The Editors

The debate about the legal status of same-sex marriages has erupted in earnest on both coasts of these United States. As the presidential election campaign gathers momentum, the issue threatens to be one of the most divisive challenges confronting both Democrats and Republicans.

In the wake of a 4-to-3 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that same-sex partners could not be denied the right to marry, Massachusetts legislators unsuccessfully struggled to fashion an amendment to the state constitution that would protect the traditional understanding of marriage as a heterosexual union, while offering gay and lesbian couples the possibility of establishing civil unions that would provide the rights and protections enjoyed by married couples. These attempts at compromise were opposed by both opponents and advocates of same-sex marriage. Whether some compromise may be possible is not clear.

Meanwhile on the other coast, where gay civil unions have been legal, San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the city clerk to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples, even though California state law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Hundreds of couples applied for such licenses overnight, and city officials were busy officiating at marriages, while the mayor invited the newlyweds to a reception in City Hall. The legality of the mayor’s action is being challenged, and the issue could make its way to the California Supreme Court.

While jurists may debate the legal and constitutional issues connected with same-sex marriage with the civility expected in a courtroom, this emotionally explosive issue can lead to ugly confrontations elsewhere. While legislators argued over the possibility of a compromise amendment in the Massachusetts State House, thousands of foes and supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside and within the State House. Inside the building, supporters of an amendment banning same-sex marriages wore yellow stickers; opponents wore white ones. Outside the building, the lines of confrontation were more violently drawn when anti-gay slurs from parishioners from a local Baptist church provoked racial epithets from supporters of gay marriage. According to The Boston Globe, the confrontation “unleashed public passion and venom rarely seen on Beacon Hill.”

The opposition of Catholic teaching to same-sex marriage is clear and unambiguous. In calling for a constitutional amendment as a response to the judicial activism of a slender majority on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the archbishop of Boston, Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., spoke for a broad coalition of religious groups that based their defense of the traditional definition of marriage on fundamental precepts of natural law. The understanding of marriage that Archbishop O’Malley and his fellow Catholic bishops seek to protect is shared by most other Christians, as well as Muslim and Jewish traditions. Public opinion polls suggest that this continues to be the view held by a majority of the American people.

At the same time, as the acceptability of same-sex marriages continues to be debated in legislatures, courtrooms and on the campaign trail, the manner in which we participate in this debate is as important as its outcome. Vigorous and impassioned debate is one thing; contempt for the adversary is quite another. Christians on both sides of this issue should remember St. Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually one of another.” If we take this fundamental Christian truth seriously, we will not allow deeply human aspirations and commitments to inspire a divisively emotional public debate. Truth and love are not opposed.

During the coming debates on this issue, Catholics must disassociate themselves from any homophobic language or tactics and the use of this issue for partisan advantage. After all, homosexuals, as the U.S. bishops said in their pastoral statement in 1997, are “our children.” “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual,” they wrote in Always Our Children. “God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it.”

Even if their allies do not do so, Catholics must continue to “make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression or violence against them” (Always Our Children). Catholics cannot let this debate degenerate into name-calling, in violation of the catechism’s injunction that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

Comments

Mark Stephen Caponigro | 2/26/2004 - 7:53pm
"The opposition of Catholic teaching to same-sex marriage is clear and unambiguous," you write, and refer to the statements of Archbishop O'Malley, such as you reported in your previous issue. But you write not a word of acknowledgement that there exist many Catholics, thoughtful and not unintelligent, who say they will gladly welcome and celebrate same-sex marriages. The problem you give yourselves is twofold. First, intellectually, lots of us really do not understand at all how gay marriage threatens the marriages of opposite-sex couples, and you do not done your job in helping us get the point. Secondly, philadelphically, you have done too terrific a job at making us gay Catholics feel quite friendless. Please do not continue to be so harsh, and please let Catholics who disagree with Archbishop O'Malley express themselves in your pages. Why not invite Mayor Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, the most heroic statesman in America today, as well as a Jesuit alumnus, to write a statement explaining why he wants gay people to be allowed to get married?

