Shifting Attitudes Challenge Church: Floridians increasingly see gay marriage as a question of civil rights.

Miami archbishop concelebrates opening Mass of annual Knights of Columbus convention in Florida. (CNS photo/Tom Tracy)

If there was ever a bastion that gay marriage opponents thought they could count on, it was Florida.

From Anita Bryant’s successful campaign against gay rights in the 1970s to a 2008 constitutional amendment banning even gay civil unions, the Sunshine State has always been there to beat back same-sex matrimony, as constant as orange juice and the Everglades. But like those flowing wetlands, America’s dramatically shifting attitudes toward gay marriage are rolling through the Florida peninsula. In 2008, 62 percent of Florida voters backed the gay marriage ban; last year a Public Policy Polling survey found 75 percent support either same-sex marriage or civil unions.


This summer the ban itself is under sudden and heavy fire from the courts. Since mid-July, judges in four counties, from Key West to Palm Beach, have ruled the gay marriage prohibition unconstitutional. A federal judge followed suit on Aug. 21. “When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination,” U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote.

Hinkle and the Florida judges have issued stays on their rulings pending appeals—which legal experts say could end up in both the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts. If the state high court strikes down the ban, Florida will become one of the largest and most politically influential dominoes to fall in the battle over same-sex nuptials.

“Florida is late to the game,” says Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. “But at this point it would be a bigger surprise if the [Florida] Supreme Court upholds the ban.”

In an Aug. 17 letter to The Miami Herald, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami called the Florida rulings “raw judicial activism” and stressed the church’s belief that marriage must be a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation.

“In much the same way that abortion and safe sex are promoted to protect one from the inevitable consequences of sexual activity,” the archbishop wrote, “...the advocacy of same sex marriage renders the idea of all marriages meaningless.”

Archbishop Wenski insists marriage’s aim is the “flourishing of upcoming generations.” But for him and other Catholics who support traditional marriage, the upcoming generation poses a big problem. Most independent polls show U.S. Catholics support gay marriage—60 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac University survey, compared with 56 percent of all Americans—and younger Catholics do so by a landslide.

Earlier this year I interviewed a number of young lapsed Catholics in Miami, and most cited the issue as a factor in their distance from the church. When I spoke with Archbishop Wenski about those conversations, he insisted that younger Americans are “perhaps the least religiously informed generation.... If they would seek to understand [church] teachings, they might find that they’re not as intolerant as they think.”

And as Pope Francis de-emphasizes matters like gay marriage, a growing number of Catholics perceive more important priorities, from the priest shortage to America’s widening wealth gap. Chris Johnson, a Catholic attorney and parish council president in Miami, puts it this way: “We have bigger fish to fry.”

Jarvis says he too has noticed less anti-gay marriage fervor in Florida. The pope, he says, “seems to have given cover” to those who may oppose same-sex marriage, but don’t necessarily want to go to the mat on the subject.

The church has another quandary: Latino Catholics. They were considered a stalwart socially conservative group, but this year the Public Religion Research Institute found 56 percent of them support gay marriage. That’s a head-turner for those Catholics who were counting on Latinos to bolster not just church membership, but doctrinal fidelity. And it’s especially significant in Florida, which has the country’s third-largest Latino population.

Archbishop Wenski has sought to play down the Florida court rulings as another skirmish in the culture wars. But as these recent court rulings suggest, Floridians increasingly see gay marriage as a weightier question of civil rights.

In that regard, Archbishop Wenski draws a distinction between what he calls “rights and right.” He can only hope the Florida Supreme Court—or the U.S. Supreme Court—draws it too.

