It will probably come as no surprise that this morning’s Supreme Court decision was not exactly welcomed by representatives of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Its president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz described the Obergefell v. Hodges decision as a “tragic error” and other reactions across the country from bishops and state conferences continued apace.
Many bishops expressed "bitter disappointment" at the decision. Bishop Thomas Wenski of Miami went further in his condemnation: “Bad decisions lead to bad consequences and do not ‘settle’ anything. Dred Scott made inevitable a bloody Civil War that cost more lives than any other war in our history and the racism that inspired the Dred Scott decision is still a cancer on America’s soul. Roe v. Wade has resulted in more than 50 million abortions. Yet, abortion still troubles the conscience of America and an increasing majority of Americans reject ‘abortion on demand.’” He added, “This decision redefining marriage will also bring bad consequences.”
The response of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley captured the sentiment of many bishops’ statements:
“As a citizen of the United States and a Catholic bishop, I am saddened by the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage.”
The institution of marriage understood in its human, moral and legal dimensions is a fundamental building block of any society. …In a pluralistic society we inevitability face disagreements about important political and legal questions. But our division over this question in its moral, political and legal significance is particularly painful.
Certainly every citizen of this land, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves to be respected in their personal and civic life. But enshrining same sex marriage in our constitutional system of governance has dangers that may become fully evident only over time.
A few statements attempted to accompany disappointment at the court’s call with a deference to the sensibilities of America’s LGBT community.
A statement from the Michigan Conference of Catholic Bishops begins: “Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage represents a profound legal turning point in the contemporary and cultural understanding of spouses and family. We continue to teach that every human person deserves respect and compassion. The experience of same-sex attraction is a reality that calls for attention, sensitivity and pastoral care. While every person is called to love and deserves to be loved, today’s momentous decision will not change the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage.”
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe wrote, “As Catholics, we seek to uphold our traditional belief in marriage as a sacrament, a well established and divinely revealed covenant between one man and one woman, a permanent and exclusive bond meant to provide a nurturing environment for children and the fundamental building block to a just society.”
He added, “At the same time, we respect the dignity of all persons, not wishing to undermine their pursuit of happiness but only to preserve and defend the gift of marriage as divinely revealed in scripture and in natural law.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Washington likewise begins with the reminder that “our Catholic faith teaches that every person, regardless of race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation, has dignity and is loved by God. The Church’s teachings on human sexuality and life reflect this truth.”
The statement continues:
Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a truth that predates courts and constitutions. This understanding transcends cultures, religions and all time—it is the foundation of civilization. More than just a bond between people who love and are committed to each other, marriage is also about creating and nurturing the next generation—something that requires both a man and a woman with their distinctive and complementary gifts. This is the reason that civil governments have given marriage special recognition throughout all of human history. Men and women are not interchangeable. Marriage is not ours to define. History, nature and revelation all profess these truths.
Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court changes none of this. The Court deals with civil law not revealed truth or religious faith.
The Washington statement touches on what will no doubt become an ongoing concern of the U.S. church as the practical implications of today's decision begin to work themselves out: “The Court’s opinion rightly affirms the freedom of religious organizations to continue to express and teach the truth of marriage. Nonetheless, the Court’s ruling has the potential to create circumstances in which the Church’s teaching and practices may be perceived to conflict with civil law. As such situations arise, the local Church will have to undertake a moral evaluation to determine, on a case-by-case basis, the manner in which it will respond to this conflict.”
Below are a sample of other responses to today’s ruling:
Richard Malone, Bishop of Buffalo and Chairman of the Committee for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth:
I am bitterly disappointed that the majority of justices of the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to overturn the definition of marriage, which has remained unchanged for more than two millennia. Marriage is the lifelong exclusive union of one man and one woman, a font of unitive life and love as well as the foundation of a stable family and society.
Marriage is rooted in creation: God created marriage in the very same breath as He created the human person, and for the Catholic Church, that will not change.
It is my prayer that despite today's developments, we will embrace anew the truth, beauty and goodness of marriage as it has always been and always will be, between a man and a woman.
