Tracking DOMA reaction

One of the week’s most dramatic responses to the Supreme Court decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came from U.S.C.C.B. President Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York when he called June 26, the day the decision was issued, “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.”


But Dolan may have been outdone in his condemnation by Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and the former archbishop of St. Louis, who keeps a close eye on all things American from Rome. Cardinal Burke called the decision “one more step down a path which is destructive.

"The lack of respect for the good order which God has placed in nature, especially human nature, will lead to violence," he said. "It will lead to death for individuals and eventually it will destroy our culture."

In a statement released by the U.S.C.C.B. Cardinal Dolan also deplored the court’s decision regarding California’s Proposition 8, a voter referendum prohibiting same-sex marriage that was later overturned by a lower court. “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,” Cardinal Dolan said. “The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage,” he added. “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.”

In its 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the private group behind the November 2008 ballot proposition had no standing to defend it in federal court. That technical call has alarmed some folks who are not otherwise concerned about the issue of same-sex marriage. The Washington Times reports that critics from both sides of America’s right-left divide worry that the decision “effectively gives state officials the unchecked power to nullify ballot initiatives they dislike by refusing to enforce them or defend them in court.”

“I think regardless of what anybody thinks about same-sex marriage, everyone who cares about democracy should be concerned about this decision,” said John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. “It’s fundamentally undemocratic.”

At First Things of Prop 8 decision, Matthew J. Franck allows, “well, it could have been worse.

In the case widely recognized as the more pivotal of the two, Hollingsworth v. Perry, in which a claim was squarely asserted that same-sex couples have a federal constitutional right to be married anywhere in the country, the majority of the justices decided not to decide. The California officials responsible for implementing Proposition 8 (the people’s amendment restoring the conjugal definition of marriage to the state constitution in 2008) would not defend it in federal court, and so the private parties responsible for proposing and campaigning for Prop 8 had to do so.

Now, after defending Prop 8 at trial in U.S. district court, and in the Ninth Circuit, and in arguments to the Supreme Court, the proponents of the amendment have been told they lack standing to appeal the adverse trial ruling. The Supreme Court ordered the Ninth Circuit’s ruling vacated, with instructions to dismiss the appeal. What the correct legal status now is of Judge Vaughn Walker’s bizarre district court ruling is an interesting question. But it is difficult to see any practical outcome that prevents the return of same-sex marriage to California, which had it for five months before the passage of Prop 8.

Live-blogging with the Supremes, Celebrity pundit Andrew Sullivan found a trace of Catholic Social Teaching in Justice Kennedy’s DOMA opinion, in his frequent reference (9x) to “dignity”:

Some have noticed how often Anthony Kennedy used the word “dignity” in his ruling. My own impression of the text is to note how Catholic it is. I mean by Catholic the sense of concern for the dignity of human beings that still resonates among the average Catholic population and, mercifully, now with the new Pope. This is the true measure of our shared faith: not a desire to use its doctrines to control or constrain the lives of others, but seeking always to advance the common good while leaving no one behind. No one.

The Church hierarchy’s Ratzingerian turn against this minority in 1986, its subsequent callous indifference to us during the plague years, its rigid clinging to 13th Century natural law rather than what or rather who was right in front of them … these were all tragic failures from the top. But not in the pews; not among lay Catholics; not among many of our families and friends. And that humane Catholicism is embedded in paragraph after paragraph of Kennedy’s text. He is talking about us, our relationships and our children as if we were human beings made in the same image of God with inalienable dignity.

It will one day—perhaps even today—seem banal. And it is. But to get to that banality required a revolution.

Some commentators at Jesuit-connected sites wondered not so much what to say about DOMA, but how to say it.

At his Facebook feed, Matt Emerson, “The Ignatian Educator,” encountered “the just-add-water commentary that is so predictable in the wake of major events. As expected, reactions clashed. Some treated the Supreme Court’s decision with the excitement of a father bursting from the delivery room, newborn in hand; others reacted as if their car had blown a tire and there was no tow truck available. They sat, they stewed, they blogged.":

Both sides had their overreactions, but among opponents of the decision there was particular alarm. In much of the criticism there was a hopelessness, a despair, an angry gloom. Someone … said that the United States had ‘officially’ become Sodom and Gomorrah…. With few exceptions, what I saw was a breakdown in thoughtfulness, a retreat into catastrophic thinking and, at times, viciousness. In mainstream magazines and from mainstream (or so I’ve always thought) people, I saw the use of a language and tone so hyperbolic you’d think we were living in World War Z….

Ignatian education, all of Catholic education, has its task. As social media lures us to customize friends and news on the criteria of “likes” or “shares,” our schools must introduce young men and women to people and stories that broaden and deepen their worldview. As the Internet dares students to ridicule, to vent from afar, Catholic schools must encourage students to cross into the territory of the designated “other,” to see the person before the issue. Catholic schools must insist, as St. Ignatius and the early Jesuits did, on conversation or, as St. Ignatius put it, “colloquy.”

This does not mean we abandon the Gospel, the teachings of the Church, or the truths of divine revelation. We carry forth with our Catholic faith. It does mean, however, that we honor the full spiritual dignity of those with whom we disagree. The gay couples I know well simply want their love to be celebrated and affirmed in the way that heterosexuals want. Their motivations arise from a wholesome place, and they should not be cheapened…. It is easy to denounce and condemn, much harder to discern. It is easy to dish sneering asides before an audience of flatterers, much harder to navigate competing moral, legal, and theological claims and then articulate a view, in a spirit of charity, to those who vehemently disagree.

