After Obergefell

The landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges represents the high-water mark in the culture wars that have afflicted the country and the church for decades. Some view the court’s decision to redefine civil marriage in order to accommodate same-sex couples as an egregious instance of judicial overreach, one that must be resisted at all costs. Indeed, there is a serious constitutional principle at stake: We the people must consider whether we want major public policy questions like the definition of civil marriage settled by judicial fiat, rather than by our elected representatives or by direct vote of the people.

Yet prescinding from the constitutional questions prompted by the case, it is clear from most national polls that the court’s decision accords with the opinion of a majority of U.S. citizens, as well as a majority of American Catholics. The court’s decision also comes on the heels of a recent referendum in Ireland in which a large majority of Catholics across that country voted for the legalization of same-sex civil marriage. Some Catholics have argued that the outcome in Ireland and the dramatic shift in Catholic opinion in the United States are a result of the failure of ecclesial leadership to clearly articulate the position of the church. That is not true. Catholics in the United States and Ireland understand the position of the church on the question of civil marriage; until recently, it was their position as well. Yet large numbers of Catholics in both countries have reconsidered this position and have now rejected it. That is the reality of the situation.

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These two events are part of a larger phenomenon—the transition of Western Europe and the United States to a thoroughly secular, postmodern social politics. In the United States, this transition has been underway since the sexual revolution of the 1960s ushered in a series of social and political battles collectively known as the culture wars. With the Obergefell decision, it is increasingly clear that those who believe that the civil law ought to reflect and codify traditional Judeo-Christian values have lost not just these most recent battles but the war itself. The New York Times columnist David Brooks, a self-described conservative who is sympathetic to religion, recently called on “social conservatives” to “consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.”

Catholics in the United States should also ask whether “cultural warfare” is a helpful organizing principle for the church’s public witness. The church is not merely one more faction organized for public action. We are the body of Christ before we are the body politic, evangelists before we are activists. Evangelization and cultural warfare are not simply in tension with each other; they are opposites. Yet that fact does not justify the church’s retreat from public life. The church is by its nature a public body. While the separation of church and state is a prudent arrangement, the separation of the church from politics is inconceivable, for the Gospel makes radical demands on every dimension of human living.

In the months and years ahead, however, Catholics should reconsider not whether the church should engage in the public life of this country but how we will do so. The present moment affords an opportunity for Catholics of every political stripe to assume an even more robust public presence, but from a different starting point: that of human encounter rather than of tactical confrontation. As Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta observed in the wake of Obergefell, this moment affords us “an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding [the ruling’s] outcome.”

The same Gospel that Christians seek to announce in the public square requires that we engage in such a “dialogue of human encounter” in a penitential key, with humility, so that we may better discern the signs of the times. This humility is most important, perhaps, when reflecting on matters of human sexuality, which make such dramatic and compelling claims on every human heart. While the church must hold fast to what God has revealed in Scripture and tradition, can we not also acknowledge that the same Spirit that spoke to our forebears speaks to us still? It simply cannot be true that we have learned all there is to know about human sexuality. How can we discern together, then, what the spirit is saying to us now? How can we better discern the good, the true and the beautiful in the signs of the times? As Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich, has said, “We cannot say to someone: you are homosexual, you cannot live according to the Gospel. It is unthinkable…. [If] two people in a homosexual relationship have been faithful to one another for 30 years, I cannot call that nothing.” While acknowledging and preserving what is essential, Cardinal Marx adds, “We cannot see everything in black and white, in terms of all or nothing.”

The temptation to see the recent court decision in black and white terms is evident among some of those who describe Obergefell v. Hodges as a second Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade concerns a vital question of life and death. Obergefell v. Hodges involves the question of who can contract a civil marriage. While both decisions have far-reaching moral implications, they involve different degrees of moral gravity. This view, moreover, that Obergefell is a second Roe, may lend itself too easily to the binary culture-war thinking that can impoverish our understanding of events and narrow the horizon of our public choices.

The temptation to see the court decision in black and white terms is also evident among some of those who see the court’s action only as one more attempt to marginalize the church and diminish religious freedom. We should resist this temptation as well. The church must vigorously defend its freedom; the state has no natural or constitutional right to compel religious believers to perform actions that compromise our consciences. There will be many more debates and decisions in the years ahead, however, involving contestable questions of religious freedom and the public interest. In engaging in such debates, Catholics must be careful not to develop a “Masada complex” that would reduce our self-understanding to that of a besieged minority. Such a narrow self-perception is contrary to the generous, expansive nature of the good news we seek to share.

The church’s public presence, however, is not the most important challenge before us. The church must also carefully discern how to provide better support for Catholic marriages and families. The Obergefell decision has no bearing on the church’s understanding and practice of the sacrament of matrimony. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is a crisis involving the sacrament. Marriages in the church throughout the Americas declined by 46 percent between 1980 and 2012, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. There were nearly a million fewer celebrations of such marriages in 2012 than in 1980. It is inaccurate to claim that same-sex civil marriage is the cause of this crisis. Still, the crisis is such that some level of the energy and resources that the church summoned to oppose the redefinition of civil marriage should be redeployed to pastoral programs and community outreach that will strengthen these sacramental unions.

