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Right and Wrong: Catholic Responses to SCOTUS

For Catholic Christians, there is a right way and a wrong way to disagree with the #SCOTUS ruling against banning same-sex marriage in the U.S.

Let us say for a moment you are a Catholic Christian and you believe that marriage is part of the natural law, a primordial sacrament that has been part of the make-up of human society since the beginning, between one man and one woman, an expression of total love and fidelity, for life.

(And let us assume you are familiar with the Catechism’s section on the sixth commandment, or, better, the tradition of Christian moral thinking it attempts to summarize.)

I imagine that most of the world would not be surprised that this is your belief.

Now in the wake of the latest decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn laws banning same-sex marriage throughout the land, how do you respond?

Based on the entirely unscientific method of scanning my Facebook feed for an hour as I think about this, it seems nearly everyone falls into one of two camps: outright celebration or something ranging from grumpy disgust to hatred.

Of course, there are secularists who lump all religions or religious people in the same basket with the most hateful. There are those who suggest that the only possible reason for opposing this ruling is homophobia. Both sides have extremists and a lack of nuance. These are wrong too, but not the point of my post…

ChurchRainbowThe right way, from a Catholic Christian point of view, has been shared by the likes of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Bishop Gerald Kicanas, James Martin, SJ, Dan Horan, OFM, Elizabeth Scalia, and many others.

You can affirm the Christian position of marriage, affirm the sacramental nature of marriage, speak of the beauty of the primordial sacrament and the integral ecology of human nature – and then proceed to honor the Church’s teaching to love one another, to treat our LGBT sisters and brothers with “respect, sensitivity, and compassion”. You can choose to “light a candle, rather than curse the darkness”. You can choose to celebrate the good present in the decision, aware of its limitations.

The wrong way comes from those who speak of a “war on marriage”, that the judgement “harms the common good”, is “immoral and unjust”, is “anti-Catholic” or “a persecution of Christian freedoms”, to claim that “Love has lost”, or to refer to it as “a wrongly decided decision” (that primarily because of bad prose). To the Texas pastor who threatened self-immolation: get thee to an exorcist. Or a shrink.

The cringe-inducing, fear-mongering, and hate-filled rhetoric of some commentators – sadly, even including a few bishops and religious leaders – do more harm than good. Giving scandal, in this case encouraging homophobic violence or hatred, is a greater sin.

To liken this decision to Roe v. Wade and therefore to liken same-sex marriage to abortion is beyond the pale. One is about love and fidelity – even if, as a Catholic Christian, it is not sacramental marriage, or marriage in the proper sense; the other is about killing innocent children before they are born. There is no comparison.

To speak of same-sex marriage as an attack on heterosexual marriage is nonsensical; certainly it is unhelpful to the cause (as the cartoon below illustrates). No-fault divorce is an attack on marriage. A throw-away culture that encourages people to recycle spouses as readily, or more readily, than their smart phones is an attack on marriage. Pornography and Disney and The Bachelorette and every trashy romance novel ever written are attacks on marriage, with their unrealistic scenarios, false hopes, and impossible standards for success. As a Catholic Christian you might say that same-sex marriage is only a partial good – honoring the unitatve purpose of marriage if not the procreative – but you can celebrate the good that is there. Most Catholics i know would say committed monogamy in any form is better than the alternatives, morally speaking. Why be so afraid of recognizing the steps on the way to perfection that we all must take. Meet people where they are, and walk with them further. There are many kinds of civil marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental, including a significant number among Catholics. This is no different, at that level.

cartoonsanctitymarriageHonestly, I have never understood the hatred that is tolerated in Christian circles when it comes to homosexuality. As a kid, at least from my perspective, the Church was always a place where everyone was welcome. Which is not to say the Church did not teach clearly what it thought was right and good and what it did not. But everyone is imperfect, we are all a pilgrim people: The Church is about field triage, not a social club for the elite, so everyone is welcome. Being Catholic and being homophobic were as mutually exclusive in my early years as being Catholic and being racist. I knew there were some fundamentalist Christians who seemed to preach hate, but I had never encountered it in the Catholic Church.

It was only at university – at Notre Dame – that I first encountered otherwise level-headed, loving, and reasonable Catholics who seemed to abandon reason and charity both when the topic of homosexuality came up. This is unacceptable.

God is love. God calls Christians to love. Not just to love those who vote as you vote, or read the same journals you read, or go to the same form of liturgy you attend, but to love our neighbors, our enemies, everyone. Only with love can you speak truth, and until you have the former, you cannot hope to find the latter.

