Thursday, April 26, 2012

Starbucks, Same-Sex Marriage, and You

A question a lot of people have asked recently is - should I stop going to Starbucks because they support and advocate for same-sex marriage? I will try to help you sort through this issue, but want to do so as detailed as possible.

Starbucks has publicly supported the gay-rights political agenda for years, and joined an amicus brief against the federal Defense of Marriage Act. One executive went so far as to say that their stance "is core to who we are and what we value as a company." That is telling.

But, what is a good Catholic supposed to do? There are tons of organizations with dubious practices. Some support Planned Parenthood, some fetal stem-cell research, some same-sex marriage, and some support multiple issues that the Church considers immoral.

Some would say we need not dump Starbucks, because it won't do anything to change their policy. Others think we need a public statement by boycotting them. Others say it is our moral duty to act out. What are we to do? I will get to that. But, let us lay out some ground-work first.

Marriage is the glue that has held together communities, cultures, and peoples for generation upon generation. The values that are within a culture are given within the family and that is then taken out into the wider culture to nurture and perpetuate that culture. Thus, traditional marriage is the foundation of the values that govern life in our society and therefore the core social unit of society itself.

Through the institution of marriage we have one man and one woman who agree to bond together for life, for the good of each other and children. By the cultural recognition of this relationship as a good, we raise up the traditional family to a respected status, for the good of all. Why? Because this is where life is naturally transmitted - through this relationship - and individuals can flourish and thrive best. Marriage isn't about self-fulfillment.

To redefine marriage to include same-sex relationships as an equivalent relationship would mean that traditional marriages' ability to act for the good of society is undermined. It is an attempt to change what is the essential character of marriage - that it is one woman and one man (capable of transmitting life naturally), bound together for life, for the good of each other and their children - as well as for the good of the future of our society.

One man, one woman, and their children unite as a family - every bit of evidence shows that families thrive in monogamous and stable homes with two biological parents of opposite sexes who remain married. This means that there is less poverty, crime, strife, etc. in homes where marriages do well. This is because the mother and father of children cannot be replaced. Two fathers or two mothers cannot provide what one mother and one father can. The role of the father can't be replaced by a woman and the role of the mother can't be replaced by a man. Thus, same-sex couples can never provide all that children need to thrive. When families suffer the rest of our culture suffers.

Marriage naturally involves a public acceptance of the relationship. It is not an acceptance merely of the relationship itself, but it is a recongition that life is naturally transmitted through this relationship and that through the marital relationships of men and women - society will thrive.

Thus, it isn't just about individual feelings, desires or relationships. It is about all of us. Cultural norms and values are for the greater-good, not just about what feels right. For society to change a basic and fundamental building block of the culture would be cultural suicide.

Many people say that same-sex couples "deserve" the "right" to marry and that those that oppose them are merely bigots who want stamp out the rights of others. This isn't the case. The Catholic Church consistently teaches the respect of others, regardless of sexual orientation. It also teaches us to love and serve all. But, we must also work for truth and the common good. This means while we fight against same-sex marriage, we do not fight against individuals.

That being said, marriage laws are by definition discriminatory. They discriminate FOR families (not against non-married persons) in order to build up what is good for society. Where do children thrive? In the traditional family. If we tear that down, then society will suffer. Thus, the government needs to help support this building up of what is good for society.

Thus, marriage is about the good of society - which is why the government got involved in it in the first place.

Some may argue that a same-sex couple should be able to do things such as share property rights, visit in the hospital, etc. But, all of these legal hurdles can already be overcome with current laws and a few documents.

So, what they are really looking for is social acceptance of their behavior. This is why the Catholic Church is enemy #1 for advocates of same-sex marriage. They cast us as homophobic, archaic, and mean-spirited. Which is not the truth.

There is no homophobia are vice in this stance. That is merely a rhetorical tactic meant to shame Catholics and others into agreeing with them or at least trying to quiet out the public voice of the opposition to same-sex marriage.

We start with this principle - we can never directly support intrinsically evil actions. Abortion, same-sex marriage, cloning, fetal stem cell research, euthanasia are some of the actions a Catholic cannot support directly. Yet, there are times it seems we get "tangled up" in these issues despite our best efforts, and end up supporting them indirectly. This is where the principle of material vs. formal cooperation with evil comes in handy. No matter how hard you might try, there are situations were good an evil are mixed up and sometimes we get caught being complicit in an evil act.

When we "cooperate" in an evil act our cooperation can be either be:

  • material - without the intention of supporting an evil act - wrong by the circumstance, not intent 
    • may be permitted, with a gravely proportional reason as judged by the principle of double-effect (see below). 
  • formal - with the intention to support or commit an evil act - wrong by intent and circumstance 
    • never permitted.

