|Download Paper as PDF|
|Breaking Open the Word|
|Saint of the Week|
|World & Nation|
|Paper Delivery: Questions|
Uphold traditional man-woman union
With President Obama’s decision not to “defend” DOMA, the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, a new salvo in our nation’s culture wars was fired. A federal judge last year also deemed “unconstitutional” California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to that state’s constitution approved by voters in 2008.
The matter may ultimately be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, those of us who support the traditional understanding of marriage fear that the court might indeed impose a redefinition of marriage on us in much the same way as it imposed legalized abortion with Roe v. Wade.
The stakes are high. Those who see “same-sex marriage” as progress towards a more “tolerant” society will—with characteristic intolerance—label their opponents as “intolerant, bigoted, homophobic” and so on. However, to defend marriage as a monogamous union between one man and one woman is not bigotry. Nor are the efforts of those who seek to enshrine in state or federal constitutions the “traditional” understanding of marriage intolerant.
Of course, in America, we value our privacy and that of others—and so today most agree that one’s sexual orientation shouldn’t necessarily be anyone else’s business. And even those Americans who hold homosexual activity to be immoral and sinful are increasingly tolerant of homosexuality as a “private” phenomenon. They might invite the person who experiences same-sex attractions to conversion and, in place of behavior viewed as sinful, propose chastity—but they do not invoke the coercive power of the state to force such a conversion.
Yet in redefining the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex unions, the proponents of “gay marriage” are in effect imposing their views and lifestyle on the larger populace. Once legal, the state’s coercive power will punish those who refuse to embrace gay marriages. For example, public officials—regardless of their views on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts—will be obliged to officiate at same-sex weddings, and public schools will be required to teach their acceptability to children whether parents concur or not. Even First Amendment freedoms will not be protected from assault.
Marriage has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other). The state has had a legitimate interest in favoring such traditional marriages as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations. Of course, in recent years, in the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the culture, the state has often retreated from vigorously promoting these interests. Sometimes this occurred through legislation (e.g. no-fault divorce laws); sometimes through judicial fiat (e.g. Roe v. Wade).
In the culture wars, the two sides are fighting about the understanding of man and his relationship to truth and reality. One side—and today “gay marriage” is its poster child—holds that anyone can essentially create his or her own reality. This side holds for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. The other side holds men and women are not self-creators but creatures. Truth is not constructed, but received and thus must reflect the reality of things. Or, as the Book of Genesis 1:27 says: “Male and female, He (God) created them.”
The former’s position, like that of the secular utopias of the 20th century, is a recipe for tyranny; the latter’s position promises a freedom that is only achievable through adherence to objective truth, which we do not, and could never, invent.
Same-sex “marriage”—if allowed to prevail in law—will result in the devaluation of all marriages with terrible consequences to society. That marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman is certainly part of Catholic teaching—in fact, in our teaching, this union is seen as a covenant and is a sacrament. However, marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the sake of family is not a product of religious sectarianism. Nor is marriage a creation of the state. It is founded in nature itself.
Marriage as an institution precedes church and state—if not a creation of church or state, neither has any authority to change the nature of marriage. The common good demands that the understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman is not to be lost.
The Most Rev. Thomas Wenski is archbishop of Miami. His column first appeared in The Miami Herald. It is reprinted here with his permission.
ARCHBISHOP DOLAN of NEW YORK CITY
Between Man and Woman: