Monday, April 29, 2013

Counties, Cities, and Towns in Va.

Virginia counties and independent cities
A map of the counties and cities of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  You will note that the cities are exclusive of the counties.

From state to state, the types of local government structures, and the relationship between them varies a great deal.  In New England, the township is the dominate local government body, rather than the county, and these exist alongside cities.  Indeed, in Massachusetts, all parts of the state are part of either a town or city -- in effect, the whole state is incorporated.  In the Mid-Atlantic and much of the Midwest, in a state like Pennsylvania, counties are divided into townships with the two structures sharing responsibilities, but some areas are incorporated as cities, as well.

In the South and West of the USA, the county dominates as the main structure of local government, and townships do not even exist.  Some parts of the county are permitted to incorporate and do so under a variety of names, usually city, town, or village.  In Georgia, for instance, all incorporated areas are technically cities, even if they are small, and prefer to be called towns.  Any territory not specifically incorporated in Southern or Western states is simply county land.

Virginia is highly unusual insofar as, while the county is the dominate form of local government as with its neighbors, incorporated areas take two uniquely distinct forms: cities and towns.

Cities in Virginia are politically independent of counties.  They are, in effect, urban counties.  Thus, the City of Manassas, despite being surrounded by Prince William County, is not in or part of Prince William County.  The capital City of Richmond, Virginia, is not in or part of any county.  If you ask someone in the City of Fredericksburg what their county is, the answer is the City of Fredericksburg.  Virginia has 39 such independent cities -- the rest of the United States has only three: Baltimore, Maryland, St. Louis, Missouri, and Carson City, Nevada.

Towns, on the other hand, while incorporated with their own government, are still within the territory of the local county, as most incorporated areas are in the rest of the United States.  Towns, for instance, do not have their own school systems or courts, as counties and cities both do.  So, functionally what is called a city in Georgia, is called a town in Virginia.

This chart gives a splendid breakdown of responsibility between the counties, cities, and towns of the Commonwealth of Virginia:

Live well!

Monday, April 22, 2013

1st Anniversary of this Blog

Saint Robert Bellarmine.png
St. Robert Bellarmine, whose work, Ars bene moriendi, is the inspiration for the name of this blog, and the content of my Sunday posts.

This blog, Ars bene moriendi, has now seen a full calendar year of daily posts on a variety of subjects of at least passing interest to this blogger.

Endeavoring to post something each and every day has been an intriguing challenge, and great opportunity to refresh interest in hobbies and interests.

Nevertheless, having done so for a year, the plan is now for the blog to be maintained, but for posts to be presented as keen interest, anniversaries, feasts, or guest posts suggest.  Daily output is going to take a back seat in the order of priority.  All the same, I do intend to continue regular posts, and hope that you will continue, or start to join me!

Of course, there are now over 350 posts for you to search and browse!  Enjoy!

Until tomorrow, and the feast of St. George!

Live well!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

News Sources

A 1918 Front Page of the New York Times -- a news outlet that I do not consult.

As a historian, teacher, and student of current events, I am constantly trying to keep on top of the latest developments around the globe.

To that end, I consult several news sources on a regular basis, which I present to you here.  Please bear in mind that this is my short list -- I am certainly aware of, and consult, other sources when conditions suggest.  Of course, I would welcome quality suggestions to supplement my list.

For Church News, look no further than!
New Advent does a great job in pulling headlines from multiple sources on Church news:
The Drudge Report, while often a bit on the spectacle mongering side, often breaks noteworthy stories, or links to interesting headlines:
I like to check the Telegraph of the UK, as well:
I am a big fan of the graphics of the National Post of Canada:
Finally, when events unfold in the Middle East, as they usually always do, I appreciate the quality of reporting of Al Jazeera (this, of course, is not an endorsement of their worldview!):

My go-to source for weather is the National Weather Service:
I find the intellicast site rather useful for radar and a few other items:

My favorite blogger is the great Fr. John Zulhsdorf:
Also a useful resource for Church News, Whispers in the Loggia:
Finally, for Traditional Catholic news, I check Rorate Caeli:

Live well!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Railwatch in Folkston, GA

City Logo
Recently the town of Folkston, Georgia, hosted Railwatch 2013. 