So, if you went shopping at a store because they had the best prices in town on books and while you were checking out you noticed that they also sell pornography, you could still licitly still shop at the store, if you don't intend to support the selling of porn. But, you are still in material support of the evil. A good rule to follow is that while material cooperation may be licit (morally permissible in some circumstances), we want to be as far-removed from formal cooperation as possible.

So, if there is another option of shopping somewhere with similar prices and selection, which doesn't sell porn, we ought to shop there instead. Remote cooperation (meaning far from the evil act) is licit because we don't intend to cooperate in the evil act and if we did intend to cooperate with evil it is no longer a licit act.

If the evil act is not intended by someone and the person is sufficiently remote from the act, then they are not complicit with it. This is called remote material cooperation. Things that might cause an act to be remote instead of material include (not in order and an incomplete list):

  • Time between the complicit act(s) - in some cases, time between events can cause distance. But, time is not a cure-all. For instance, using research gained from the Nazi death camps is still immoral. 
  • Steps separating the complicit act(s) - For instance. If you buy a piece of clothing that was originally made in a child-labor sweatshop from another part of the world, then you are many steps from the original evil (sweatshops using child labor). If we intended to buy it because we support sweatshops, then we would be complicit. 
  • On-going or one-time (or completed) complicit act(s) - The US supporting slavery is an example. We no longer allow it, but how are we now responsible as a people for once doing so? On the other hand, the sex-trade is still an on-going problem. We cannot participate in such evil. 
  • Severity of the complicit act(s) - For instance, abortion. The act is an indescribably evil in and of itself. We cannot cooperate in acts that formally support such evil. On the other hand, there are lesser evils where it is not quite as clear. 
  • Nature and Immediacy of the Goods - The most common example is a custodian at a hospital that performs abortions. As long as the person does not formally cooperate in them and disapproves of them, he is not complicit in them - if he is dependent on the job for his livelihood. If he is able to get a job elsewhere, then his cooperation could be formal and not material. 

There are times when we are not remote from the evil at all. So, the less remote the cooperation, the more we should seek to do something different. Once it is no longer remote from an evil, and therefore material cooperation, we ought not participate.

With the case with Starbucks, it would certainly be better to drink coffee which is made by a company that does not have such problems.

You can sort through it all using the Principle of Double Effect (PDE). It is a moral framework that gives us a Catholic understanding of which acts are moral and which are not, when things aren't very clear. Through the PDE, the act must pass four criteria:

  1. The moral object must be good or neutral, not intrinsically evil. 
  2. The evil result is tolerated, not intended; the good effect is what the agent intends. Then, the evil effect comes indirectly from the act, while the good effect comes directly from it. 
  3. The good effect doesn't occur as a result of the evil effect, in other words, you can't do evil to get good. Therefore, the evil effect is not intended directly as a means toward the good effect. 
  4. There must be a proportionate reason for doing the act. This implies that there can also not be any other alternatives.

In this particular case, it is left up to the individual's prudential judgment as to the course of action. So, you should follow your conscience after prayerfully discerning what God wants you to do. But, if I were applying this to my own life, here is what I would find:

The good is drinking a good cup of coffee - pass.
I don't intend to support Same-Sex Marriage - pass.
I would not be doing evil to get to the good act - pass.
There are other options - fail.

So, there is no reason you can't dump Starbucks. If you support dumping Starbucks and want to support a petition to have them change their policy - then visit the website.

If you want some good coffee that goes to a good cause try these:

Lucky me - I don't like coffee, so I don't have to worry about it all. :-)


c. Joy said...

I just saw where a Starbucks opened in the MSC. Where are you going with this? I would think a boycott of things made in China would be more in order than this.


Marcel said...

I tried to be quite clear what this is all about.

FYI - Things made in China aren't undermining the most basic social cell in our society.

Gert said...

Thanks Marcel. McDonalds sells coffee, and as far as I know, they don't support same sex marriage. And btw, it is not a marriage any more than the tale of a dog called a leg is a leg.

Marcel said...

FYI - several comments have not made it through moderation. If you want to engage in a dialogue, then do so. If you want to attack, accuse, or try to stir up distortions of Catholic teachings we won't allow that.

Jessica said...

That's something i found online. This is from a source that WANTs to increase support for gay marriage. I am personally against gay marriage, but this is a good source because they rate how much each of these companies supports the cause they want to succeed.

Thanks for posting this, Marcel. I think it's really difficult where to draw the line and where to not.

Patricia Ann Sollmann said...

I agree with your insights, Marcel. Far too many of us simply turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when as Christians we are truly called to be salt and light in this world. I believe it truly does make a difference the choices we make. I like coffee, but if my like for coffee supports indirectly the demise of morality in this country, should I not do what the Lord asks, and "fast" and "pray", for evils can only be gotten rid of through fasting. I do not support Starbucks, and there are plenty of other options out there. We should learn to look deeper at the effects of our financial support of the companies we choose to buy from, so that we can use our purchasing choices to bring the "best possible" good of available choices.