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17 Comments

  1. […] Pro Unione wrote a great post on how we, as Catholics, should see the decision to legalise gay marriage. In some sense, it’s actually a good thing. It focuses upon only one aspect of marriage (unitive), while rejecting the procreative aspect, but we can celebrate the good that is present. Unlike fundamentalists, we don’t reject a thing wholesale because it is not a perfection. We support the good present in all religions. Those who seek God with pure hearts will find him. That means gay people too. […]

  2. TS says:

    What you you mean when you say that same-sex marriage can be seen as a partial good (i.e. it honors the unitive aspect of marriage without the procreative aspect)? How can the unitive aspect be present without sexual complementarity? Surely there is love present, but that is the union of friendship, not the union of marriage.

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      What is the unitive aspect of marriage if not a form of friendship – that highest form of love? There have been a lot of loveless marriages or spouses who do not have friendship, but these are failings in the unitive aspect, as well. Is it the same kind of unity? No. But is it a real unity? Yes.
      Can we honor the choice of committed monogamy over whatever alternatives while still maintaining a different ideal? Certainly.Can we honor the good in the court decision, even while recognizing limitations? I hope so – if it is all or nothing, we might as well burn the whole place down right now. We are imperfect, and can only help others heal their imperfections by acknowledging our own.

      • Jim Russell says:

        Uhh…Friendship isn’t the “highest form of love”. That would be *agape*, not philia. And there is *nothing* to be “honored” in two men or two women *pretending* to have a marriage….

      • A.J. Boyd says:

        Granted, i was thinking of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and the highest love we can have for our fellow humans. Nothing against agape. 🙂

  3. Toni Aceto says:

    That rainbow flag hanging over the altar is a sacrilege and promotes ideology inconsistent with Catholic teaching. The problem in the Church is not those speaking Church teaching with a clear voice, the problem in the Church is those who are speaking a lukewarm message out of both sides of their mouths. Terrible shame.

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      Toni, the point is to speak with a clear voice, but to do so lovingly. Speak truth in charity, or not at all.

  4. dancingcrane says:

    This is an example of the wrong kind of Catholic response.

    Where is the good? That is like celebrating the rapist who kidnaps women and has babies with them, and yes, they exist, if you remember recent news). After all they are for honoring the procreative nature of marriage if not the unitive.

    While we’re at it, celebrate fornication too, since they are honoring the unitive aspect too – even if only for one night.

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      I can certainly appreciate the point – strive for the highest good – but the analogy is flawed. Rape is a violent act. The better analogy would be the ‘common law marriage’, the heterosexual couple that is monogamous and committed to each other, cohabiting, but not married. It is not sacramental marriage and is not the highest good, but it is better than polygamy, disassociating sex from love, or a loveless marriage. Certainly better than rape or an abusive relationship. I say celebrating the lesser or partial good will encourage people to the greater good more than ‘hating the sinner’ as well as the sin, which is what i describe as the ‘wrong’ kind of response.

  5. Angela says:

    Some of your points are good — walking with people where they are at is good, lighting a candle rather than condemning the darkness is good. However, you seem to put this false dichotomy. One must either celebrate gay marriage or condemn it. In some ways, there is a tendency among some Catholics to be ashamed of Church teaching and to put up a smoke screen. “Please just perceive me as loving an accepting. I’ll compromise on moral truths all you want and embrace you in your spiritual mediocrity. I won’t even call it mediocrity because that is offensive.”

    When I was a child in a fairly decent Catholic elementary school, I was taught something deceivingly terrible. It was much like the lie of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Consider the doctrine of divination in light of the serpent’s world. Indeed, because of sin, we are in need of a savior. “Oh happy fault. Oh necessary sin of Adam that earned for us so great a redeemer…” (prayed at the Easter Vigil Mass) The serpent said “God knows you will be like gods, knowing good from evil.” And yes, that’s true. On the surface level, everything the serpent said appears true. He, being the father of all lies, is a good liar because good lies are so close to the truth, its difficult to tell them apart.

    So what was I taught that was so terrible in grade school? I was taught that most people are ordinary. Most people aren’t living saints. The saints are exceptional, heroes to look up to. And in some rare cases, there were possibly living saints — Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul the 2nd. But most people aren’t. Most people are ordinary and for us ordinary folks, we have Purgatory.

    In some ways, there is truth in that. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. Blessed Mother Theresa and Pope Saint John Paul II were great an holy people. The problem is that my teachers tried to compensate for our self pride can lead to a false humility that demeans and degrades one value when you don’t live up to such high of a standard, with obeying one’s pride. That is to say because the sin of pride will beat me up, I should bow to it and abandon the call to sainthood, endorsing the idea that morality is a payment system based on a just reward when it’s not. “I’m good enough” Well, no you’re not because you don’t get to heavy by paying at the door with good deeds. You get to heaven by opening your heart to God’s grace, living a sacramental life, and being transformed into something beyond your ordinary self.