Railfans from all over the region converge on one of the busiest spots in the Southeast.
Folkston is gateway to the vast Okefenokee Swamp, and has a long railroad history.

Fans were out in force--the nice weather was a bonus!

This section of track is also known as the Folkston Funnel because of the different CSX lines that converge here.

Many people had tripods and were taking video.

This southbound intermodal train is bound for Jacksonville, FL.
The photo contest winners were announced.
For lunch we had some Southern homesyle cookin'.
With my Railwatch button, I was official!

The northbound trains that are aligned on straight track sometimes travel 60-65 mph.  By this time, the evening shadows are lengthening and crowds have dispersed.

This shiny new engine 3093 was delivered to CSX from the factory less than a week ago.  It must still have that 'new locomotive' smell.

This northbound Amtrak is headed up the east coast.
The Folkston Funnel.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Overview of the Government of Virginia

File:Virginia population map.png
Population Density Map for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Having recently moved, this blogger has had the opportunity to take note of the intricacies of local government, as he changes his address with multiple organs of government.

In that spirit, here is a summary and overview of the structure of government in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Obviously, this is a bit of a simplified perspective, but a decent place to start, all the same:

  • Governed under the Constitution of 1971:
    • Article I: Bill of Rights.
    • Article II: Franchise and Officials.
    • Article III: Division of Powers.
    • Article IV: Legislature.
    • Article V: Executive.
    • Article VI: Judiciary.
    • Article VII: Local Government.
    • Article VIII: Education.
    • Article IX: Corporations.
    • Article X: Taxation and Finance.
    • Article XI: Conservation.
    • Article XII: Amendments and Convention.

    • The General Assembly of the Senate and House of Delegates forms this branch.
    • Senate: The 33-40 (currently 40) member upper chamber of the General Assembly.  Senators are popularly elected to 4 year terms.  Members must be at least 21 years of age.  The Lieutenant Governor serves as President of the Senate, and can vote in the case of a tie in that chamber.
    • House of Delegates:  The 90-100 (currently 100) member lower chamber of the General Assembly.  Delegates are popularly elected to 2 year terms.  Members must be at least 21 years of age.  The delegates elect a Speaker of the House.
    • All proposed legislation must pass both chambers of the General Assembly before being presented to the governor for his signature.

    • Governor: Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the state.  Popularly elected to non-consecutive 4 year terms.  He must be at least 30 years of age.  By law, the governor must reside in the capital city of Richmond, where the governor’s mansion sits next to the capitol.
    • Lieutenant Governor: He serves as President of the Senate, and, when required, acts in place of an incapacitated governor.  He is popularly elected to 4 year terms at the same time as the governor.  He, also, must be at least 30 years of age.
    • Attorney General: He serves as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s official legal counsel.  He is popularly elected to 4 year terms at the same time as the governor.  In addition to the required age of 30, he must also have sufficient legal credentials (the same as a judge).  He is next in line after the Lt. Governor should a vacancy in the governor’s office take place.
    • The Executive Branch of the Commonwealth of Virginia also has a host of executive departments, including:

      • Agriculture & Consumer Services.
      • Alcoholic Beverage Control.
      • Corrections.
      • Education.
      • Forestry.
      • Game and Inland Fisheries.
      • Health.
      • Labor and Industry.
      • Motor Vehicles.
      • State Police.
      • Taxation.
      • Transportation.
      • Treasury.


