"A Profound Turning Point" – On Marriage, The Court Rules... and The Church Responds
With 36 states and the District of Columbia already having extended marriage to same-sex couples – a significant increase since the 2013 Windsor decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act – yet again the majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic who has consistently been the court's dominant player in advancing gay-rights cases.
Among the Supremes' six-justice Catholic bloc, Kennedy was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, while the other four – Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – dissented.
The broadest possible ruling SCOTUS could make on the two cases at hand, the decision comes a month after Ireland became the first nation to redefine civil marriage by popular vote, sanctioning the change in a referendum margin of nearly 2-to-1. While Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the result called the church to a "reality check" on how it communicates its teaching, particularly with young people, in subsequent comments to Italian reporters the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, termed the vote "not merely a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for humanity," a line subsequently clarified as representing the stance of the Holy See.
Given the US hierarchy's significant investment of voice and effort in its defense of traditional marriage – and the possible, if not likely move by at least some bishops to remove their priests and deacons as witnesses of civil marriage in the wake of today's decision – reaction from church leadership will be posted below as it emerges both here and via Page Three (accessible either directly or down the right sidebar of the main Whispers page). Among these, particularly of note will be responses from the states where the decision will legalize same-sex unions for the first time – among them Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky, the latter being the home-turf of the USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville.
In the meantime, given his longtime standing as the Stateside bench's lodestar figure on societal questions and their impact on culture, it feels fitting to start things off with the text of the letter written by the late Cardinal Francis George to the Chicago church as Illinois enacted same-sex marriage through legislation in November 2013:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,SVILUPPO (11.40am ET) – In a statement released solely under his signature (that is, lacking the body's controversial Marriage Czar, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco), Kurtz has issued the following response in the name of the US bishops:
As you all know, the State of Illinois has entered into law the recognion of same-sex unions as marriages. The Church was part of the public debate, as you also know. We tried to explain that this is not primarily a religious issue, since marriage comes to us from nature as the union of a man and a woman, long before Christ walked the earth or the state came into being.
Nevertheless, there will be consequences for the Church and society that will become clearer as the law is used to sue for discrimination. The law has made some gays and lesbians happy, and that is not a bad thing in itself. The law, however, is bad law because it will contribute over the long run to the further dissoluon of marriage and family life, which are the bedrock of any society. The Church will therefore continue and strengthen her ministry to families. We have lived with bad laws before, and we will do our best to adjust to this one for the sake of social harmony.
One of the consequences for our religion is already evident in the misuse of Pope Francis’ words, spoken last summer, about our attitude toward an individual gay person who has asked God for forgiveness. The Pope was not speaking about approving gay marriage. To use his words against his teaching, as they were used on the floor of the State House of Representatives on November 5, is less than intellectually honest.
We are called, by reason of our belief that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, to love and respect all of our brothers and sisters, without exception. But we express this respect within the context of our belief in how God has made us and made the world. This belief and this love is the basis of our joy in living the Catholic faith with integrity of mind and heart.
I thank you for your life of faith. God bless you and those you love.
Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.On a context note, the marriage issue has a particular resonance for the USCCB chief – the first chair of what was initially an ad hoc bishops' committee for the protection of marriage, Kurtz's 2010 statement that the nation faced "1973" for the institution (a reference to the court's sea-change ruling on abortion in Roe v. Wade) showed a communications skill that arguably launched him into the conference's top rank; the day after making the comment, the bishops elected Kurtz their vice-president.
The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.
Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.
I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.
Lastly, I call upon all people of good will to join us in proclaiming the goodness, truth, and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for millennia, and I ask all in positions of power and authority to respect the God-given freedom to seek, live by, and bear witness to the truth.
Meanwhile, in the first statement from a group of prelates in a locale impacted by the ruling's strike-down of a ban, the bishops of Michigan have issued the following joint response:
Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage represents a profound legal turning point in the contemporary and cultural understanding of spouses and family. We continue to teach that every human person deserves respect and compassion. The experience of same-sex attraction is a reality that calls for attention, sensitivity and pastoral care. While every person is called to love and deserves to be loved, today’s momentous decision will not change the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage.In similar fashion, from another state whose ban was overturned – Nebraska – its three bishops have likewise issued a shared response:
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman. This union brings two persons together and, because of their natural biological composition, each bring qualities to the marriage that differ from one another. Man and woman complement each other; they then become united as one in marriage and together are unique in their ability to create new life based on sexual and reproductive differences.
