Today, the National Catholic Reporter tells of an article that appeared in “the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper,” L’Osservatore Romano, which was written by one-time feminist and current historian Lucetta Scaraffia. In it, she “compared proponents of gay marriage, with their championing of ‘marriage equality,’ to 20th-century communists who wooed millions with their promise of perfect social and economic equality.”
Now, this article certainly does not possess the magisterial authority of a statement issued by the pope speaking in unison with the church’s bishops. But it still raises some interesting questions.
If believing in marriage equality is like believing in “perfect” social and economic equality, is it also like believing in racial equality? Put another way, if being pro gay marriage is like being a 20th century communist, and 20th century communists are defined as advocates of economic equality, is it then also like being a 19th century abolitionist?
This question in turn prompts a further one, only indirectly related to the morality of supporting gay marriage in the civil sphere. How can one oppose racial inequality but condone economic inequality? If it is wrong to organize society in such a way that people receive unequal treatment according to race, how then is it acceptable to organize society in such a way that people receive unequal treatment according to class? Scaraffia goes quite a bit further than this. She does not merely condone economic inequality, she harshly condemns those who strive to eliminate such economic inequalities from society.
(Of course we could debate whether she describes accurately communism either as political theory or as political fact just as we could similarly question whether various communisms in fact ameliorated these inequalities or if they instituted new oppressions…but let’s put that aside for now.)
For Christians who believe that all human beings are endowed with equal dignity as creatures of God whom we image, these questions of inequality are more than just rhetorical. Human dignity sits at the very center of Catholic social teaching. We hold to some sort of baseline human equality that transcends individual differences of talent, beauty, or aptitude.
In light of this I wonder, when is it acceptable to treat equal people unequally?