    • Supreme Court: Consists of 7 members (subject to change with the consent of the General Assembly) elected to 12 year terms by the General Assembly.  All judges in Virginia must have been admitted to the bar.  The chief justice is chosen by a vote of the members of the court.  This court is the final court of appeals in the Commonwealth, and has original jurisdiction in some cases.  This court sits in Richmond.
    • Court of Appeals: This 11 member court consists of members elected to 8 year terms by the General Assembly.  This court receives appeals from the lower, circuit, courts.  The chief justice of this court is chosen for a 4 year term by the other members.  This court meets in Richmond, Alexandria, Chesapeake, and Salem.
    • Circuit Courts: There are 31 circuits, with 120 courts that operate as the primary location for court cases.  Judges are appointed by the General Assembly to 8 year terms.
    • District Courts: These local courts fit into 32 districts and deal with small claims and lesser offenses (less than $15,000 involved).  Judges are appointed by the General Assembly to 8 year terms.  If you go to court for speeding, this is typically where you go.

    • The Commonwealth of Virginia is divided into 95 counties and 39 cities.  Within these counties are often incorporated towns that, while still part of the county, have their own elected government.
    • A County is governed by a popularly elected Board of Supervisors, which serves as both the executive and legislative board of the county.  The chairman is either elected by the other members or popularly elected at-large to the position.  The number of members varies, but they are popularly elected to 4 year terms.  Each represents one of the magisterial districts of the county.  In many counties, the Board appoints a County Executive to run the daily affairs of the county.
    • A City is governed by a popularly elected City Council and one member of the council serves as mayor.  They are popularly elected to 4 year terms.  In most cities, the Council appoints a City Manager to run the daily affairs of the city.
    • Each county and city should have the following Constitutional officers (some are exempt), each popularly elected and serving 4 year terms (the clerk serves for 8):
      • Treasurer.
      • Sheriff.
      • Commonwealth’s Attorney.
      • Clerk of Court.
      • Commissioner of the Revenue.
    • In smaller (second class) cities, the offices of Sheriff, Commonwealth’s Attorney, and Clerk of Court, can be shared with the surrounding county.
    • Towns can be incorporated within counties, establishing their own elected council and government with the power to pass ordinances for those in the town.

Live well!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Central African Empire

File:Imperial Coat of arms of Central Africa (1976–1979).svg
The Coat of Arms of the Central African Empire.

From 1976-1979 the Central African Republic was, by decree of its one and only "Emperor," the Central African Empire.  It was ruled by the dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, or Emperor Bokassa I, after September 1976.

File:Central African Republic (orthographic projection).svg

The Central African Republic had been a the territory of Ubangi-Shari in French Equatorial Africa, with its capital at Bangui, as it is today.  It was natural that a petty psychopathic dictator of such a country determined to be an Emperor, would need a coronation modeled on something Napoleon might have done.  Hence, on 4 December 1977, he received his rather expensive coronation.  It is said that this event consumed a third of their national budget!  Emperor Bokassa I was confident that it was give the CAE greater respect and prominence in the world.  He was a nut.  You can watch some film of that event here:

Human rights violations and massacres, in addition to general misrule, led to the French-supported coup d'etat in 1979 that toppled the Emperor Bokassa I and restored the Central African Republic.  Bokassa, himself, survived the fall of his Empire, and has since been rehabilitated and cleared of all charges by his motherland.  He died there in 1996.

This French-language documentary details the days of this bizarre Empire:

Of course, the poor CAR remains in the midst of turmoil and unrest in our own day.

Live well!

Monday, April 15, 2013

U. S. Highway Routes

File:US 29.svg
Sign for U.S. Route 29, which runs from near Baltimore, Maryland to Pensacola, Florida.

Living as this blogger does in a town that is served by a grand total of zero Interstate Highways, but four U.S. Highways, it is always interesting to learn a bit more of the history of these numbered roads, and to learn, in particular, where your local road ends up!

The U.S. Highway System, a system of inter-state route numbers that would assist travellers in negotiating local roads, was devised by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation (AASHTO), going into effect in 1926.

