In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision finding same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, some Catholics feel confused and somewhat apprehensive. I would like to make several observations to put the situation in context.
Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage remains as it always has been: marriage is the sacred lifelong commitment of one man and one woman and is about creating new life and the next generation. This requires both a man and a woman. The SCOTUS ruling addresses the civil definition of marriage. It confirms same-sex marriage as a civil right.
The court’s ruling also ensures the First Amendment rights of religious organizations, holding that “Religions and those who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere convictions that by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.” (Page 27) The same section confirms our First Amendment rights to the free practice of religion.
Of course, there will be no same-sex marriages in Catholic churches. But, it is important to state that while the Catholic Church can never condone same-sex marriage, the Church makes clear that persons with a homosexual orientation “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Par. 2358) This acceptance of gay and lesbian people must be real and not merely symbolic. The Church, in her mission, is committed to reaching out to all people.
As a result of this action by SCOTUS, we know some are taking it as one more opportunity to characterize the Church and the Catholic faithful as bigots opposed to a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution. This is nothing new. In opposing the abortion rights granted by Roe vs. Wade, the Church is in a similar situation. Of course, we are not alone in our opposition.
There are those who see this as the oft referred to “slippery slope,” foreseeing dark days ahead for the Church in America. The Church has seen much darker days. It is no stranger to adversity. The New York Times (May 15, 2008) described Catholics as “a persecuted minority in colonial New York … denied all religious and civil liberties except for a few years in the 1680s when the Catholic Stuart monarchs ruled England.” The first Catholic parish was not established in New York until 1785.
Lord Calvert’s Maryland colony was composed of Catholics fleeing the English penal laws against the practice of Catholicism. Many German immigrants came to America seeking refuge from Bismarck’s Kulturkampf in the 1870s.
Yet a Christian consensus around biblical morality emerged.
President John Quincy Adams wrote, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” That consensus has been destroyed, first by legislation and adjudication, and later by the recasting of biblical teachings on morality by some religious bodies.
As Catholics, our response to these legal and societal changes is still the same: to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and to witness the healing and forgiving love of Jesus. St. John Paul II pointed the way in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “The Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!”
Image credit: bm.iphone on Flickr