Usually, I have chosen not to author newspaper columns during the summer months, giving myself a few weeks of sabbatical from the rigors of writing. However, I felt it necessary to break my own rule to respond to the recent Supreme Court decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) redefining marriage and in effect negating state constitutional provisions and statutes that upheld marriage as the union of one man and one woman for their good and the good of the children born from their union.
The opinion of five unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court Justices changed our nation’s legal understanding of something as fundamental as marriage. By the narrowest possible margins the Court has imposed its own notion of marriage that contradicts our nation’s previous understanding of this institution as well as the common conception of marriage for millennia across cultures and religions. It is a sober reminder that one of the most important powers of a president is the appointment of Supreme Court Justices.
In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts describes the arrogance and the flawed reasoning of the decision: “The majority’s opinion is an act of the will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. The majority expressly disclaims judicial caution and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own new insight into the nature of injustice. As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis for society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.” Chief Justice Roberts poses the question to his fellow justices: “Just who do we think we are?”
This decision was handed down during the period designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as the Fortnight for Freedom – two weeks in which every Catholic is encouraged to fast and pray for the protection and preservation of religious liberty and conscience rights in our nation. Before this Court decision, there were already serious concerns of the efforts of the current Administration to limit severely religious freedom and to disregard conscience rights.
The Health and Human Services Mandates that are part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act continue to be litigated in the Courts and illustrate the serious nature of our concerns. The Courts have yet to decide whether our federal government will require the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious ministries to provide morally unacceptable “services” (e.g. abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilizations) in their employee health plan.
The impact of Obergefell v. Hodges on religious liberty and conscience rights remains to be determined. The language and reasoning of the majority in this recent decision have only served to heighten the anxiety for all those concerned about the free expression of religion.
Will religious ministers, e.g. Catholic priests, be allowed to serve as witnesses for civil marriages? Will this influence how the government evaluates the legality of employment criteria by churches? Will this eliminate the tax exempt status of churches that continue to teach members that authentic marriage is the union of one man and one woman for their good and the good of the children born from their union? These and other important questions impacting religious expression are yet to be resolved.
It is essential to acknowledge that the Catholic Church supports and celebrates developments in our culture and society that have made socially unacceptable the ridicule, belittlement and unjust discrimination against those who experience same-sex attraction. Regardless of sexual orientation, the Church champions the innate dignity of every human being as created in the divine image and of such inestimable worth that the Son of God gave His life on Calvary.
That said, while our Church respects the need of every human being for friendship and the corresponding right of every individual to give and receive love, this is not the same as giving moral approval to homosexual acts or for that matter heterosexual acts that contradict the natural and/or moral law. Despite being surrounded by the sad contrary cultural evidence, our society continues to embrace the erroneous notion of the sexual revolution that equated practically every physical sexual act with love.
Much like the response to the injustices perpetrated by the Supreme Court in its 1973 decisions legalizing abortion, the Catholic community in the United States needs a multi-faceted strategy to the societal problems and pastoral challenges resulting from the Court’s recent decision.
We need to renew and strengthen our efforts to support marriage and family life within the Church and the broader culture.
We need to expand our pastoral care and solicitude towards individuals experiencing same-sex attraction.
We need to educate better those within the Church and communicate more effectively to the broader community the beauty and meaning of authentic marriage and its importance for children and the well-being of society.
We need to work in state legislatures and the congress to limit and minimize the damage caused by the Court’s decision while also advocating and laying the groundwork for its eventual reversal.
Most of all, we need to fast and pray for wisdom and courage as we attempt to transform a culture and society that has become so confused about something as fundamental as the nature of marriage and family life.
This is not a moment to yield to discouragement. It is a time to recommit ourselves to renewing and reclaiming our society and culture one mind and one heart at a time.