Their website is:

This system, though overshadowed by the later Interstate System, remains a rather important part of the American landscape and transportation network.

The highways of the system are numbered in the following manner: east-west routes bear even numbers, while north-south routes have odd route numbers.  The lower the number, the farther north or east in the country, the high the number, the farther south or west.  Spur roads that branch off the main lines have a third digit as a prefix.  Thus, U.S. Route 11 runs north-south in the eastern United States, and U.S. 211 would be a spur off of that road.

The following two websites gives some splendid information on the various U.S. Highways, the first giving particular focus to the start and end points of the roads,
and the other with more general information:

Happy travels!  May the road be smooth and the weather fair for your journey.

Live well!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Town of Warrenton, Va.

The Seal of the Town of Warrenton, Virginia

The site of the county seat of Fauquier County from the 1750s, when that county was formed from Prince William, the Town of Warrenton remains the largest town and center of Fauquier County.

Location of the Town of Warrenton within Virginia.

The town is located on a naturally high piece of ground that sits on the boundary between the watershed of the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers.  It was an important crossroads in the colonial era, with the intersection of the Winchester-Falmouth (now US Route 17) and Alexandria-Culpeper (now US Route 29) roads.  It was initially known as Red Store, then Fauquier Court House with the formation of that county in 1759, and finally, with incorporation in 1810AD, Warrenton.  The town received its name in honor of Joseph Warren, the Massachusetts Revolutionary killed at Bunker Hill.  The town already had an academy named for Warren (who is the namesake of Warren County, the location of Front Royal, Virginia, as well), so it was natural to name the town in his honor.

Map of the Wards of the Town of Warrenton, Virginia.

Famously, Warrenton was the hometown of the tremendously significant Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, who was the architect of the Marbury v. Madison case and the notion of judicial review.

File:Fauquier County Courthouse.jpg
Fauquier County Courthouse in downtown Warrenton, Virginia.

Today, the population of Warrenton is just shy of 10,000 in its 4 square miles, and it boasts a picturesque Old Town centered on the old courthouse.  Warrenton, though not near an interstate, remains a bit of a crossroads, with US Routes 15, 17, 29, and 211 all converging on the town.

You might note the official website of the Town of Warrenton:

Live well!

Friday, April 12, 2013

County of Fauquier, Va.

File:Fauquier County Seal.png
The Seal of Fauquier County, Virginia.

Today I wish merely to note a bit of the history and statistics of one of the counties in Northern Virginia, within the old Northern Neck Proprietary of Lord Fairfax: Fauquier County.

Sir Francis Fauquier, namesake of the county.

Fauquier County was formed from Prince William County in 1759, and named for the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia at that time, Sir Francis Fauquier.  At that point, the Governorship was a titular office, and the resident executive of the royal colony was none other than the Lt. Gov., Sir Francis Fauquier.  For more on him, you might note:

The area of Fauquier County is situated in the Virginia Piedmont, with the Blue Ridge and Rappahannock River forming the western boundary, and the Bull Run Mountains and Prince William County to the east.  When first settled by the English, Fauquier County was a rather divided place -- in the south, planters from the Rappahannock came with a Tidewater attitude, while in the north, smaller frontier farmers who came through Thoroughfare Gap, dominated.  Much of what is now Fauquier County was dominated by massive land grants, such that, aside from the area around The Plains, much of Fauquier remained underdeveloped until the effect of the Revolution broke up those great estates.

File:Map of Virginia highlighting Fauquier County.svg
Fauquier County within the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Fauquier County was divided into two Established Parishes in the years before the Revolution, with Hamilton Parish in the south -- it had once included the entire region -- and, after 1770, Leeds Parish in the north (Leeds also included the northern part of Prince William County.)  The pre-Revolutionary precedent in Virginia was for a new parish to precede a new county, but the Revolution kept the new county-to-be from ever being formed.  As it is, Fauquier remains one of the largest counties in Virginia, at 651 square miles.

