Moral incoherence at city hall

Posted: Apr 30, 2002 12:00 AM
Dallas' mayor -- yes, the principal official of conservative Dallas -- bids the city council outlaw "discrimination" against gays and lesbians, and the council is deemed likely to comply. It shows you how the mainstream moral climate has changed, but it shows other interesting things as well, among them our love for political symbolism. Backers of the ordinance concede virtually no one around here is mean to gays, but we have to put the bigots on notice anyway. Hey, gang, let's pass a law! Even more curious than the legal premises of Mayor Laura Miller's proposal, which is aimed at fulfilling a commitment to gays and lesbians, is the timing. The timing puts before us, simultaneously: "Dallas targets anti-gay bigotry" and "Roman Catholics roiled by clerical sex offenders." Under the proposal, Dallasites would be barred from denying housing or a job to particular priests who everyone agrees should be routed out of the priesthood. Something here doesn't compute. An additional oddity of the proposal is that it exempts religious organizations. The idea is to eliminate objections based on religious freedom arguments. But that pragmatic consideration casts an even odder light on the proceedings. What does Dallas' mayor want to happen? A signal should go out from the council, yes? -- that gay sex is from the community's standpoint a neutral matter (save when it's not neutral; e.g., with priests who have sex with altar boys). Of course, the city council won't get into the latter bit -- that's not what politics is about. Indeed. Morality and politics can be cumbersome companions, which is why politicians, save in cases of the greatest need, should confine themselves to budgets and potholes. Our supreme local leader wants local morality to change. This, while she ignores the biggest problem presently associated with the way we define sexual morality. We can even tighten that. She ignores the presently best-advertised consequences of the problem she claims to address. A little more "discrimination" by Catholic cardinals and bishops, in their management of clergy with male-to-male sexual appetites, could have prevented endless suffering and shock. (The largest number of allegations against predatory priests specifies sex acts against teenage boys. That's not gay sex?) The ordinance couldn't and wouldn't speak to such a thing. Are we to infer from the silence that sex of this sort is now OK and according to Hoyle? The Miller ordinance could be understood as implying exactly that. How, then, does the culture frame this thing? Here is how: Inside the repressed, male-dominated Roman Catholic Church, priest-to-altar boy sex is bad; in the big world, save perhaps with the young, what two males do when alone is their business alone. A moral muddle we have here -- just the thing you expect when muddled thinking proceeds the unchallenged. As at this moment in history, when the culture's disposition is to disparage top-down authority and exalt individual choice -- at least until the worst consequences of choice start to show up. Can the culture get by, even so, with having things both ways? You may count on it to try. A bit of religious animus strengthens that resolution. Many, both inside and outside the church, see the church as preposterously fuddy duddy, don't approve of priestly celibacy, don't approve of the all-male priesthood, don't like anything vaguely authoritative and sexist. "Why don't we get real?" these critics ask. Celibacy is a drag. Whatever inhibits sex is a drag. A little license for priests, as for plumbers, would do a world of good. Well, except ... You know what a mess we're in when politicians rise up to confute the theologians and moral philosophers -- bestowing on a given moral prescription just as much authority as its exponents can muster at the polls on a given day. Step right up, Mayor Miller, you're in the right place, alright. Intellectual coherence? Moral reflection? Not for us. The chair hears a call for the question. All in favor?
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