even if the conclusion were true, it would have no application to gay marriages that don’t include children. It also would not demonstrate that children of gay couples fare worse than, say, children of single parents or children of parents in dysfunctional heterosexual relationships. Neither is there proof that allowing gay marriage will reduce the number of children of parents in stable heterosexual marriages.

The church’s inconsistency on human rights was in clear evidence on Saturday in Wenski’s piece in the South Florida Sun Sentinel in response to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of gay rights.

One strand of Wenski’s argument against gay marriage was particularly odd. “In the 19th century, in the Dred Scott decision,” he wrote, “the court decided that a black man had no rights that a white person had to respect.”

Wenski said bad court decisions led to “bad consequences,” and that the Dred Scott decision “made inevitable a bloody Civil War that cost more American lives than any other war in our history, and the racism that inspired the Dred Scott decision is still a cancer on America’s soul.”

How strange to cite Dred Scott in opposition to gay rights. In Dred Scott, the Supreme Court refused to recognize a black man’s right to be free. In Friday’s decision, the Supreme Court recognized the rights of gay Americans to be free to marry.

Wenski’s preferred outcome – to deny gay people the right to marry – would have been parallel to Dred Scott, not the other way around. The church is on the wrong side of history in this case, and the historical parallel Wenski attempted to draw doesn’t convince otherwise. He would have done better to stick to an argument based on faith, which doesn’t have to pretend to be rational.

It is ironic that Wenski (and others) were making their pitch against gay rights at the same time the nation has been moved by the Charleston, S.C., church massacre to take unprecedented steps against symbols of racism.

The Catholic Church, by the way, is not the only group to inconsistently support racial justice while supporting intolerance for gay marriage. When Florida passed its now-nullified anti-gay-marriage amendment in 2008, about 70 percent of African-American voters supported the gay-marriage ban. I’d like to think that the outcome would be different today.

In 2008, Floridians who voted for the gay marriage ban were “cafeteria” Americans, choosing which rights to honor and which to ignore. The Supreme Court, if not the Catholic Church, has taken such discrimination off the menu.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Jac VerSteeg


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