The county seat was, until the 19th century, known as Fauquier Court House, but has been known as Warrenton since 1810.  More on that town tomorrow.

Today, Fauquier County is notable for its horsefarms, wineries, and splendid countryside.  It is in the outer reaches of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, so its population of 65,000 includes a number of commuters.  Fauquier County has three incorporated towns: the county seat of Warrenton, The Plains (once called White Plains) in the north, and Remington (historically known as Rappahannock Station), in the south.

Here is a link to the map of the magisterial districts of the county:

As in the colonial era, Fauquier County is divided into only a couple parishes -- most of the county is in the Catholic Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Virginia.  North of interstate 66 falls within the boundaries of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish, located in Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia.  A small sliver of Fauquier, including Markham, in the far northwest of the county, actually falls into the parish of St. John the Baptist of Front Royal, Virginia.

This is the website of St. John the Evangelist Parish:

You might note the official website of the county:

Also, the tourism site for the county is worth a visit:

Live well!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Latin & the Church

Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head

Latin, the mother tongue of Rome, is the language of the Holy Roman Church.  Despite widespread use to the contrary, Latin remains the normative language of the Latin Rite, and, indeed, even the Second Vatican Council demanded that Latin be preserved and Gregorian Chant given pride of place.  It is surprising how many parishes are not in tune with Vatican II and ignore the wishes of the popes, and don't offer Holy Mass in Latin!

The office of liturgical celebrations at the Vatican has a splendid summary of the use of the Latin language in the Church, which is well worth a read:

Of course, it is from the Apostolic Constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, that we find this quotation: "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites."  The full text of the document is here:

The Code of Canon Law, Canon 928, repeats the place of Latin in the Church:

This legal position of Latin has been repetedly affirmed by the Supreme Roman Pontiffs.  In the Aposotolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI wrote: "I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant."  The full text of that document is here:

Pope Benedict XVI was interested in the promotion and preservation of Latin, even establishing a pontifical academy of Latin, expressing that, "The Latin language has always been held in very high esteem by the Catholic Church and by the Roman Pontiffs. They have assiduously encouraged the knowledge and dissemination of Latin, adopting it as the Church’s language, capable of passing on the Gospel message throughout the world."

Pope John Paul II, also, expressed the importance of Latin in his letter Dominicae cenae: "The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself."

Of those popes of the recent era, an era that has neglected Latin, Pope John XXIII has been the most outspoken in his zeal for Latin, as we find in his Apostolic Constitution on the subject, Veterum Sapientia.  How many Catholic institutions are responding to the wishes of John XXIII, I would ask: "And We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons -- the same as those which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods -- are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use...In accordance with numerous previous instructions, the major sacred sciences shall be taught in Latin, which, as we know from many centuries of use, 'must be considered most suitable for explaining with the utmost facility and clarity the most difficult and profound ideas and concepts.' For apart from the fact that it has long since been enriched with a vocabulary of appropriate and unequivocal terms, best calculated to safeguard the integrity of the Catholic faith, it also serves in no slight measure to prune away useless verbiage.
Hence professors of these sciences in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin and to make use of textbooks written in Latin. If ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for some to obey these instructions, they shall gradually be replaced by professors who are suited to this task."

John XXIII spends some time in this Apostolic Constitution explaining why Latin is of such importance, not just in the liturgy, but in the life of the Church.  You can find the full text.

So, perhaps today is a good opportunity to brush up on some Latin and Latin prayers?

Here is the Vatican website, in Latin:

Live well!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Of Marriage Debates

The Holy Family.

"In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike."  Pope Benedict XVI, Address to American Bishops, 9 March 2012.

