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Legal Limbo, Existential Hell

"Legal limbo" is the latest rhetorical flourish in the battle over the definition of marriage. Limbo in the generic sense, according to the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary is "2 a: a place or state of restraint or confinement b: a place or state of neglect or oblivion c: an intermediate or transitional place or state d: a state of uncertainty." When people speak of "legal limbo" they mean a case where a person, contract, or other legal matter is left in a state of uncertain status under the law. Wikipedia, in its article on limbo, gives a more limited definition:

A "legal limbo" may occur when varying laws or court rulings leave a person without recourse. For example, a person may earn "too much" to receive public assistance from the government, but not enough to actually pay for basic necessities. Likewise, various parties in a dispute may be pointing blame at each other, rather than fixing the problem, and leaving the person or group suffering from the problem to continue to suffer in limbo.

Although the scope of the Wikipedia comment is restricted to cases where people need assistance, but who fall through the cracks (a curious illustration, actually, since there is no uncertainty about the lack of a remedy), it points out features of legal limbo that are accurate, namely that people point fingers at each other for allowing the gap to occur, and they lack the will to fix the problem. As a result, there are people who suffer the existential angst of "legal limbo."

A Google of the phrase "legal limbo" turns up a link to the Wikipedia article on limbo as the first hit, and, immediately beneath that, lo and behold, we find a link to an L.A. Times article from October 30th, "Gay married couples face legal limbo if Prop. 8 passes." (In the summary, the article notes, "Experts see a period of 'legal chaos' on the issue. A challenge to existing marriages would raise novel questions, so no one is certain how courts would rule." It does not appear to have occurred to very many people on the left that a change in the legally accepted meaning of marriage would result in irreversible social chaos. It didn't occur to the Indiana General Assembly, in 1897, that changing the legally accepted definition of the mathematical constant, Pi, would result in scientific and engineering chaos. Yet, such is the nature of political whimsy. Fortunately, academics in 1897 were not quite as confused about reality as they seem to be today, and one of the more technically enlightened among them managed to turn the stampede toward chaos aside, and bill #246 went down to defeat. Prior to that epiphany, the bill was well regarded by the great majority in the assembly, proving, once again the fallacious nature of argumentum ad populum.) The article notes,

Supporters of same-sex marriage have expressed hope that existing [homosexual] marriages would be protected by due process rights or the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

[Brackets added by me.] This, of course, is the legal expression of the great divide between those who regard marriage as a sacramental covenant, not to be trifled with by government, and those who regard marriage as a legal blessing of a sexual relationship to which (that is, both the blessing and the relationship) everyone is entitled regardless of the nature or purpose of that relationship. (A covenant can only be sanctioned by God, whereas a contract is the stuff of legalism. To regard a marriage purely as a contract is to damage, and may even invalidate, the marriage. It is no surprise to me that proponents of same-sex marriage have even used divorce courts in other states to spread their doctrine. It is all of a piece.)

The asymmetry here is truly striking. It does not bother me in the slightest that someone else regards Catholicism as antiquated, bigoted, or even insane - though I may fear for their soul, I do not fear their opinion. I regard the marriage tax penalty as illogical and ultimately immoral, but I do not lay awake nights thinking of how I might coerce society into legitimizing the sacredness of covenant marriage between a man and a woman. I am quite satisfied to do what I can to persuade people through example and through the written and spoken word that virtue has virtue, and that covenant marriage is for the good of society as a whole as well as for the children of such marriages. I regard the very fact that covenant marriage and the stability of family life and children are for the good of society as the sole basis for the community and government to take an interest in what is otherwise a private matter between the couple. I see no advantage to anyone to coerce faith and I believe that God doesn't either. I would never vote to support the establishment of a theocracy of any kind whatever.

By contrast, it seems to bother the proponents of same-sex marriage no end that anyone should regard same-sex attraction as anything less than sacred, and many of them seek to change the legal system to enforce this new view of the sacred. The same-sex marriage movement has all the earmarks of a movement inspired by repressed guilt - guilt for failing to master sexual urges, guilt for failing to order sexual urges to the good of children and family, guilt, eventually, for losing control over lust after anything and everything. Taking "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" to a new level, the movement expresses the impious thought "I'll salve your conscience if you'll salve mine," and from this sense of solidarity grows hatred, hatred of anything that threatens their sense of equanimity. From hatred grows vituperation, and, ultimately, the urge to employ the full force of the legal system to stamp out that which is hated when even mass vituperation produces no effect. Fearing that God is not on their side, they may even attempt to reinvent God, and to have everyone bow down to their invention, and, in such a case, can theocracy be far behind?

(Ironically, we seem to be coming to a position 180 degrees from that of the time of Moses. Leviticus 20:13 makes what is, to modern ears, a shocking pronouncement, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives." The hatred of what is characterized as "homophobic bigotry" undoubtedly motivates not a few to wish the death of those who regard homosexual practice as less than holy. Although the Old Testament sanction against homosexual relations may be understood as the protection of a society whose survival advantages in fertility are largely canceled by the challenges of a hostile environment, it is difficult to understand the hatred of "homophobic bigotry" as anything other than the emotional pressure of bottled up guilt - the very stuff of a rage-aholic. How does such guilt survive in the GLBTQ culture, even if only in subconscious form, unless truth itself cannot be swallowed up by any mere flood of individual or collective opinion?)

Whether a homosexual individual, couple or community exists in legal limbo or in existential hell, it will be of no service to them to pretend that their fantasies correspond to reality. On the contrary, their fantasies are the very bars of their existential prison. As long as they cling to them, and as long as they continue to erect them, they will remain imprisoned. The challenge for anyone who wishes to minister to them is to help them see reality as it is, and to lead them to that vision with as much compassion and gentleness as it is possible to employ. The homosexual's psyche is the bruised reed and the smoldering wick, described in Isaiah 42:3, which the servant of God will take care not to destroy. The first task is to point out the inherent dignity of everyone, not because of gender or passion or any physical attribute, but because of the transcendent power of the immortal soul. The second task is to direct their gaze on the God who wishes all to be saved, and who will provide the spiritual strength required for abandonment of self to all who seek his face. The third is to point out the danger and the futility of attractions, both natural and unnatural, that stand in the way of that salvation. No one should expect such guidance from the organs of the state or of the public media. Such guidance may be hidden in the world, but it is available to anyone who seeks it. The Lord hears the cry of the poor in spirit.

As long as society cannot resolve its confusion over the unique naturalness of heterosexual sex and the unique sacredness of heterosexual marriage, the legal system will thrash, first one way, then another, leaving thousands, if not millions, in legal limbo regarding their real or imagined relationships. Far better to be in limbo, however, if heaven beckons, than to be in a self-imposed existential hell from which no escape is possible because the light of truth itself causes intolerable pain.