Perseverance after Obergefell v. Hodges

07-26-2015Weekly ReflectionFr. Will Schmid

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that "the 14th Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state." In the wake of this decision many Catholics have found themselves asking troubling questions. "What does this mean for the Catholic Church?" "Will the Church participate in same sex marriages?" "How should I respond to my family members and friends who are in favor of the Supreme Court's decision?"

The Catholic response to the recent ruling is challenging for a number of reasons. First, the issue of gay marriage is an emotionally charged issue that often draws a quick and aggressive emotional response prior to any opportunity for healthy dialogue. People on both sides of the issue are finding themselves labeled and judged before their thoughts on the issue are even articulated. In particular, Catholics often find themselves referred to as "bigots" or "homophobes" before being given an opportunity to express why the Catholic faith is opposed to same-sex marriage. This has made it very difficult for Catholics to embrace, understand, and articulate their beliefs. The immediate, premature, and aggressive emotional reaction to anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is a form of 21st century religious persecution. If we cannot be given an opportunity for healthy and rational dialogue, all discussion and argumentation will be fruitless. Second, it's hard to know the exact ramifications of this particular Supreme Court decision because it carries with it the potential to touch upon so many other issues. The following are a few examples:

  • If the complementarity of the sexes is not an essential element of marriage, why must the limited number of parties be an essential element? Is the legalization of polygamy on the horizon? Chief Justice Roberts made this specific observation in his dissenting opinion.
  • What about the authority of the clergy in civil marriages? Will this decision eventually result in a separation of civil and religious marriages?
  • What about federal sexual orientation and gender identity legislation? What future legislation will arise in the name of this decision, and how will potential future legislation effect Catholic business owners and Catholic organizations? In what ways might this threaten our religious freedom?
  • What about the rites of children? Does a child have a right to a mother and a father? Is this Supreme Court decision not another example of how our country has decided to place the desires of adults over the rights of children?

As you can see, every decision has effects. There is no such thing as a consequence-less choice. When we knock down one domino, other dominoes will also fall. It is hard to know exactly which dominoes will fall as a result of this decision. The potential landscape created by this decision is massive.

From a Catholic perspective, discussion on the Obergefell v. Hodges decision must begin with the re-emphasis of the Catholic teaching on the dignity of each and every human person. Every verbal discussion, social media posting, email, and written comment should be constructed with respect, compassion, and sensitivity for all parties involved. Regardless of where we may stand on the issue, we must remember that each and every person has inherent dignity and that this dignity must always be upheld in every arena of communication.

That being said, the Church also teaches that Catholics have a moral responsibility to witness to the truth in love. Authentic love is "willing the good of the other." Thus, an essential aspect of love is correcting error, since it is never good for a person to remain in error. In this way, a non-response would be a violation of love because it would leave a person in darkness rather than in light. Rather, Catholics are called to expose the errors of the ideology behind same-sex marriage, but to always do so in a way that respects the dignity of the human person. Please be prudent and loving in what you say and how you say it concerning this issue. Even if you are not given the same dignity, always respond in love. "God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Our arguments will fall on deaf ears if we choose not to speak or if we speak from a place other than love.

As Catholics, we also ought to reflect upon the reality that truth is not determined by majority vote. Five Supreme Court justices do not have the authority to redefine what has been communicated to us as true by both natural law and Divine Revelation. In the face of this decision the Catholic Church must continue to boldly witness to the truth and beauty of God's plan for Marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life. The Church believes that this is the only definition of Marriage that allows humans to flourish.

Marriage is not a private reality, but a public one with a far-reaching influence (hence the reason why the government is invested in it). Since Marriage is the fundamental building block of every society, it logically follows that a change in the definition of Marriage will eventually result in a change in our conception of society. In 2003, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) wrote, "Civil laws are structuring principles of man's life in society, for good or for ill. They play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior. Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's perception and evaluation of forms of behavior. Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage."

The decision to give legal recognition to same-sex unions carries with it the recognition that same-sex behavior is morally good and worthy of our promotion. Pope Benedict XVI further explained: "Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself."

On account of this, the Catholic Church in the United States must stand in opposition to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling. The Church cannot and will not perform or support same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court decision was bad, and as Pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Roman Catholic Church, I can assure you that our response will be to rededicate our efforts to building up a thriving Marriage culture.

The result of this stance will come with persecution. The Catholic Church in many circles will be seen in a negative light because of its opposition to gay marriage. Individual Catholics will experience persecution over this issue: "a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Luke 12:53)." However, in the face of persecution and division, we must remember the words of St. James: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).

1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, 2003: roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/ c_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html