Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Until Today" – On Marriage, The Court Rules... And The Church Responds

In two epochal decisions on the final day of its term, this morning the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, granting full federal benefits to same-sex couples who've been married in states which have sanctioned the unions, while at the same time declining to rule on California's Proposition 8, effectively upholding a lower court's  overturn of the 2008 state referendum that banned gay marriage, yet stopping short of a national verdict on the hot-button issue. (Note: links are to the full opinions.)

To date, some 32 states have precluded same-sex marriage either by statute or constitutional amendment, while eleven others and the District of Columbia have granted full recognition to the unions, no less than three – Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island (per capita, the US' most densely-Catholic state) – having done so within the last six weeks.

Having waged an intense fight in recent years for the defense of traditional marriage – even as a slim majority of the faithful now back full recognition for gay couples – statements from Catholic entities with official standing will be run here as they emerge.

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11.50am ET – Just issued, the following is the statement of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, its signatories listed as the body's president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York (where same-sex marriage was legislatively enacted in 2011), and the subcommittee chair for the Defense of Marriage, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco:
Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court got it wrong. The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage. It is also unfortunate that the Court did not take the opportunity to uphold California’s Proposition 8 but instead decided not to rule on the matter. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth.

These decisions are part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance.

Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.

Our culture has taken for granted for far too long what human nature, experience, common sense, and God’s wise design all confirm: the difference between a man and a woman matters, and the difference between a mom and a dad matters. While the culture has failed in many ways to be marriage-strengthening, this is no reason to give up. Now is the time to strengthen marriage, not redefine it.

When Jesus taught about the meaning of marriage – the lifelong, exclusive union of husband and wife – he pointed back to “the beginning” of God’s creation of the human person as male and female (see Matthew 19). In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand. The truth of marriage endures, and we will continue to boldly proclaim it with confidence and charity.

Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decisions, with renewed purpose we call upon all of our leaders and the people of this good nation to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life. We also ask for prayers as the Court’s decisions are reviewed and their implications further clarified.
Meanwhile, the following op-ed has likewise just emerged from the DC-based head of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese for the Military Services, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, whose responsibility for all Catholic servicemen and women and federal employees abroad has seen his charge often placed in the crossfire of recent changes on social policy....
In two decisions today the US Supreme Court avoided a firm declaration about same sex-marriage but signaled that attempts by the federal government to limit rights available under state law could be unconstitutional. By sidestepping the issue of marriage per se, the Court shifts the debate to the states where it is now but raises questions about the scope of the federal government’s authority to administer its own programs.

In ruling DOMA out of bounds, the Court confirmed Congress’ basic authority to establish rules for federal programs including rules about marriage but has called into question the reach of that authority. While marriage traditionally has been defined by the states, the states have no basis to press the variety of those views on the federal government.

Until today. It is unseemly that the uniformity of the federal system can now be upset by state policies in this area of life and law.

In light of today’s Supreme Court opinion, it seems imperative to remind the faithful of the Archdiocese for the Military Services that they must never forget that all, regardless of their sexual inclination, must be treated with the respect worthy of their human dignity. As you know well, the Catholic Faith teaches clearly the biblical principle thatall persons, regardless of their sexual inclination, are called to chastity regardless of their state of life. While today’s decision voids federal law it opens the doors to others: it allows the citizens of each state the opportunity to uphold the true definition of marriage by voting for representatives and legislation that defend the true definition of marriage. I call on all Catholics and men and women of good will to make their voices heard through the democratic process by upholding marriage in their home states.

I remain confident that people of this great country, no matter the consequences, will continue to promote and defend the good and the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife for life. Marriage remains what it has always been, regardless of what any government might say.

I likewise remain confident that the First Amendment Constitutional guarantee of the “Free Exercise of Religion” will forever ensure that no restrictions or limitations on the teaching of the Catholic Faith will be placed on any Catholic priest or deacon serving in the Armed Forces. Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees that no endorsed minister will ever be compelled to perform a religious ceremony contrary to the dictates of his/her faith nor will today’s decision have any effect on the role and teaching ability of a priest or deacon in the pulpit, the classroom, the barracks or in the office.

This Archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic priest will ever be compelled to condone- even silently – same-sex “marriages”.
Elsewhere, this response has just come from the de facto dean of the USCCB's moderate-progressive bloc, Bishop Robert Lynch of St Petersburg – a former general secretary of the conference (emphasis original):
The S-4 decision of the United States Supreme Court on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) comes as no surprise and has been anticipated by the bishops of the United States. Most likely not unlike the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion of 1973, this action of the Court will be debated for a long time also.

Also of interest to me was the decision in the Proposition 8 case arising from a state constitutional referendum barring same-sex marriage. In invalidating that action of the electorate for lack of standing of those who brought the proposal forward,the majority of this court left standing for the time being the Florida constitutional amendment passed here in 2008 and thus there will be no change here.

