When Rep. Janice Schakowsky railed that he had just called gays sinners and should apologize, the White House meekly retorted that President Bush "doesn't believe in casting stones. He believes we ought to treat one another with dignity and respect."
In the Big Tent, the only mortal sin is being judgmental.
In his answer, however, the president had carefully added, "I think a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that."
This response was 100 percent political. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict marriage to a man and a woman is a wedge issue that can rip the Democratic Party apart. As long as President Bush sticks to his Briefing Book, he holds the commanding heights in what is likely to be the fiercest battle of the Culture War in 2004.
The Vatican, however, seeing the movement gaining ground, has issued a document of moral clarity calling civil unions "gravely immoral" and homosexual acts "deviant," and urging Christian leaders to oppose homosexual marriages and adoptions.
"There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," declared the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Roman Church's watchdog of orthodoxy. Its 12-page guide, approved by John Paul II, states, "Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law."
With the Episcopal Church heading for schism, the Supreme Court discovering sodomy to be a constitutional right, President Bush maneuvering to back an amendment outlawing gay marriage, and the Pope denouncing homosexual unions as immoral and homosexual acts as deviant, there's no way this issue can be kept out of the campaign of 2004. Nor should it be.
But it does reveal a painful truth. America is again a house divided. The "don't ask, don't tell" moral community in which we grew up has dissolved irrevocably. Christianity, dying in Europe, is under siege in America. A paganism that holds homosexual unions to be "sacramental" -- the Rev. Robinson's term -- is ascending.
The sad sundered Episcopal Church is a mirror for America.