Every child has a mother and a father and even though each child deserves to be loved and raised by them together, we are conscious of and loving toward those circumstances in which this arrangement of a married mother and father in the home is not reality. Married couples unable to conceive children or family structures that differ – single parents, widowed parents, adopted children and those being raised by grandparents or other family members – merit compassion and support for their life situations, which at times can be difficult and challenging. The Church and her ministries must remain conscious of and respectful toward these differing dynamics, especially when support, counsel and love is sought.
Going forward, the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage will have a significant ripple effect upon the first amendment right to religious liberty. It sets the Church’s teaching about marriage in opposition to the law and will create inestimable conflicts between the state and religious persons and institutions. As the impact of the decision plays out over the coming weeks and months the Catholic Church will continue to preach the truth about marriage and will promote, in the public square, this truth as what is good for society and our world.
The Catholic bishops of Nebraska remind all people of good will that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman. Marriage, as ordained by God, is the cornerstone of every human family, an ancient tradition in every culture. No one can change that reality. The truth about marriage is written into the complementarity of men and women in the context of the family. We encourage all believers to be witnesses to the goodness and beauty of marriage as God has revealed it, and by their example to foster peace, love, mercy and joy as a witness to that truth....from Ohio – whose marriage law was the direct focus of the case upon which the court made today's ruling – the following was just released by the state's lead cleric, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati:
Under the false banner of ‘marriage equality,’ the United State Supreme Court today redefined marriage by judicial fiat. In so doing, it has disregarded not only the clearly expressed will of the electorate in Ohio and other states, but also an understanding of marriage that was shared by virtually all cultures – secular as well as religious – until recently....here, from one of the US church's prime voices on the issue – and a USCCB-elected delegate to October's Synod on the Family – Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Philadelphia:
Every nation has laws limiting who and under what circumstances people can be married. This is because lawmakers have always understood that marriage does not exist just for the mutual satisfaction of the two people involved but for the betterment of society. Traditional marriage is the cradle of the family, the basic building block of society. As Pope Francis has reminded us, every child has a right to be raised by two parents, a father and a mother. Both parents are important, and they are not interchangeable. The sad reality that so many children are deprived of this right because of the crisis in traditional marriage does not make it any less important. It is deeply disappointing and worrisome that our courts do not understand this.
Although the decision is disappointing, it is undeniable that families headed by same-sex couples are growing in number and visibility. These families deserve everyone’s love, respect, compassion, sensitivity and, where appropriate, pastoral care from the Church.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on marriage is not a surprise. The surprise will come as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today's action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions. The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God's Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today's decision....from Miami's Archbishop Thomas Wenski – one of the US' key defenders of Laudato Si', who's previously linked the marriage cause to Pope Francis' call for an "integral ecology":
The decision of the Supreme Court redefining marriage as merely an affective union between two people of any sex was disappointing if not unexpected. As the minority of the judges said in their dissent, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.” This is simply a wrong, mistaken decision. Of course, this is not the first time the Supreme Court got it wrong....from another state that's seeing the overturn of a marriage ban, a one-sentence reax of St Louis' Archbishop Robert Carlson:
In the 19th Century, in the Dred Scott decision, the Court decided that a black man had no rights that a white person had to respect. In the 20th Century, the Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a baby could be killed in her mother’s womb at any time before birth. And now in the 21st Century, the Supreme Court makes another wrong decision.
Bad decisions lead to bad consequences and do not “settle” anything. Dred Scott made inevitable a bloody Civil War that cost more lives than any other war in our history and the racism that inspired the Dred Scott decision is still a cancer on America’s soul.
Roe v. Wade has resulted in more than 50 million abortions. Yet, abortion still troubles the conscience of America and an increasing majority of Americans reject “abortion on demand”.
This decision redefining marriage will also bring bad consequences. Losing the understanding of marriage in our culture as a conjugal union of a man and a woman in a permanent and exclusive commitment conducive to welcoming and raising the children born from such a union weakens the family as the basic cell of society; and it imperils the human flourishing of future generations. Allowing “an act of the will” to be substituted for “legal judgment” is a recipe for tyranny.