The Catholic Church has a great interest in the definition of marriage since it is one of its seven sacraments. We firmly believe that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman. I pray that no civil legislation will ever require of us or any religion the freedom to define marriage for our own ecclesial purpose.
Back to parts North, ostensibly reflecting the mind of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archdiocese of Washington issued this statement (again, emphasis original)....
Upon initial review, the Archdiocese of Washington finds very troubling that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and chose not to rule on the question of same-sex marriage in California. The apparent outcome of these decisions is that the federal government may not set parameters for the definition of marriage, but instead must leave that power to the states. The Court, in effect, has pointed out both the power of civil government and its limitations. We believe that although government might choose to use the word marriage to apply to a whole range of unions of people, it cannot change what marriage is in its very essence.

Marriage is not a creation of the state. While a number of states and the District of Columbia have changed the legal definition of marriage, government is ultimately powerless to redefine human nature and what describes the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman with the possibility of generating and nurturing children. Governments have the power to create legal definitions. They do not have the ability or authority to change created human nature.

Despite the unsettling outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the archdiocese is grateful for the ongoing efforts undertaken by those who uphold the authentic meaning of marriage and thankful that the Court’s rulings respect individual states’ right to recognize that true meaning. The archdiocese will continue to educate Catholics and the wider community about the truth of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
And in a series of tweets issued shortly after the rulings, Bishop Kevin Farrell – the DC-bred head of the 1.2 million-member Dallas church – said that "In the sheep's clothing of 'equality,' the sacrament of Marriage is being reduced to an 'exalted conception' of an institution.... Sexual difference matters... it is essential for marriage. Only through this difference can man & woman speak the language of married love."

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4.50pm ET – And here, some more ad intra reactions from later in the day.

First, from a key USCCB moderate, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, a former conference president:

Today's unfortunate decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act is extremely disappointing. The Catholic Church promotes and defends marriage by teaching about marriage's authentic meaning as a lifelong, exclusive, and fruitful communion of one man and one woman. Today's decision is part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance.

For the time being, the U.S. Supreme Court left standing Georgia's constitutional amendment protecting marriage as a union between one man and one woman, so there will be no change here.

Catholic teaching protects the dignity of every human person, all deserving love and respect, including those who experience same-sex attraction. This is a reality that calls for compassion, sensitivity, and pastoral care. But no one –especially a child, is served by marriage redefinition.

I ask for prayers as the Court's decisions are reviewed and their implications further clarified. The Catholic Church will continue to stand for the truth of marriage and the good of children.
...from the signal figure among the bench's conservative flank, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia:
In striking down Sec. 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, the Court leaves intact – at least for now -- state constitutional definitions of marriage as an institution restricted to one man and one woman. As Justice Samuel Alito points out in his dissent, no federal “right” to same-sex marriage exists. The Constitution simply does not establish one.

As Catholics we believe marriage needs to be strengthened, not redefined. It is a great gift to men, women, children and society. Affirming the true definition of marriage denies no one his or her basic rights. On the contrary protecting marriage affirms the equal dignity of women and men and safeguards the basic rights of children.

Same-sex unions, whatever legal form they take, cannot create new life. They cannot duplicate the love of a man and woman. But they do copy marriage and family, and in the process, they compete with and diminish the uniquely important status of both. The legal battle about marriage will continue. And the Church’s commitment to promote the authentic meaning of marriage and family will be vigorously pursued.
And lastly, amid the second "Fortnight for Freedom" – called by the US bishops in large part with an eye to today's rulings and their effects on religious liberty – the response of Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, the figure widely credited as the Fortnight's architect:
As in the case of Roe v. Wade striking down abortion laws forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court has again usurped its legitimate prerogative through a raw exercise of judicial power by giving legal protection to an intrinsic evil, this time by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in the case of U.S. v. Windsor and in refusing to take up the defense of Proposition 8 in California in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry.

These hollow decisions are absolutely devoid of moral authority. It is becoming increasingly and abundantly clear that what secular law now calls “marriage” has no semblance to the sacred institution of Holy Matrimony. People of faith are called to reject the redefinition of marriage and bear witness to the truth of Holy Matrimony as a lasting, loving and life-giving union between one man and one woman.
A canon and civil lawyer (who recently added a Notre Dame MBA to the shelf), the Illinois prelate has been particularly active on the marriage front over recent weeks. 

Last month, a coalition effort led by Catholic and Black church clergy saw the Illinois legislature balk on a redefinition push whose supporters had expected it to pass, following which the capital prelate went to Phoenix to take part in a first-of-its-kind public dialogue on  Catholics and same-sex marriage with Sister Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, whose "gay-positive" outreach to LGBT in the church led to the group's denunciation by then-Cardinal Ratzinger's CDF in 1999.

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All that said, a Vatican response to the rulings is unlikely. For one, the Holy See is generally reluctant to react – especially in a negative sense – to matters of domestic policy, all the more when they're decided in the courts. 

All the more again, as this pontificate goes, shortly after the Uruguayan President José Alberto Mujica signed a bill legalizing gay marriage there last month – the second Latin American country to do so, following in the footsteps of the Pope's native Argentina – the head of state was apparently given a cordial welcome by Pope Francis, the Vatican's readout of which described the meeting as "an opportunity for an exchange of information and reflections on the socio-political situation of the country and its role in the region. 

"In this perspective," the Holy See related, "issues of common interest were discussed, including the integral development of the person, and respect for human rights, justice, and social peace."