The church must also carefully consider our pastoral approach to gay and lesbian people and to Catholic families headed by same-sex couples. This outreach should extend especially to gay and lesbian people who are also poor and are perhaps the most invisible population in the country.

In crafting a new pastoral approach, we should dispense with the facile and dangerous assumption that the “culture war” is in large part a battle between Christians and gay people. That claim, which is made often by those who should know better, is unfair and empirically false. According to a new report published this year from the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of lesbian, bisexual and gay Americans identify as Christians. Still, one of the reasons why the church’s position on civil marriage was rejected by the public is that they rightly perceived that members of the church have often failed to extend to gay and lesbian people the “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” that Catholic teaching requires. Indeed, too many among us have been too slow to recognize the unjust discrimination to which gay and lesbian people have been historically subjected.

A new pastoral approach, therefore, should be marked by basic human respect, which “must be real, not rhetorical,” as Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago has said, “and ever reflective of the church’s commitment to accompanying all people. For this reason, the church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.”

While the culture wars may be over, the new evangelization continues. The church in the United States must realize anew the true motive force of that evangelization, what Pope Francis has called “the first proclamation, that Jesus Christ has saved you.” Whatever else it is, the public witness of the church begins and ends there. For too long the public has wrongly perceived the church as one more political faction aligned almost exclusively with the forces of reaction. It is not surprising that in a country obsessed with all things sexual, the church should be seen as singularly obsessed with such matters. Our task is to change that perception in order to create a more fertile field for the seed of the Gospel. We will not change this perception, however, through the mere assertion that it is not true. A credible public encounter must begin in humility, with our humble admission of the ways in which the perception is at least partly true. Most important, we should begin with the first proclamation, with our compelling witness to God and the person we are saying yes to, rather than the litany of things we are saying no to.

Now, as always, we must heed the word of the Lord: “Be not afraid.” The world is not ending; it is changing. It is unsettling for many, surely. Yet it is also hopeful. We are at our best when we encounter any change with the certain hope that everything has within it the power to call forth from us a deeper response to God. The church has the resources to rightly discern the lights from the shadows in the changing signs of our times. Above all, we have the grace of the one who has saved us, the one who now calls us to greater faith, deeper hope and lasting charity for all.

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Marilyn Eng
2 years 4 months ago
I am a baby boomer and lifelong Catholic. In recent years, I have become frustrated by the insertion of partisan politics in my local parish to the extent that I changed parishes. Even an Advent retreat became political/judgmental regarding the topic of abortion. (And I oppose abortion.) I attend Mass and retreat type activities to meet God, meditate on life, connect with others, and pray. This past Sunday, a deacon gave a sermon in which he decried secularism and the "recent court decisions." Now, the recent court decisions involved the Affordable Care Act and gay civil marriage. To me, while not perfect, the ACA has reached millions of Americans and offered health care. I am not sure why this is essentially bad. In addition, as your article cited, many Catholics have been able to separate the right of civil marriage from the Sacrament of Matrimony within the Catholic Church. Your article calls for reasonable consideration of the issues of our times and basic human respect. Thank you for publishing your editorial and keeping in mind that we are all one human family. The institutional church will lose me if it continues to permit politics in the mass and in the holy services and ministries of the parish. I was taught many years ago by a Catholic nun to think for myself and form my conscience based on Catholic teaching, as well as to live a life non-judgmental of others. How thankful I am for her wise teaching. Peace.
mary cannon
2 years 4 months ago
I, too,have had difficult in my local parish. As a matter of fact, I ended up shaking my finger in the Pastor's face last Sunday after he talked in his sermon about how Catholics are persecuted. He didn't say how we are persecuted, but I suppose it is gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. And maybe he is worried about "Happy Holidays" at "Xmas". I believe that it is wrong to cheapen the sufferings of those Christians in other places who are suffering persecution with this American silliness. I also told him that if that is all we have to talk about, we are spiritually bankrupt. I am afraid that too many have fallen for the self-righteousness of worrying about other people's sins instead of our own. I was fortunate to have an Irish Catholic family that was firmly Catholic, but that also believed in thinking. Prayers for all.
mary cannon
2 years 4 months ago
I, too,have had difficult in my local parish. As a matter of fact, I ended up shaking my finger in the Pastor's face last Sunday after he talked in his sermon about how Catholics are persecuted. He didn't say how we are persecuted, but I suppose it is gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. And maybe he is worried about "Happy Holidays" at "Xmas". I believe that it is wrong to cheapen the sufferings of those Christians in other places who are suffering persecution with this American silliness. I also told him that if that is all we have to talk about, we are spiritually bankrupt. I am afraid that too many have fallen for the self-righteousness of worrying about other people's sins instead of our own. I was fortunate to have an Irish Catholic family that was firmly Catholic, but that also believed in thinking. Prayers for all.
Chris NUNEZ
2 years 4 months ago
The issue of civil marriage is not a 'public policy' issue as the editors assert, it is a matter of civil rights under the constitution of this nation. Nobody's civil rights should ever be up to the discretion of other citizens, elected representatives or the Church.
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
Chris, Since "Civil Rights" are not inherently written on our hearts and our minds - we, as a Society, have to work out what rights will be granted and which rights will not be granted. Those who rely upon 9 elite lawyers on the Supreme Court to decide what rights we will have live and die by 5/4 votes...
Ernest RaskauskasJr
2 years 4 months ago