There has been much discussion of late regarding the institution of marriage and its legal definition.  Amazingly, far too few seem to try to defend the traditional definition that has been the foundation of both civil and canon law on the matter.  On one hand, "liberals" claim it a matter of civil rights and equality, without giving a clear and thoroughgoing new definition, while too many "conservatives" tread a libertarian line, adopting an attitude that denies the importance and duty of the state to protect family and morals.  To paraphrase St. Jerome: "the world has groaned to find itself libertarian."

This blogger, then, seeks to present a few thoughts on the matter, considering, in particular both statements of the Catholic Church, but also, as this is a matter of civil law, some precedents and considerations based on American Constitutional law.  My intended audience, then, is the American Catholic:

A Door.  Promote window equality!

I.                 In the first place, it is a particular challenge to argue matters when the turn on a consideration of fundamental definitions.  If a segment of society decides that a window is now a type of door, on the grounds that "it is a hole in a wall in which people can enter and exit" is the new definition of a door, and thus windows are the same as doors.  In the case of "same-sex marriage," we have an argument that something foundational in our society is to be redefined -- and a new definition, envisioned in neither our civil laws or in traditional Christian morality, is going to be introduced.  Fundamentally, the new definition radically alters what a family is, what the purpose of marriage is, and ignores the traditionally understood right of a child to be naturally conceived and raised by its parents.  It can be hard to explain what is wrong with sound bites like "you can't discriminate against someone because of who they love" in a brief statement.  Certainly we can note that, of course, if the one you love is a horse, or your sister, or already married, or 10 years old, you will be discriminated against.  Likewise, we can note that "love" is a bit of an ambiguous word -- I love my wife, my mother, my daughter, my friends, my trusty hat, and pizza; certainly not each in the same way!  More is needed, however.

Regardless of the fact that the burden of proof should rest on those that would change precedent and law, lets look at a few arguments in favor of our traditional definitions and laws.  I should note that there are a host of Biblical or more strictly theological arguments that could be considered, but as this debate is being carried on in a secular forum, we will pursue some secular legal arguments here, with some concern for American legal precedent.

In love with him?  You will be discriminated against.
II.                   In the United States, our Constitution was established to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  As part of its responsibility to promote the common good, and “promote the general welfare,” the state has a responsibility to uphold public morals.  This is certainly the case according to Catholic teaching, but is also envisioned in the exemption always made in Freedom of Speech in the United States, for the prosecution of obscene materials.  Behavior that is lewd or lascivious is also banned, and consistently upheld by the courts as in keeping with both the Freedom of Speech, and the legitimate scope of legal action.  Likewise, indecent exposure can, and should, be prohibited.  As was expressed in the case Roth v. United States (1957), “There are certain well defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene. . . . It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”  While the court narrowed the definition of what was actually obscene in Miller v. California (1973), the recognition that the obscene is not protected speech remains a constant in American Constitutional interpretation.  This is based on an understanding that the general welfare is in no way benefited by obscenity, but, in fact, it is undermined and harmed.

III.                In a similar vein, historically a range of behaviors have been criminalized in state laws as being contrary to public morals and, thus, detrimental to the public welfare: sodomy, prostitution, fornication, adultery, indecent exposure, lewd behavior, and the like.  Indeed, all of the above, along with lascivious cohabitation, are in the Code of Virginia as criminal offenses.  With the court’s discovery of a “right to privacy” expressed in Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, many of these laws have been struck down.  Notable, too, is Texas v. Lawrence which redefined the scope and “constitutionality” of such “morality” laws, but one, it would seem, can be legally justified in disagreeing with the majority of the court, on Constitutional grounds.  Folks have done it before, as in the opposition to Plessy v. Ferguson that culminated in the reversal of Brown v. Board of Education.  One could certainly argue that any of the acts, made publicly known, even if not publicly performed (as in prostitution, for instance, which is normally a private matter) and should thus still be legally banned and discouraged.  This was the interpretation of the courts until the 20th century, and remains a rational approach to the law!

IV.             Marriage, as a civil institution as we have it, it should be recalled, is a moderately new phenomenon in western law.  Until the Enlightened Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, the guardianship of marriage was in the care of the established churches of the various countries.  Based upon that, then, folks were treated as married by the state or not.  Indeed, the Popes vigorously condemned the notion of secularizing marriage, as Leo XIII notes in Arcanum: “Let no one, then, be deceived by the distinction which some civil jurists have so strongly insisted upon -- the distinction, namely, by virtue of which they sever the matrimonial contract from the sacrament, with intent to hand over the contract to the power and will of the rulers of the State, while reserving questions concerning the sacrament of the Church. A distinction, or rather severance, of this kind cannot be approved; for certain it is that in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament, and that, for this reason, the contract cannot be true and legitimate without being a sacrament as well. For Christ our Lord added to marriage the dignity of a sacrament; but marriage is the contract itself, whenever that contract is lawfully concluded.”  In the United States, of course, lacking an established religion, the determination of who would be married and who would administrator the license was left to local states.  Still, even here, the Church and Catholics have a great interest in seeing, as much as possible, that the fundamental structure of the family is protected in law.  Not only to insure that Sacramental marriages and families are protected in law, but that even natural marriages are respected and defined.  This is most certainly a matter of justice, in addition to public morals, as it is in the family that children are conceived and it is the most advantageous environment for the to be raised.  As Pope Benedict XVI noted to a group of American Bishops: “Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.  Stable marriages, without question, promote public morals, better educated children, and a more healthy society.  This is why the state has an interest in legal recognition and promotion of the institution.

V.             Certainly, anyone has a legal right to marriage, but not the legal right to marry anyone at all.  As was noted, the state has an interest in prohibiting unions that are a danger to the public, especially public health, or to public morals.  Hence, it is Constitutional to prohibit incestuous unions or unions between two people already married.  Here, too, the link between the institution and the family and rearing of children certainly has to be considered.  Opposition to mixed-race marriages was a misguided vestige of the same attitude that enshrined the institution of slavery in the constitution.  An African American, legally, philosophically, and theologically speaking, is a human person.  As a person, he should be extended all those legal rights owed to a person – discrimination based on race or ethnicity, as opposed to discrimination based on behavior, is repugnant to the Catholic, and certainly violates the constitutional principles of equal protection.

VI.                Abuses of the insitution of marriage, as we find with liberal divorce laws, or for the Catholic, with invalid unions called marriages, (though the Church certainly DOES recognize the validity of the majority of Protestant marriages) do not justify simply jettisoning all standards.  On the contrary, we should seek to put in place laws that better protect the family and children, if those on the books now are found wanting.