Bishop William Murphy, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.:
Today’s wrongly decided decision by the United States Supreme Court does nothing to alter the truth on the meaning of Holy Matrimony, a sacrament given to us by Jesus Christ. Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament, a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life. It is clear that the US Supreme Court has chosen to accept a culture-driven redefinition of marriage. What is equally clear is that, no other union is, or can ever be its equal and we have the God-given and constitutional right to proclaim religious truths, in the public square, as well as our churches, just as we have been doing for almost 50 years in the ever vigilant battle against another wrongly decided decision, Roe V. Wade.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I.:
A thousand courts may rule otherwise, but the very notion of “same-sex marriage” is morally wrong and a blatant rejection of God’s plan for the human family. As Pope Francis taught while serving as Archbishop in Argentina: “Same-sex marriage is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is a move of the ‘father of lies’ who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Despite the current trends of our society, or perhaps because of them, the Church must redouble its commitment to proclaim and defend authentic concepts of marriage and family as we have received them from God. We will always do so, however, in a respectful, charitable and constructive manner.
Archbishop John Wester, Archdiocese of Santa Fe:
Today the Supreme Court of the United States decided state marriage bans are unconstitutional, meaning all states will perform and recognize same-sex marriage.This decision, though significant, does not conclude debate over the definition of marriage; we would like to affirm the following pastoral response.
As Catholics, we seek to uphold our traditional belief in marriage as a sacrament, a well established and divinely revealed covenant between one man and one woman, a permanent and exclusive bond meant to provide a nurturing environment for children and the fundamental building block to a just society.
At the same time, we respect the dignity of all persons, not wishing to undermine their pursuit of happiness but only to preserve and defend the gift of marriage as divinely revealed in scripture and in natural law. Although we respectfully disagree with those who would define marriage otherwise, we firmly hold that all persons are loved by our compassionate God and deserve the respect and dignity that is inherently theirs as human beings.
We acknowledge the right of our nation’s highest court to provide for a well ordered society by establishing laws that protect the common good and safeguard the civil and contractual rights and privileges of its citizens. At the same time, we urge our lawmakers and judges to respect those institutions that are beyond state and federal jurisdiction, institutions such as sacramental marriage that transcend civil law and whose origins precede the existence of the state and go beyond its competence.
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Archdiocese of Atlanta:
Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some people and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of these divisive cases, there would simply be no reason for the Court to convene. This most recent decision is no different.
By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again, this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessing of precious new life.
This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.
This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement. The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.
The decision has made my ministry as a pastor more complex since it demands that I both continue to uphold the teachings of my Church regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony while also demanding that I insist upon respect for the human dignity of both those who approve of the judgment as well as those who may disapprove.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Archdiocese of Miami:
The decision of the Supreme Court redefining marriage as merely an affective union between two people of any sex was disappointing if not unexpected. As the minority of the judges said in their dissent, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.” This is simply a wrong, mistaken decision. Of course, this is not the first time the Supreme Court got it wrong.
In the 19th Century, in the Dred Scott decision, the Court decided that a black man had no rights that a white person had to respect. In the 20th Century, the Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a baby could be killed in her mother’s womb at any time before birth. And now in the 21st Century, the Supreme Court makes another wrong decision.
Bad decisions lead to bad consequences and do not “settle” anything. Dred Scott made inevitable a bloody Civil War that cost more lives than any other war in our history and the racism that inspired the Dred Scott decision is still a cancer on America’s soul. Roe v. Wade has resulted in more than 50 million abortions. Yet, abortion still troubles the conscience of America and an increasing majority of Americans reject “abortion on demand”.
This decision redefining marriage will also bring bad consequences. Losing the understanding of marriage in our culture as a conjugal union of a man and a woman in a permanent and exclusive commitment conducive to welcoming and raising the children born from such a union weakens the family as the basic cell of society; and it imperils the human flourishing of future generations. Allowing “an act of the will” to be substituted for “legal judgment” is a recipe for tyranny.