    The two false dichotomies between either celebrating gay marriage or expressing some level of hatred are based on the similar errors.

    There is a middle ground, a patient and loving ground. And that ground is to neither celebrate nor over-react to the reality of gay marriage. It’s not something to celebrate, to put up rainbow flags over. Oh yes, certainly a loving committed relationship is better than promiscuity, but it still is morally deprived. It’s always easy to feel good about yourself by comparing yourself to the greater sinner. It is easy to be the Pharisee who prays, “Thank you God that I am not like other people.” than to say “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Consider the story deeply. That Pharisee probably could consider himself more righteous than the tax collector. But the issue is this. Unless we are all aspiring to be great saints, we have taken the role of the Pharisee. We must never become complacent in our own righteousness.

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      Thanks, Angela, but i think Christians have forgotten that we are to speak truth in charity. We can disagree with people we love, and love people who do things we disagree with. In fact, we do it all the time, why should this be any different?

      • Angela says:

        I don’t think they’ve forgotten. I think anyone embracing the false dichotomy I mentioned is having trouble morally discerning what speaking truth in charity looks like. The root sin of pride effects us and is the most difficult to overcome. Whether I’m judging my self worth or my virtue based on comparing myself to people who are “worse” sinners than I am, or if I’m telling myself “I must be a pretty good person because all these people speak well of me”, that’s pride.

        The only way to judge whether you’re speaking truth in charity is to apply prudence. When do I speak? How do I speak? What am I communicating? Is what I am communicating a distortion of the truth?

  6. annmargrock says:

    This is intellectually dishonest and tries to sow confusion for people who are more attuned to their own sin than Christ’s love no matter what that sin may be, primarily pride and disobedience.

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      How is it intellectually dishonest? The church’s stand is clear; what i propose is more honest than hatred. People know what the church teaches, but people keep hearing un-Christian hatred mixed in with it. Better to hear Christian charity with the truth, no?

  7. John Krug says:

    The damage to marriage that has been created by this ruling (and more importantly, this mindset) is that there is no longer a recognized definition of marriage. Any statement that one makes at this point regarding “marriage” will one day (soon) be interpreted by many as hate speech. Why should there be any prohibition on incest if one happens to have deep love and a sexual interest in one’s sibling or parent, as long as both are consenting adults? And what’s so special about monogamy? Why must one’s love and fidelity be limited to one other person? We can have deep friendships with many people, but can only share genital pleasure with one? If I want to commit to having exclusive sex for the rest of my life with a special group of seven people, what’s wrong with that? Who is to judge? That would be hateful. On the other hand, why must sexuality be involved in marriage at all? Why can’t any group of people simply declare that they are married, thereby forcing the employer of any one of them to pay health benefits for all? Will they be forced to take a libido test for each other? If a company places a numerical limit because it simply can’t afford to support an unlimited numbers of beneficiaries, wouldn’t that limitation also then have to apply to all those large “traditional” Catholic families with 6 or more kids? The net effect of all this, in the not too distant future, is that it will become financially unreasonable and unsustainable to provide any any type of “special” consideration to “family units” because no one will be able to define a “family” in a way that can be limited. In that case, what happens to the “traditional” concept of a married couple with a stay-at-home parent? To paraphrase the famous line from “The Incredibles” movie: “And when everyone can be married, no one will be.”

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      Civilly speaking, that would be a good thing. Civil marriage is not marriage, sacramentally speaking. From a Catholic perspective, the government cannot govern marriage, but can only grant civil rights and recognitions to married couples. Why not allow those civil rights to anyone who wants to designate someone as their ‘partner’ – whether heterosexual, homosexual, or even platonic? It does not effect the sacrament of marriage one way or the other.

  8. A.J. Boyd says:

    It hardly seems necessary to point out, since it seems obvious, but apparently it has been missed by several commentators. I do not think the government should be in the marriage business at all, and i have thought so for decades. Marriage is something personal and often religious. For Catholics and many other Christians, it is a sacrament. Civil law does not define or challenge this fact in any way.

    What the government can and should do is grant certain rights and privileges to the person i designate as my spouse or partner. It should also uphold the right of every adult citizen to make this designation. In a sense, “civil marriage” does not exist, from a Catholic point of view, only the civil granting of rights that we associate with, but are not limited to, marriage. I think these rights ought to be granted to whomever you choose: a spouse, a partner, a sibling, a religious superior. If i want to get married I go to my church, temple, synagogue, or just invite my friends and family to celebrate with me as witnesses – and then register that fact with the government so that those rights can be granted on the person i designate.

    My post addresses how those who disagree with the ruling on same-sex marriage should respond: above all with charity, the only context and prerequisite for truth. Not with confusing hatred and giving scandal.

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