Donn B. Murphy, Ph.D. | 3/29/2004 - 10:38am
I could not find the dates of issues on the website; This letter is RE: Gay Marriage - “Debates and Divisions” - March 1, 2004

Freedom for all religions and for all citizens, religious and irreligious, is best achieved by a robust separation of church and state. Giving due respect to the freedom of conscience, the government of the United States should grant equal status and civil rights to every citizen regardless of his or her religious beliefs or lack thereof. Civil marriage is a civil right.

Each religion has the prerogative to define holy matrimony for its followers and to sanctify its own beliefs. It is wrong, however, for one religion, or coalitions of sects -no matter what majority of the public they may represent – to attempt to enshrine one particular, restrictive and discriminatory view of wedlock in the laws or Constitution of the United States.

It is wrong to define civil marriage according to the tenets or holy texts of particular religions. It is unconvincing to defend the “traditional institution” of civil marriage as it currently exists on the basis of tradition alone. Exclusively male suffrage and slavery were “traditional institutions” but they are now impermissible under our Constitution.

Civil marriage carries with it more than 1,000 rights and privileges, which should not be withheld on the basis of conformity to the majority definition of a religious sacrament. Committed gay couples should not - on religious grounds, nor on the basis of past practice - be denied the opportunity to strengthen and stabilize their unions, protect their children, and receive the governmental benefits conferred on married citizens.

Religious leaders and politicians wishing to stabilize society and protect all families should welcome efforts to regularize gay unions and recognize gay families. They should stop illogically and hypocritically blaming committed gay partners for the current divorce rate among heterosexuals, and instead attack that matter forthrightly and directly.

My partner and I have been together for 30 years without the support of civil ceremony or law. We cannot inherit from each other, cannot benefit from each other’s health or pension plans, can be denied entry to each other’s hospital rooms in time of terminal illness, and could not even sign the other’s death certificate. Yet our taxes help provide these and a thousand other benefits instantly to heterosexual teenagers who may choose to wed after an acquaintance of a few days - and may separate after a few months.

Civil recognition of our commitment by the state will not threaten or harm the sanctity or solidity of anyone else’s marriage, nor prevent any religion from adhering to its own sacramental marriage laws.

Donn B. Murphy, Ph.D. | 3/30/2004 - 3:27am
Mr. Caponigro is right on the mark. A Church teaching may be "clear and unambigious" without being correct. Such was the Chruch's onetime approbation of slavery. Promulgations must not stand above scrutiny and reevaluation.

Your editorial argued for calm and amiable discussion of the question of gay marriage. It is time to move within the "rules of the game" to a reasoned analysis of the vital civil issue at hand, and the proper role of the Church is this debate.

One particular point is whether it is proper for the Church to use its vast financial resources, powerful political connections (such as episcopal mandates to Catholic politicians) and awesome moral suasion to promote a civil law catering to faith-based views which are not shared by all Americans.

Patrick Coburn | 2/23/2004 - 12:29pm
I am deeply concerned about the lightning rod effect that gay issues and the gay marriage debate is having.

The emotional, economic, social, and moral cost of divorce is so much greater than any cost of gay rights or gay marriage as to make our preoccupation with gay issues laughable if it were not so sad.

Whether you are socially liberable or socially conservative, whether you favor civil remedies or faith based remedies to the plague of divorce, we cannot as a nation allow more than half of our marriages to end up in divorce.

Please, let us end this preoccupation with this red-herring issue, and focus our attention on the side of the marriage issue where the true ills lie.

Nicholas E. Bedessem | 2/9/2007 - 10:31am
Will someone please explain to me how my marriage of 42 years, any other marriage or the institution of marriage is going to be damaged by two men or two women standing in front of a judge or a priest or a rabbi vowing to each other that they will be faithful to each other, will look out for each other in sickness or health and will do so as long as they live? (See Editorial, 3/1).