It was not 9 elite lawyers, but many dozens of federal judges at all levels interpreting the US Constitution, the majority appointed by republicans. This is the US system, three co-equal branches of government. The mob acting against the civil rights of a minority has been over-ruled a great many times in US history on many issues . We also have a separation of Church and State in this country.
Catholic marriage was in no way at all affected by the Supreme Court's decision. No priest will ever be compelled to perform a same sex marriage (see the history of divorced Catholics wanting marriage for example).
The real issue that Catholic officialdom does not discuss is why Catholic marriages are being wholesale rejected by most US young Catholics, according to America magazine quoting the recent CARA study, showing that the number today is only 33% of what is was in the 1960's before the great increases in the numbers of US Catholics that we have today. Presumably, Catholics not married in the Church do not intend to continue as active Catholics, and will not be having their children baptized. Result : thousands of more parishes closing, more school closings, the completion of the emptying of US Catholic churches as the hierarchy already accomplished in Europe. I do not hear much discussion of this issue at all in the Church. It's examination would expose too much about clericalism, contraception, divorced receiving communion, need for married priests and women priests, respect for ALL persons including gays and women. Young people today won't go along with what they view as the hypocrisy of their elders in not holding the the official beliefs on these positions, and playing along with "pay, pray, and obey."

ROBERT STEWART
2 years 4 months ago
Editorial: "The Obergefell decision has no bearing on the church’s understanding and practice of the sacrament of matrimony." Thanks for the very thoughtful reflection, and thank you especially for the quote referenced above, the quote about the "the church’s understanding and practice of the sacrament of matrimony." I essentially said the same thing a year or so ago in a letter I wrote, a letter that was published in the Washington Post. My comment was in response to an opinion piece written by a bishop, an opinion piece that I thought conveyed the idea that civil law should be upholding Catholic teaching on marriage. I have no problem with what the Church teaches concerning the Sacrament of Matrimony, but my question in the letter was essentially this: Why does the Church need civil law to uphold/support/enforce what the Church teaches regarding marriage or anything else? For example, civil law does not require us to love our neighbor or believe that our God is loving and saves us from sin and death; nor does civil law require us to believe and affirm that we are all brothers and sisters of the same loving God, our Father/Mother. As a result of that letter published in the public press, I became persona non grata, and I learned this quickly when I submitted an article, one written as an Ignatian Volunteer (IVC), to the diocesan newspaper. The article, written at the request of the local IVC leadership, was an account of an award given, the Della Strada Award. When I submitted the article, hoping to publicize the Ignatian Volunteer event regarding the recipients of the annual Della Strada Award, the editor spoke with me via a phone call and confirmed I was the Robert Stewart who wrote "that letter" to the editor of the Washington Post. He then refused to post the article in the diocesan newspaper. In addition, the editor did not respond to any of my subsequent inquires about printing the article. Again, thanks for the thoughtful and balanced reflection. I felt vindicated after reading it.
Cesar Chavira
2 years 4 months ago
Robert Stewart, I don't know who you are or anything about you, but I am glad that you speak up and don't shy away from a debate that sometimes pits brother against brother. I agree with you but I am also pained to see the rift between those of us who have nothing against civil marriage between any two consenting adults and those who are opposed to the very thought. I pray that the many factions within our house can listen to opposing views without ever considering the person holding those views as "opponent." Again, thank you for your courage to speak up.
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
Robert, I don't agree with all you wrote, but open dialogue is better, in most cases, than closed minds.
Leonard Villa
2 years 4 months ago
The marriage-issue will neither be decided by judicial fiat nor elected representatives because the source of marriage is not any political authority but human nature. According to Catholic social teaching/natural law marriage and family are prior to and superior to the State/society as the primal building block of society, Church and State hence courts/legislatures/political ideologies are incompetent to decide what marriage is. Hence the issue is not settled simply because of power-politics and five judges. The net result of this power-politics is war on the institution of marriage with totalitarian tendencies. Your remark re Roe and Obergefell is on the money in terms of their relative gravity albeit both are grave issues. The dissent in O rightly points out however that this is another case of judicial overreach and bad Constitutional precedent. Yes as you say there must be "human respect" and indeed pastoral care but there must be also a rejection of alien political ideology at war with Catholic teaching and natural law. Thus the culture wars. For all of us there is simply human nature as received with its own proper health and order and the disorder caused by original sin. The fact that some humans experience same-sex attraction does not per se create a new metaphysical-category such gay human nature, bisexual human nature etc. as the ideology would have it. The rejection of an order in human sexuality indeed goes back, as an earlier post derides as blah blah, to Humanae Vitae and earlier the Anglican rejection at Lambeth in the 30's.The evil of contraception is also based on the false notion that political-might and human willfulness can simply X-out the procreative meaning of sexual relations in favor of any sexual pleasure-arrangement named love without harm to the human person. In a war on reality despite the great harm and destruction caused by such a war, reality always wins.
Paul Ferris
2 years 4 months ago
The Lambeth Conference of 1929 gave cautious acceptance of birth control with warning that intercourse should not be used for selfish,hedonistic pleasure alone but should be balanced with other important values such as "love in the service of life" to quote one of the beautiful passages in Humanae Vitae. It appears that the above individual has never read the Lambeth decision or is so blinded by his ideological perspective that he does not care about truth. Thus it is blah blah blah from the rigid right wing. I will say this about Catholics and other Christians who are against gay marriage. They are more consistent than Catholics who favor the practice. If you accept gay marriage you must accept it as a blessing from God and therefore the sacrament should be available. As Edward Schillebeex wrote many years ago...marriage is a human mystery and a saving reality. Gays can be saved through the commitment to love in marriage. To quote Emerson against both wings: "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
John Mayberry
2 years 4 months ago
Read Matthew 19. Homosexual unions will never be sacramental because they can't be sacramental. It's not even within the power of the Church to make that decision. Natural Law goes beyond and above our lust and disordered inclinations: this goes for polygamy, pornography and other sexual perversions.
Ed Hawkins
2 years 4 months ago
Thank you for an essay that speaks from the Gospel. The Lord we worship in the Church is so much more loving, compassionate, and merciful than some seem to believe. Your piece speaks from a heart like His.
John Daly
2 years 4 months ago
A few observations: "We the people must consider whether we want major public policy questions like the definition of civil marriage settled by judicial fiat, rather than by our elected representatives or by direct vote of the people." Is America Magazine interested in representing its view regarding the world according to the mechanisms established by U.S. civil society or is it a magazine that professes a faith with the Gospel and hence proclaim the Good News of how human's should govern themselves according to what Jesus Christ left behind and communicated since then by The Church? I am at a loss on why good governance cannot be inspired by the Gospel and instead left to the idiosyncratic notions of a society that does not embrace Christ's message, especially from those that proclaim they follow Christ. There is a contradiction in what you're stating when you leave Christ's message so clearly out of the equation. "it is clear from most national polls that the court’s decision accords with the opinion of a majority of U.S. citizens, as well as a majority of American Catholics. The court’s decision also comes on the heels of a recent referendum in Ireland in which a large majority of Catholics across that country voted for the legalization of same-sex civil marriage... Yet large numbers of Catholics in both countries have reconsidered this position and have now rejected it. That is the reality of the situation." So what? Jesus was defied by the culture of his time and hence why he was crucified. It's sad that you're yielding to the reality of the situation as if to make an accommodation toward an existence that is in direct contradiction to what has been espoused by the Church for 2000 years and by society in general since the beginning of civil society. It is also contrary to the life of God since it is man that needs to change and not The Church, its faith, its dogma and its doctrines. "This view, moreover, that Obergefell is a second Roe, may lend itself too easily to the binary culture-war thinking that can impoverish our understanding of events and narrow the horizon of our public choices." America you've made this distinction but I can assure you it's not binary. On the contrary, it's real and the grey areas you embrace do not absolve the sins of what has happened and continues to occur since Roe or what will happen now with Obergefell, although it may mitigate the culpability. You cannot justify what is not justifiable before God's eyes and every person who can think clearly can see the difficulty in what you're proposing with this false dichotomy. "Catholics must be careful not to develop a “Masada complex” that would reduce our self-understanding to that of a besieged minority. Such a narrow self-perception is contrary to the generous, expansive nature of the good news we seek to share." Nobody is doing this. The decision is so recent that I cannot believe that you would even begin to use such an analogy. It is precisely because we as Catholics know the Victor at the end of time, we should with greater urgency spread the good news of the oncoming reality and not embrace events that work to put many souls in jeopardy of not being able to accept God's generosity of life when that moment comes because of being lead down the path of a false compassion not based on the Truth of Christ. "A new pastoral approach, therefore, should be marked by basic human respect, which “must be real, not rhetorical,” as Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago has said, “and ever reflective of the church’s commitment to accompanying all people. For this reason, the church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.”" What is real and what is rhetorical? A statement like this does not clarify the reality that The Church has ALWAYS embraced all sinners and this is what Christ wanted and desires. What he doesn't embrace is the damage we do when we sin and He calls us all to conversion. We must do this pastorally but without denying His Truth for with false compassion and foolish inconsistency we only confuse those who cannot help themselves. "For too long the public has wrongly perceived the church as one more political faction aligned almost exclusively with the forces of reaction. It is not surprising that in a country obsessed with all things sexual, the church should be seen as singularly obsessed with such matters." The Church preaches the Gospel of Christ which invites everyone to be saved and to the Truth. Sometimes that Truth is displayed by certain policies from the right and sometimes by certain policies from the left and everything in between. To make appear as if politics was The Church's main concern is to do it a disservice and ignore the elephant in the room, which is to proclaim Christ's Good News, which challenges all politics, left and right, so that humanity may find its dignity as a child of God and not by what humanity wills in this world through its skewed politics, laws, and court decisions.
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
Thank you, John Daly, for standing up for what the Church should stand for.
kathy r
2 years 4 months ago
i agree with the above. Thank you for clearly stating a Biblical position.
John Mayberry
2 years 4 months ago
John Daly, I couldn't agree with you more: "The decision is so recent that I cannot believe that you would even begin to use such an analogy. It is precisely because we as Catholics know the Victor at the end of time, we should with greater urgency spread the good news of the oncoming reality and not embrace events that work to put many souls in jeopardy of not being able to accept God's generosity of life when that moment comes because of being lead down the path of a false compassion not based on the Truth of Christ." If St. Leonard of Port Maurice's sermon "The Little Number of Those Who Are Saved" is true, which I think it is, we should be fighting for every soul. What the cultural war battles down to: (lacking the) fear of God.
Ernest RaskauskasJr
2 years 4 months ago

The American legal system is that there are three co-equal branches of government. Several dozen judges have ruled at all judicial levels in favor of same-sex marriage, the majority appointed by republicans going back to Nixon. The Courts have always been the protector of constitutional rights of minorities in society. Civil marriage is a civil right. The religious arguments really are not relevant in a society that has no established religion. Numerous religions have come out strongly favoring gay marriage. Catholics should not presume that the position of the hierarchy speaks for all Catholics, let alone the members of all the other religious denominations, or those with no religious affiliation. The argument of the editorial and some commenters that laws and referendums have been over-ruled is simply the Courts doing its work when courts find that a majority in society is impeding the constitutional rights of a minority. This has occurred many many times in US judicial history.

HARRY CARROZZA DR/MRS
2 years 4 months ago
An interesting article raises many questions: 1.What percentage of the majority of American Catholics who are in accord with the Court's decision believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist versus the Cultural War Catholics belief on this Doctrine? 2. What will the Editors of America & their fellow Jesuits do when the Government orders them to sacramentally marry a same Catholic gender couple i.e..after the Courts say that such refusal is a violation of the couples civil rights & failure to do so will result in large fines & perhaps loss of their tax exempt status? 3. Is what is happening on this issue the latest manifestation of the dictatorship of relativism? 4.Are we headed toward what occurred during the reign of HenryV111 i.e. the Act Respecting the Oath to Succession favoring his marriage to Ann Boleyn where we too will need to swear allegiance to the State on this issue or suffer the dreadful consequences? 5. Assuming the above to have occurred will Sacramental Catholic Marriages then have to be performed in a clandestine manner? 6. When asked to participate in a poll on this issue are we fully aware that our answers may have deep & permanent and damaging ramifications? Thus, if we are to "dialogue"we must ask these & other important questions in order that the TRUTH who is Christ will triumph in this ongoing battle. Blessings to Archbishop Kurtz & the the US Bishops of the USCCB who have spoken with courage & fortitude on this matter. Harry D. Carrozza, MD. President of the Tucson Catholic Physicians Guid
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
Well said Dr. Carrozza, well said.
mary cannon
2 years 4 months ago
Why do you assume that Catholic priests etc. will have to marry same gender people? Is it because you don't understand the American concept of separation of church and state? The sky is not going to fall in.
john andrechak
2 years 4 months ago
Ah #1; the test, as administered by Dr. and Mrs. Carrozza; #2 The forced to marry BS; the majority opinion specifically and more then once articulates that the Obergefell decision does not and will not force any religious group from marrying beyond their constraints; (this denial reminds me of the birthers) knowing which argument is valid can be determined by the argument; when you read such silliness as this, or the USCCB's comparison of Obergefell to Roe v. Wade and Dred Scott you can rest assured that there is no sound basis for opposition to the Court's ruling
G Miller
2 years 3 months ago
I will make sure that next time I am in Tucson on business, and I need medical care, that you are not to come near me. You need to go back to school.
PHIL JOHNSTON
2 years 4 months ago
I very much appreciated your editorial on the Supreme Court’s decision [“After Obergefell”, July 20,2015]on the right of Gays to be eligible to enjoy, in their life-time commitments, the civil rights and responsibilities of marriage. The Cultural Wars have not benefited our proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are called to proclaim the joy of the Gospel in the world; not to enact it into laws that bind non-believers. Remembering the words of St. Paul that “all things work to good for those who love the Lord”, we would do well to step back a moment, as you suggest, and take a new look at how we might proclaim a God of Love to the world in which we live. With, at times, the support of the teaching Church, we have continued to regard Sacred Scripture as a book of laws to be applied to human action. A God of rules and judgments is not the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Galatians {2:16}, Paul tells us: ….We have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Hopefully, all of us called to be disciples of Jesus, will come to realize that it is not in the power of Law that we proclaim the Good News, but, like Jesus himself, with the power of love. Holy Scripture is not a Law Book. It is a loving God revealing himself to us to give us hope in the present and in the future. Phil Johnston Huntington Beach, CA
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
Phil, You are kind of mixing what we call Legal Laws, with what Jews would call the Law that leads to Life. Encouraging someone to engage in activities that God did not make the Human Body for - may not be the best use of the words of Paul.
Kester Ratcliff
2 years 4 months ago
"These two events are part of a larger phenomenon—the transition of Western Europe and the United States to a thoroughly secular, postmodern social politics." How do you know that? Is it not also possible that the Catholic majority of Ireland and also the majority of Catholics in the USA who support same-sex equal marriage do so precisely because of their faith? I think it's a transition from associating faith with uncritically believing whatever people are told to by the official hierarchy to actual faith and actual conversion of heart. The obsession with gender and sexual identity issues connects to the old kind of authoritarianism associated with the era of Vatican 1, which the rest of the world has moved on from and will not be convinced by again however hard the Catholic official hierarchy campaign. It's all that love and peace hippy stuff that has infiltrated the Church. The Bible's full of it.
mary cannon
2 years 4 months ago
I agree. You put that very well.
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
I guess it does not matter that only males and females can mutually reproduce. God just was not thinking ahead at Genesis, when He made them Male and Female, to the Post-Modern World: Where humans know better than God in all matters Divine and Human. Thank God, sorry, thank humans that America Magazine is fully in league with the Post-Modern World. As such the words of Christ concerning marriage can be explained away - either via new fangled Scriptural interpretations, Sociological interpretations or Sexological explanations. You know and I know it will be a relatively short time before America editorialises that "Same-Gender Marriages" be allowed within the Church. Meanwhile, those Christians who rather not serve the Post-Modern World - after all I have no duty to bake a cake for marriages that I do not approve of do I ? Maybe/Maybe not - the Courts are working it all out - will be harassed and sued and pilloried and will America defend them or tell them to get with the Post-Modern Programme ? If you want a Civil Union that is your business but when you call it a Marriage then it is all of our business.
G Miller
2 years 3 months ago
The biology of our universe is not as neat and tidy as you need it to be to fit your world view. Remember, if it exists in the natural world, it is part of God's plan. And scientifically, the Church has been unable to refute the findings that gays and lesbians are just as much a part of God's Plans as are straight people. I suggest you brush up on the varieties of biology, human and otherwise. God never does anything in a single iteration just look at Darwin's Finches and move on from there.
Robert Lewis
2 years 4 months ago
But you seemingly have no problem in refusing to distinguish between the "companionate marriage" of Protestant American culture, which is, by the definition of their "salvation by faith alone" theology, fully disolluble, and the "sacramental marriage" of the Catholics, which is not. What business is it of the Catholic Church to dictate the marriage policy of a culture whose theology of marriage is ALREADY heretical? Do you want to make the promiscuous serial monogamy of the Americans--which is what Luther's abrogation of Christ's prohibition of divorce made possible (and ultimately made "gay marriage" feasible)--do you want to make THAT illegal? You Catholics need to grow up and realise what kind of culture you're living in.
Bonnie Weissman
2 years 4 months ago
Thank you, Marilyn Eng! My thoughts exactly. So many times I have been tempted to go "Catholic Lite" (Episcopalian) but can't wrap myself around a denomination started because a king wanted a divorce. I would add two more thoughts on this; several countries with large RC populations have legalized civil marriages for gays and have not required religious institutions to conduct gay weddings. Lots of hoopla at first, but little changed except that gay couples had legal protections, and did not affect traditional religious people. Civil things changed and churches, etc. did not. I know someone who personally knows (very well) one of the primary lawyers on this case and the one overturning the Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton, which also left out gay marriage. This guy worked in GOP administrations, is a huge conservative and Evangelical Christian. He supports civil marriages for gays because they not only protect the marrying parties, but also their children and property. He and his wife have received letters from gay couples thanking him for his help, citing many difficult and sometimes heartbreaking situations with their kids because their relationships were not recognized as a legal marriage. Leave this alone, and love our LGBT brothers and sisters; Jesus loves them, why don't we?
John Mayberry
2 years 4 months ago
To all my Catholic/Christian brothers and sisters: as we move toward a neo-pagan culture around the world, homosexual 'marriage' is nothing new. Gay marriage and homosexuality were part of the moral landscape faced by the first Christians in Ancient Rome. As one article states: homosexual 'marriage' was "alive and well in Rome, celebrated even and especially by select emperors, a spin-off of the general cultural affirmation of Roman homosexuality. Gay marriage was, along with homosexuality, something the first Christians faced as part of the pagan moral darkness of their time." Just look at the Roman emperor Nero. From Wikipedia: In 67, Nero ordered a young freedman, Sporus, to be castrated and then married him. According to Dion Cassius, Sporus bore an uncanny resemblance to Sabina (Nero's deceased wife), and Nero even called him by his dead wife's name. Martial, a first-century A.D. Roman poet, reported male-male marriage as kinds of perversions, but not uncommon perversions, speaking of a man who “played the bride yesterday.” Mockingly, he writes: “Bearded Callistratus gave himself in marriage to…Afer, in the manner in which a virgin usually gives herself in marriage to a male. The torches shone in front, the bridal veils covered his face, and wedding toasts were not absent, either. A dowry was also named. Does that not seem enough yet for you, Rome? Are you waiting for him to give birth?” Rome wasn't just in trouble because of homosexuality though. Rome did everything they could to avoid having children even among heterosexual couples who practiced contraception, abortion, infanticide, etc. The Didache, "Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the Twelve Apostles" and one of the earliest Christian documents called for sexual legitimacy for the purpose of procreation. The Theodosian Code, drawn up by Christian emperors in the fifth century, A.D. made same-sex marriage illegal (referring, as precedent, to edicts published under fourth-century emperors Constantius II and Constans). So homosexual marriage is nothing new. It's a little disheartening that the progressive Jesuits are telling orthodox Catholics to step aside and that they have lost the culture war. Jesus tells us to fight for Him in Matthew 19. See below. This is not true at all based on the little snippet of Roman history I provided above. We have lost a battle in an ongoing war between Satan and God, Hell and Heaven. The war has been going on for centuries and will reach a point where Christianity seems to have sunk before Saint Michael casts Satan into Hell as revealed in Revelations. Imagine if the early Christians had the attitude of this editorial and New York Times columnist David Brooks: “consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” Source: Catholic World Report
John Mayberry
2 years 4 months ago
Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, a devout Franciscan friar who lived at the monastery of Saint Bonaventure in Rome, had a sermon "The Little Number of Those Who Are Saved" where he said he saw 60,000 people come from all over the world to be judged and only 3 went to Heaven. The rest went to Hell because they stopped fearing God. As the Didache says regarding heterosexual/homosexual marriage: “There are two ways: one of life and one of death—and there is a great difference between the two ways.” The same goes for our souls, too. Citing Cardinal Marx, who was admonished by the Vatican in March for his comments regarding divorced Catholics and homosexual unions, weakens this editorial. “We cannot say to someone: you are homosexual, you cannot live according to the Gospel. It is unthinkable…. [If] two people in a homosexual relationship have been faithful to one another for 30 years, I cannot call that nothing.” Yes, we can. We can call it pride, rebellious, and grave sin. Just as is all sex outside of marriage. It is black and white because Jesus makes it black and white in Matthew 19. "Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” In other words, if the union is not 1 man and 1 woman and they don't have the intention of procreating, then take up your cross for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. And for that reason, every orthodox Christian should fight the culture battle. Source: Catholic World Report
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
John, What you write may be the truth. But we live in a generation that cares little for Scripture save to re-interpret it in their own fashion. Perhaps if we lived in a society where true charity and devotion to God flourished their points would have some validity but from what I can tell we are the most selfish generation in a very long time.
G Miller
2 years 3 months ago
I suggest you go back to school and take some biology. The fingerprints of our Creator are all over Creation and the Creator colors outside of the lines and uses more than just black and white. Creation is full of great variation. What you speak of works for the majority but it is not the exclusive reality on our planet. Have you ever met someone who is intersex and has attributes of both genders?
G Miller
2 years 3 months ago
The lesson of the Cross is fidelity. One can learn that fidelity with an opposite gender or same gendered spouse. The key is being faithful to each other. Not to live in some Roman circus of sex partners that doesn't approximate anyone's definition of a legitimate marriage. And if procreation is the ultimate litmus test for all marriages, why isn't a fertility test required of all people who are engaged to be married??
Paul Ferris
2 years 4 months ago
Apparently the editors of America Magazine found my initial comment here offensive and deleted it which is their right. Was it that I started my comment with the words blah, blah, blah, or because I used explicit language about the sexual act referring to the genitals by name ? In any case I disagree. I think some of the comments here are offensive to me like comparing marriage for gays to Nero and Rome's obscenities. Be that as it may, it would be nice to talk about this subject from a common, Catholic, mystical, hierarchical distance without referring to what Mike Huckabee calls the ick factor. It may nice but is it honest ? Think about it America's editors. Ironically, my blah, blah, blah assessment was quoted by one writer here. Please restore my honest but unflattering comment ! No I will not stop reading this great magazine.
John Mayberry
2 years 4 months ago
I don't understand why you found my post regarding the early Roman pagans to be offensive, when I was citing examples of homosexuality existing at the time of the early Christians. And the Christians offered a better way of living that was foreign to Rome. You can't rewrite history. Multiple historical sources wrote about it. But I appreciate you reading my post. And as for your posts, I see the one that says "blah blah blah." Have a great day.
Paul Ferris
2 years 4 months ago
I know I will never get through to you Mr. Mayberry, but to compare hundreds of thousands of couples who seek to make a lifetime commitment to each other with the depravity of a Nero should be offensive to any rational human being, Christian or otherwise. My own comparison with the modern acceptance of gay marriage can be attributed to the leaven of the Christian yeast. History should show there has been no greater pagan movement than the holocaust of the 20th century where 95% of German Christians were baptized and 75% attended Sunday worship. And for the first time in human history, mankind is capable of destroying the planet due to abuse of the environment or through nuclear war. I do not see the comment that I wrote in the beginning. I see the comment that I followed up with later.
Anne Chapman
2 years 4 months ago
I am glad you are also still willing to comment on this website. Please keep it up, as you speak for so many, and you speak very well.
Paul Ferris
2 years 4 months ago
Thank you Anne. Your encouragement is appreciated or as they say in the South, I appreciate you.
Nicholas (Bowden) Cron
2 years 4 months ago
I found the AMERICA point of view in the article typically Jesuit: kind, intelligent, practical; to wit, Jesus. Sadly, the comments critical of the Jesuit POV profess anything but Jesus--at least as I read the Gospels. Indeed, there is a cultural war: Catholic orthodoxy loses; and Catholic orthodoxy loses because therein we cannot find Jesus. This is a horrible indictment of those who proclaim to follow Christ. Truly, neither POV can convince the other; but I, personally, choose to follow what I believe I read in the Gospels: To love. If judgment is required, I leave that with God, the rightful judge: God does not require my meddling. Blessings all.
Henry George
2 years 4 months ago
Nick, What do you make then of the words of Jesus: Did you not read that the Creator made them - Male and Female and a Man shall leave his family and cleave to his wife and they shall become one. What God has brought together let no one put asunder ?