The decision issued today by the Supreme Court to effectively change the legal definition of marriage in the United States does not alter the unassailable truth that marriage is, and always will be, the life-long, life-giving union of one man and one woman....from the nation's capital, a measured, unsigned statement from the archdiocese of Washington, issued on behalf of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, likewise a US delegate to the Synod as a member of the body's 15-man governing council:
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that in effect redefines the civil definition of marriage nationwide. The law of the land affirms that “marriage” in civil law may now include two persons of the same sex. While this is not the Church’s understanding of marriage, it is a definition confirmed by the Court....from Georgia – whose state ban was overturned with today's ruling – a similarly low-octane response from Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, a key USCCB moderate:
Our Catholic faith teaches that every person, regardless of race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation, has dignity and is loved by God. The Church’s teachings on human sexuality and life reflect this truth.
Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a truth that predates courts and constitutions. This understanding transcends cultures, religions and all time – it is the foundation of civilization. More than just a bond between people who love and are committed to each other, marriage is also about creating and nurturing the next generation – something that requires both a man and a woman with their distinctive and complementary gifts. This is the reason that civil governments have given marriage special recognition throughout all of human history. Men and women are not interchangeable. Marriage is not ours to define. History, nature and revelation all profess these truths.
Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court changes none of this. The Court deals with civil law not revealed truth or religious faith.
The Court’s opinion rightly affirms the freedom of religious organizations to continue to express and teach the truth of marriage. Nonetheless, the Court’s ruling has the potential to create circumstances in which the Church’s teaching and practices may be perceived to conflict with civil law. As such situations arise, the local Church will have to undertake a moral evaluation to determine, on a case-by-case basis, the manner in which it will respond to this conflict.
Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some people and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of these divisive cases, there would simply be no reason for the Court to convene. This most recent decision is no different....from the lead prelate of Texas as its ban was struck down, the response of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the USCCB vice-president as well as an October Synod delegate:
By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again, this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessing of precious new life.
This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.
This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement. The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.
The decision has made my ministry as a pastor more complex since it demands that I both continue to uphold the teachings of my Church regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony while also demanding that I insist upon respect for the human dignity of both those who approve of the judgment as well as those who may disapprove.
The Supreme Court’s narrow majority decision today is gravely unjust as it attempts to change the nature of marriage. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error harming the common good and the most vulnerable among us. The ruling does not and cannot change what marriage really is. No one and no court can make what is false true....and lastly for now, the mid-afternoon statement from Pope Francis' principal North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston:
Marriage is a perennial institution, with deep roots in who we are and in our nation’s culture and laws. Marriage is and always will be the union between one man and one woman. This truth is inseparable from the duty to honor the God-given dignity of every human person, to protect the beautiful truth of marriage, which concerns the essential well-being of the nation, especially children. Children have a basic right, wherever possible, to know and be loved by their mother and father together. The law has a duty to support every child in this most basic right.
With renewed purpose, we call upon all people of good will to promote and defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life. The redefinition of legal marriage to include any other type of relationship has serious consequences, especially for religious freedom.
Our Church will continue its efforts to support public policy issues, including a version of the marriage and religious freedom act, which would prohibit the government from discriminating against those who act in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is the union between a man and woman.
I encourage the faithful of the Archdiocese to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, and love for all our neighbors. Together, we must increase our efforts to strengthen marriages and families and rebuild a marriage culture. And, we shall continue to reach out with love and support to all people, including those who experience same-sex attraction knowing that all people are loved by God and are called to love Him.
As a citizen of the United States and a Catholic bishop, I am saddened by the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage.While the dust begins to settle, conspicuous by their absences as mid-afternoon turns to evening remain reactions from the heads of the nation's three largest dioceses – by population, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago – as well as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the US bishops' designated leader in their efforts on the protection of traditional marriage.
The institution of marriage understood in its human, moral and legal dimensions is a fundamental building block of any society. The protection of marriage and families is a shared responsibility for all of us.
In a pluralistic society we inevitability face disagreements about important political and legal questions. But our division over this question in its moral, political and legal significance is particularly painful.
Certainly every citizen of this land, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves to be respected in their personal and civic life. But enshrining same sex marriage in our constitutional system of governance has dangers that may become fully evident only over time.
I can only express my disappointment with the decision and invite members of my own religious community to remember and reaffirm the fundamental truths of our faith about marriage. At the same time, faced with a decision that embodies a quite different understanding of the meaning of marriage than held by the Church, we should as citizens and Catholics both protect our own deeply held values and participate with civility and charity in the continuing national discussion about this decision.