Will the divorce rate of heterosexual marriages be reduced if we ban same-sex marriage? Will spousal abuse be stopped? Will we do a better job of raising our children?

Perhaps there are reasons—although none I’m familiar with seem convincing—why same-sex marriage should not be allowed; but protecting heterosexual marriage, given its present state, does not seem to be one of them.

Robert P. Lockwood | 2/9/2007 - 10:30am
In your editorial on March 1, you raise the fear that the debate over same-sex marriage will reduce itself to an exercise in name-calling against homosexual persons. Obviously, this is a concern all would share. But except for the few usual fringe suspects, such intemperance is rare today.

What is the norm, however, is that those who uphold the universal understanding of marriage are routinely painted as intolerant bigots and homophobes. Such depictions, meant to reduce a thoughtful position to a blustering caricature, are far more common in mainstream media commentary at this point than anti-homosexual invective. The anti-homosexual language feared in the editorial often comes from a few sick souls whose vituperation has been overpublicized, because it fits the impression that they represent the motives of those who support that traditional understanding of marriage.

Such stereotyping squelches healthy debate, effectively silencing voices who fear being tarred with the brush of intolerance. Such stereotyping is far more commonplace and agenda-driven in this debate than any lack of respect, compassion or sensitivity toward homosexuals.

Albert Gelpi | 2/9/2007 - 10:29am
I am saddened and dismayed at your editorial “Debates and Divisions” (3/1). Once again, with a complex and challenging issue—this time, same-sex marriages—America has taken a wishy-washy and safe position—just at a point when the magazine should be providing leadership and inspiration toward building a vital new sense of church and church teaching. This capitulation confirms a description of America I heard some years ago: “the bland leading the bland.”

The editorial declares: “The opposition of Catholic teaching to same-sex marriage is clear and unambiguous”—as though that settled the matter unambiguously, once and for all. The same could be said, for example, about the church’s teaching on contraception. The history of church teaching offers many examples of faulty judgments based on faulty evidence, and many have been re-examined and corrected in time. The editorial then goes on, with bland insouciance, to make pious protestations about the need to love homosexuals and assure their human rights.

As a Catholic husband, father and grandfather, I do not feel that the loving union of homosexual couples threatens my marriage, or anyone else’s marriage, or the abstract notion of marriage. On complex issues like this, America should strive for something better—more discerning and more Christian—than knee-jerk reactions.

(Rev.) G. F. Werner | 2/9/2007 - 10:26am
The opening pages of America’s issue of March 1 made for very bleak reading: the continuing questioning of the decision to move into Iraq (Of Many Things), then the ongoing debate over same-sex marriages (Editorial), then the report of accusations against 4,450 members of the Catholic clergy in the matter of molestation of some 11,000 children over a 50-year period of official church silence (Signs of the Times). And next, a Vatican report proposing to keep clerical abusers in the ministry but away from children, thus formulating a two-class priestly ministry: Class 1—safe with children, Class 2—not safe with children.

Then (all this in five pages), from the bleak to the absurd, when we learn that someone in Rome is still exercised over whether we should say, “And with your spirit” or “And also with you” at Mass. A great step forward for us all, the solution to that problem.

True: Father Greeley does offer us some ray of hope (“Religious Decline in Europe?”). His article would be even more consoling if one didn’t have the nagging doubt that it was reporting on poll numbers rather than on vibrant personal faith, on Christendom’s religion rather than on Christianity, on superficial markers of religion rather than on truly interiorized Gospel faith.

Perhaps the next issue of America should come in a plain brown wrapper marked: “not to be opened by the faint of heart (or faith).”