Misha Kessler
2 years 4 months ago
Beautiful summation, Nick. Thank you for this comment. Could not agree more.
monica carley
2 years 4 months ago
Why was my comment from the other day removed? I simply noted the complete absence of any consideration for children in all the discussion the editors have put forth. The needs of children should be central to any discussion about redefining marriage.
Misha Kessler
2 years 4 months ago
You're absolutely right, Monica. The children's health should be a priority. You seem to imply that children's health would be damaged by "redefining marriage," however, so I would like to point out that research has proven, time and again, that children of same-sex parents consistently demonstrate greater "resilience, with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health, despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma." So, yes. I couldn't be more happy that same-sex couples now have an easier way to marry and develop families. Complete list of research on children's health and happiness among same sex parents and opposite sex parents: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-society/same-sex-marriage-children-well-being-research-roundup
monica carley
2 years 4 months ago
Most of these studies use sample sizes too small to be statistically significant and not randomized, thus yielding a biased data set. In short, they are anything but scientific. Furthermore, this is a relatively new family structure; it will take decades to fully assess outcomes of large numbers of children raised by same-sex couples. What is known from countless studies with purposes orthogonal to this issue (decades of studies on the impact of absent fathers, some studies on the impact of absent mothers) is that mothers and fathers play complementary and irreplaceable roles in the lives of their children. Yes, same-sex couples can and do provide love, stability and resources, but they cannot provide both roles. I am surprised this has to be argued with a group of Catholics, many of whom I suspect were in fact raised by Mom and Dad!
Anne Chapman
2 years 4 months ago
How do you compare the potential 'harm" done for children of gay parents v. those of single parents? Of children in "blended" families, with step-parents? How does the potential "harm" done in homes headed by two mature, committed, loving gay parents compare with the well known potential for harm in the foster system? Since you seem to be knowledgeable about the potential harm that possibly may be done if children do not have both a male parent and female parent in the home, you must also be aware of the reality that many children do not have this particular family configuration. Of those who do, very often one parent is a step-parent, which seems to hold at least as many potential perils for children as having same sex parents, according to the research. The divorce rate, which is too high, is even higher for second marriages with minor children in the home. Step-parenting issues are quite real, even when one parent is male and one is female. Having two gay parents who are in a stable, loving committed relationship (now strengthened because the gay couples can be formally committed to through marriage) is far better for children than many of the other alternatives many children face in the real world - the real world, not a fantasy ideal world. Currently there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Foster care outcomes are not always the best, as these children are not in homes that have committed to their care until they are adults. Some foster care parents do the minimum, simply in order to get an extra check every month. About half of children in foster care may eventually be reunited with a parent or another primary caretaker. (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/foster.pdf) Very often the parent is a single parent, usually the mother. It may be a grandmother. But the children went into foster care in the first place because their parents' home was deemed unsafe or unhealthy in some way and no other family member stepped up to care for them. Is it not better for some of these children in foster care to be adopted by gay parents who love one another, who are committed to their relationship (which can now be a legal marriage, with all the benefits that automatically help the kids by having married parents), and who are committed to the children?
monica carley
2 years 4 months ago
Anne, You chose the word harm in quotes, but you are not quoting me. I never used the word harm in my post. In fact, I never suggested homosexual couples are any more likely to actively harm children in their care than heterosexual couples are. It's what is lacking that is at issue. The point that no one can honestly refute is that both a mother and a father are important in the lives of children and same-sex couples, while they can provide love, stability, and resources, cannot fulfill both gender roles. Divorce and death happen in families, but it is different to deliberately create a family that by design denies a child either mother or father. The issues you raise with respect to foster care will not be solved by legalizing same-sex marriage and here is why: the reason children languish in foster care is not a lack of heterosexual couples who want to adopt and an abundance of same-sex couples who cannot adopt them. That is false. Many married couples and singles (same sex couples have already been able to adopt by presenting one partner as a single parent) try for years to adopt children out of foster care only to have the courts impede the process. The reason is that the foster care system in our country is badly broken; courts continue to prioritize family reunification over the best interests of the children, endlessly delaying termination of parental rights in many cases where it is the appropriate course of action. The children get shuffled around, all the while not legally available to adopt until they are older or age out. The foster care system is a huge social justice issue and I am glad you brought it up. Perhaps the editors of America could focus more on it and other issues facing children.
Paul Ferris
2 years 4 months ago
Monica, you are engaging in logomachy. The word "lacking" in your comment cannot be understood in any other way than doing "harm."

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