VII.             All of these arguments so far presuppose a couple of things: first, homosexual behavior is obscene or harmful to public morals or health, and second, homosexual unions are harmful to the family and detrimental to the raising of children.  I will treat each in their turn:  As to public morals, the procreative act, rationally speaking, has to be linked to procreation.  The very purpose of that entire body system, the reproductive system, in the human body, biologically speaking, is the reproduction of new life.  Once we determine that such acts are for simply whatever purpose folks want – recreation, for instance – we deny the biology of the situation (never mind the theology).  Obviously, acceptance of artificial contraception is also highly problematic.  Homosexual acts are, of their nature, sterile, and biologically destructive.  There are arguably heightened health risks – both those of disease but also of psychological disturbance and abuse being rampant – in homosexual relationships.  This study, which is well documented, highlights this:  That same study notes the absolutely destructive nature of homosexual relationships.  Some examples, first as to its transient nature: “In his study of male homosexuality in Western Sexuality: Practice and Precept in Past and Present Times, Pollak found that "few homosexual relationships last longer than two years, with many men reporting hundreds of lifetime partners.
VIII.        Next, as to its providing a stable environment in which to raise children, consider both that previous statistic, and this one: “Thus, only about 30 percent of homosexuals (1,202,418 out of some 4 million) choose to live in a household with a person of the same sex.” Further even when granted equal status, homosexual couples fail to respond by getting married, as if they really don’t want it any more than for the political victory of gaining the status, for in the Netherlands “Thus, as of October 2002, only 2.8 percent, or 6,766 individuals (3,383 licenses) out of an estimated homosexual and lesbian population of 242,000, have registered their unions as "married."  Homosexual couples, especially female couples, also statistically show a dramatically increased rate of abuse compared to heterosexual couples.  All of these statistics and studies tend to indicate that these sort of relationships are not healthy, destructive, not normal, and are a terrible basis upon which to establish a marriage.  There is a reason that, until the last couple of decades, the very notion of a same-sex “marriage” was a contradiction.  Such a relationship might be many things, but not a marriage.  So, in sum, homosexual acts frustrate the biology of the reproductive system, and also seem to encourage promiscuity and abuse.  The ideal in Catholic morality, and based on the natural law, is that children be conceived naturally, and raised by their biological parents in a stable, permanent, environment.  In situations that fall short of the ideal, we strive to, as much as possible, to give the child as much of that ideal as possible.  Obviously, no-fault divorce, IVF, and homosexual adoptions all strike at what is best.  Marriages are not to be transient (certainly separation for just cause is legitimate, of course), children are not to be made in labs, and they have a right to be raised by a mother and father.  As we lose a focus that puts children and family as the basis of marriage, we lose the meaning of the institution.  Why does the state have an interest in marriage in the first place?  Certainly public morals are a consideration, but, without question, legal protection of the family as a stable place to raise children is a major interest.  If marriage is not about children, it has no compelling interest in it.

IX.          It is also worth noting that there is a tremendous difference between race and sexual orientation.  One’s race or ethnicity is no matter of choice on any level – it is a matter of DNA and that is all there is to it.  Sexual orientation, even if one be born with one or the other, still, so far as this issue is concerned, comes down to a matter of choice.  You may be genetically disposed to an attraction to someone of the same sex, but that does not necessitate intercourse or a relationship with them.  Indeed, most people are heterosexuals, and that does not mean that any heterosexual relationship is either in legally or morally acceptable.  Likewise, a genetic predisposition to alcoholism is not a reason to promote or excuse an alcoholic lifestyle.  People are more than inclinations. 

X.       The legal burden of proof here sits heavily on those that would redefine marriage, as it would have been understood by the framers of the constitution, to incorporate unions that seem to run afoul of the very purposes for which the state has an interest in the subject – to protect morals, promote the general welfare, and protect the family, ensuring the healthy rearing of children.  Just as I would have a great deal of explaining to do to try to redefine motherhood to include men, even if they were nurturers and raised children, so to, those that would include same-sex unions.

Some things are not equal, even if we want to redefine our terms to say so. 

XI.             There is no question that a civil redefinition of marriage introduces a host of logical problems and of religious liberty issues, as well.  If same-sex marriage is approved, we must, seriously, be prepared for the legalization of polygamy, prostitution, and consensual incest.  It has already happened in some countries.  Likewise, in European nations (and some US States) that have approved such unions, individuals that refuse to, for instance, take a job photographing a gay marriage, and this for religious reasons, are subject to prosecution for discriminatory practices.  We must be careful that we are not setting ourselves up for being legally coerced into accepting far more than foreseen.

XII.                Finally, as Catholics, we clearly have a duty to defend traditional marriage, even in civil law, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly states to the Bishops of the United States: “In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.  Promoting this redefinition in the name of civil rights may be a sincere effect to promote equality, but, in the end, runs dangerously afoul of  the Church’s teaching on the matter, and the traditional interpretation of the Constitution.

We must not be cowed into silence, either on the leftist charge of bigotry, or because of libertarian denial of public morals!

For some more links and thoughts on family from the centuries gone by, you might note my earlier post:

UPDATED (20.VI): I recently came upon this article, which makes a number of excellent points on the subject:

Live well!