It is easy, in other words, to eliminate tension. But that is not the Ignatian mission. It is within what Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., once called “constructive tension” where we ask students and faculty to dwell…To those tensions, we can add many others, including the tensions that surround the way human societies honor love and commitment, and the tensions we especially feel when our moral convictions cause wounds for family or friends, coworkers or fellow citizens.

The Jesuit Post likewise sought to tease out wisdom from the “tension." After the decision: “Among many of our friends — gay and straight, active Catholics and ‘raised Catholics,’ religious and non-religious — there was a sense of celebration. Many claimed that equality had won the day, and even more importantly, they felt that their own relationships or those of their gay friends had been recognized as having dignity and being worthy of protection. A sense of threat (a very real threat, backed by the power of the federal government) against those relationships was removed, and rejoicing followed."

At the same time, our bishops issued a statement declaring yesterday ‘a tragic day for marriage and our nation.’ And we noticed — in all honesty, we felt ourselves — an uncomfortable silence among voices that often speak about matters involving religion and public life. In fact, we find ourselves in a very profound tension: we understand why so many are rejoicing. At the same time, we recognize the beauty of the Church’s understanding of the natural purposes of marriage. And we struggle because we do not know how to hold these two things together. Neither of these are maliciously motivated; neither deserves to be vilified by the other side. Nor can we opt for silence simply because anything we say will offend.

Here, then, is what we can say: there is something to be learned in that uncomfortable silence; there is something to be learned from the fact that denunciations are less credible — by far — than images of rejoicing and gladness.

At Sightings the indefatigable Martin Marty highlighted the response of Paul Louis Metzger at “Uncommon God, Common Good”: “ ‘One of the fears I have as Evangelicals address the issue . . . is that we might win a battle on shooting down gay marriage and lose a war of building caring relationships with gay people.’ Should evangelicals, he asks, try to influence morality by enforcing their ‘overarching view on marriage’ or by ‘embodying [their] ethic of marriage and family in a way that demonstrates loyal love and self-sacrifice?’ ”

Writing at dotCommonweal just a few days before the court’s decision, Lisa Fullam wondered about the long-term impact the court’s decision might have, not on American life, but the American Catholic Church:

Here’s my question. We all know the story of Humanae vitae, the encyclical that an overwhelming majority of Catholics simply ignore. We are now at a point when public opinion, and Catholic opinion along with it, is shifting rapidly in favor of recognizing equal civil rights for LGBT people, and this shift is especially high among the young. (That’s the same demographic who are leaving the Church in droves.) Catholic leadership has not only spoken strongly against same-sex marriage, they have done so in extraordinarily harsh terms, calling same sex marriage (and civil unions, for that matter,) “a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society.“ Their arguments don’t leave them much wiggle room, or what Pres. Obama might call room for their thoughts to “evolve.” So what happens next? Will most Catholics receive this aspect of teaching like they did Humanae vitae? In other words, will Catholics nod, smile and privately dissent, either by word or deed? Will this teaching be another point of future revision, as with so many others? (See Noonan’s A Church That Can and Cannot Change, or Curran’s Change in Official Catholic Teaching for examples.) Will this teaching, which so strongly condemns LGBT people in relationships, be maintained and continue to be a point that drives people away?

So as we wait for word from SCOTUS, let’s also ponder the direction of the Church--the people of God--in this matter. Let us remember and pray for the victims of the UpStairs Lounge fire. Let us pray for all people who are uncomfortably closeted, that they may find their voices. Let us pray most of all that we all exercise wisdom and compassion for each other, gay, straight and everybody.

A regular “In All Things” commentator John Coleman, S.J., also shared some thoughts about what comes after the decision:

The battle over same-sex marriage will continue. It is important, however, to note that while some oppose same-sex marriage out of hatred of homosexuals, not all—probably even a majority—are so motivated. It is a mistake (as Justice Kennedy seemed to suggest) to label supporters of heterosexual marriage as a unique form of marriage as monsters or bigots or to liken support for just heterosexual marriage to anti-Semitism or racism. Legitimate debate about what really constitutes the essence of marriage will continue.

But the church also needs to monitor carefully its allies in supporting only heterosexual marriage. Alas, in Minnesota the church allied with Focus on the Family people who equated homosexuality with pedophilia and used similar hate-filled language. In consorting with groups who denigrate the dignity of homosexuals, the church betrays and undermines its commitments to the innate dignity of all, including homosexuals and the call to them to be incorporated in Christ.… After the passage of Proposition 8, the bishops of Los Angeles wrote a pastoral letter to gay and lesbian Catholics saying that, while they still supported only heterosexual language, they lamented that during the course of the campaign many of the allies to the Catholic position used language which denigrated the human dignity of homosexuals. Great care must be taken that these mistakes do not happen again. For if they do, it will be no wonder if many people see the official Catholic position as homophobic or stemming from hate. Gays and lesbians in our parishes and their parents, relatives and friends do not take kindly (and suffer cognitive dissonance) because of the church language about gays and lesbians being " intrinsically disordered." I would never, also, use the pulpit to preach against civil laws allowing gay marriage and would hope no bishop would ask that I do so!

All in all, I think the bishops' somewhat one-sided attention to the issue of gay marriage can distort our fuller sense of what it means to be a Catholic. Like many, I was surprised that so many episcopal voices denounced the decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8 but seemed conspicuously silent about a far-reaching decision the day earlier, taking away the protection of voting rights for minorities. I suspect we would be better off as a church if we put much greater priority in launching programs helping to build up and make flourish our heterosexual sacramental marriages rather than focusing so much on fighting same-sex marriages.

Here’s Cardinal Dolan again with the last word on DOMA (today at least):

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.

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