Mark Stephen Caponigro | 2/26/2004 - 7:53pm
"The opposition of Catholic teaching to same-sex marriage is clear and unambiguous," you write, and refer to the statements of Archbishop O'Malley, such as you reported in your previous issue. But you write not a word of acknowledgement that there exist many Catholics, thoughtful and not unintelligent, who say they will gladly welcome and celebrate same-sex marriages. The problem you give yourselves is twofold. First, intellectually, lots of us really do not understand at all how gay marriage threatens the marriages of opposite-sex couples, and you do not done your job in helping us get the point. Secondly, philadelphically, you have done too terrific a job at making us gay Catholics feel quite friendless. Please do not continue to be so harsh, and please let Catholics who disagree with Archbishop O'Malley express themselves in your pages. Why not invite Mayor Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, the most heroic statesman in America today, as well as a Jesuit alumnus, to write a statement explaining why he wants gay people to be allowed to get married?

Donn B. Murphy, Ph.D. | 3/29/2004 - 10:38am
I could not find the dates of issues on the website; This letter is RE: Gay Marriage - “Debates and Divisions” - March 1, 2004

Freedom for all religions and for all citizens, religious and irreligious, is best achieved by a robust separation of church and state. Giving due respect to the freedom of conscience, the government of the United States should grant equal status and civil rights to every citizen regardless of his or her religious beliefs or lack thereof. Civil marriage is a civil right.

Each religion has the prerogative to define holy matrimony for its followers and to sanctify its own beliefs. It is wrong, however, for one religion, or coalitions of sects -no matter what majority of the public they may represent – to attempt to enshrine one particular, restrictive and discriminatory view of wedlock in the laws or Constitution of the United States.

It is wrong to define civil marriage according to the tenets or holy texts of particular religions. It is unconvincing to defend the “traditional institution” of civil marriage as it currently exists on the basis of tradition alone. Exclusively male suffrage and slavery were “traditional institutions” but they are now impermissible under our Constitution.

Civil marriage carries with it more than 1,000 rights and privileges, which should not be withheld on the basis of conformity to the majority definition of a religious sacrament. Committed gay couples should not - on religious grounds, nor on the basis of past practice - be denied the opportunity to strengthen and stabilize their unions, protect their children, and receive the governmental benefits conferred on married citizens.

Religious leaders and politicians wishing to stabilize society and protect all families should welcome efforts to regularize gay unions and recognize gay families. They should stop illogically and hypocritically blaming committed gay partners for the current divorce rate among heterosexuals, and instead attack that matter forthrightly and directly.

My partner and I have been together for 30 years without the support of civil ceremony or law. We cannot inherit from each other, cannot benefit from each other’s health or pension plans, can be denied entry to each other’s hospital rooms in time of terminal illness, and could not even sign the other’s death certificate. Yet our taxes help provide these and a thousand other benefits instantly to heterosexual teenagers who may choose to wed after an acquaintance of a few days - and may separate after a few months.

Civil recognition of our commitment by the state will not threaten or harm the sanctity or solidity of anyone else’s marriage, nor prevent any religion from adhering to its own sacramental marriage laws.

Donn B. Murphy, Ph.D. | 3/30/2004 - 3:27am
Mr. Caponigro is right on the mark. A Church teaching may be "clear and unambigious" without being correct. Such was the Chruch's onetime approbation of slavery. Promulgations must not stand above scrutiny and reevaluation.

Your editorial argued for calm and amiable discussion of the question of gay marriage. It is time to move within the "rules of the game" to a reasoned analysis of the vital civil issue at hand, and the proper role of the Church is this debate.

One particular point is whether it is proper for the Church to use its vast financial resources, powerful political connections (such as episcopal mandates to Catholic politicians) and awesome moral suasion to promote a civil law catering to faith-based views which are not shared by all Americans.

Patrick Coburn | 2/23/2004 - 12:29pm
I am deeply concerned about the lightning rod effect that gay issues and the gay marriage debate is having.

The emotional, economic, social, and moral cost of divorce is so much greater than any cost of gay rights or gay marriage as to make our preoccupation with gay issues laughable if it were not so sad.

Whether you are socially liberable or socially conservative, whether you favor civil remedies or faith based remedies to the plague of divorce, we cannot as a nation allow more than half of our marriages to end up in divorce.

Please, let us end this preoccupation with this red-herring issue, and focus our attention on the side of the marriage issue where the true ills lie.

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