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William McGovern
4 years 4 months ago
It's pretty clear from the tone of this article that the author takes issue with Archbishop Wenski's comments on same sex marriage. It is interesting that what seemed conventional wisdom not long ago (i.e., sex outside of traditional marriage is wrong) is now "old-fashioned," The shift in public opinion has been swift and dramatic. As Pope Francis said, "who am I to judge?" We only know that a loving God will be our only and final judge. I hope that for the sake of the Church that, as this issue evolves in doctrine in the future, the result will be clarity and acceptance by Catholics and others. It has to be seen as proper in the eyes of God and not just a reaction to a contemporary change in attitude.
Anne Danielson
4 years ago
The tone of this article makes it appear as if the author is disdainful towards God because of God's intention for Marriage and The Family. "Have you not heard from The Beginning, that God created male and female, and for THIS reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh..." I am wondering why the editors of America Magazine decided this article is appropriate for a magazine that professes to be Catholic. Perhaps the question we should be asking of those who claim The Word of God is old fashion and no longer relevant, is "Where have they taken our Lord"?
John Bosco
4 years 4 months ago
The Church has erected a moral framework for sexuality. Its formulation was crafted for the welfare of the children of Adam and Eve. Now, government is giving its stamp of approval on a competing moral framework for sexuality. Government's competing moral framework for sexuality upsets the apple cart of Church doctrine. It has disrupted the status quo of tradition. Indeed, this conflict challenges the Church because the voice of the government is at least as loud as the voice of the Church. Only time well tell whether the effect on the children of Adam and Eve of this competing framework for sexuality is great, small or inconsequential. Indeed, there are bigger fish to fry. How do we expect the voice of the Church to have weight in matters of morals, when the Church has failed in teaching the children of Adam of Eve about the nature of God? Most do not hold a clear picture of the nature of God in their minds. Many false, inaccurate and conflicting pictures of the nature of God circulate through the minds of the children of Adam and Eve. The multiplicity of pictures creates confusion. “This is God” some say as they point to their favorite picture of God. Others point to a different picture and say, “No, this is God.” The controversy goes on ad infinitum. The Church has failed to teach the self-portrait that God painted of themselves in the cruel pigments we supplied them at Calvary. Calvary was a conservation. Calvary is the most important conversation that we have ever had with God. At Calvary, we spoke to God and God replied to us. The conversation that took place at Calvary is important because, in their reply, God revealed their nature to us. What did we say to God? We tortured and killed the Son of God while He was human, alive, tender and vulnerable. Through the wounds we opened in the body of Christ, buckets of blood spilled and, upon this cataract of blood, His life departed from His body. His life was His to keep not ours to take. Yet, we took it anyway as we took the fruit forbidden at Eden. The message we transmitted to God at Calvary told them of our wickedness. Ours was the ugly side of the conversation at Calvary. What was God’s reply? In the bloody ink that spilled from His wounds, our resurrected God wrote us a message of love. His love for us did not fade as we tortured him or die when we killed Him. He clung to it, held tight and did not let go. At Calvary, we hung the piñata from a tree, beat Him with sticks, broke open His fragile shell and exposed His most sacred heart for the world to see. Remarkably, it was still filled to the brim with love for us. Buckets of blood spilled through the wounds we opened in the body of the Son of God, but not a drop - not a drop - of His love for us. Our brutal cruelty toward Him revealed His tender love for us. Both He and His love for us survived. The miracle of the Resurrection is not that He defeated death. Indeed, the defeat of death was an awesome display of His omnipotence. However, the real miracle of the Resurrection was that, when He rose from the dead, He continued to love us nonetheless. His Resurrection points to the omnipotence of God. The survival of His love for us, however, points to something much greater than omnipotence. It points to the essence of divinity itself. It points to love. Through the bloody wounds we opened in His body, God pours back His love upon us. He pours back His love upon us through His bloody wounds freely, eternally and abundantly. The message that God transmitted to us at Calvary told us of their love for us. God’s was the beautiful side of the conversation at Calvary If we do not know God, how can we know His morality? First teach us about the nature of God, then everything else will fall into place. What is the third and decisive part of the conversation? What is the epilogue? More than two thousand years ago in the vicinity of a city called Jerusalem, we experienced a close encounter with the love of God. Did the close encounter with the love of God have an effect on you? What is its significance to you? Anything? Nothing? Have you even thought about our close encounter with the love of God? God made the close encounter happen to influence you. Has it influenced you? If so, how so? If not, why not? Our close encounter with the love of God is a sweet force that tugs at our souls trying to get us to pick up the roots we have sunk deeply down into the hostile desert of godlessness and make our escape from godlessness to God. Do your roots keep you stationary in the hostile desert of godlessness? Or are you making your escape through the hostile desert of godlessness from slavery under the yoke of pharaoh to freedom with God and their holy family in the promised land? At Bethlehem, God had hand delivered to us a love note. Imagine. Our God sent you and me a love note! Thirty-three years later at Calvary, God guaranteed that the love note was genuine by clinging to their love for us, holding tight and not letting go even though we baptized the Son of God In a boiling cauldron of torture and death while He was human, alive, tender and vulnerable. The evil baptism into which we immersed Him did nothing to extinguish His love for us or reduce it by even the slightest degree. The veracity of their love note delivered to us at Bethlehem was proven for us at Calvary. Now God is waiting for our response to their reply. The third stanza of the poetic conversation is left open for us to write. It is up to us to finish the conversation. We have the last word. God puts the job of writing the epilogue into our hands. What say you? What say you to the close encounter that the children of Adam and Eve experienced with the love of God? As for me, my response is 'where do I sign up'? How do I enlist? How do I get citizenship in the kingdom of the God who loves me so much? I am picking up my roots. I am making my escape. Like the prodigal son, I am on the journey from the pigsty back to my home with my father. Let me dwell in the house of such a God forever. Before you try to discern the conversation that you think God is having with you now, first listen to the conversation that God had with us at Calvary. By eavesdropping on the conversation that took place at Calvary, you will learn to recognize the distinctive sound of the voice of God. Follow the river of God’s love for us back through His bloody wounds to its source. There, at the source, the fountain of love, our Savior, Jesus Christ, is waiting to welcome us back to our home with Him in paradise. Our salvation runs through the bloody wounds we opened in the body of Christ. Teach the close encounter with the love of God that we experienced from Bethlehem to Calvary. Teach this first and morality follows.
4 years 4 months ago
Much like St. Augustine's early development of a "just war theory" in order to allow the City of God and the City of Man to interplay today's tackling of the issue of homosexuality needs some maturation. One would be blind to not see that thousands of men and women worldwide are "gay." Leaving them marginalized is no help to them at all. Shall we offer nothing by way of accommodation so that a promiscuous living out of one's sexuality is the only alternative to celibacy. A balanced and nuanced approach that might offer marriage or something akin to marriage as a wholesome relationship which is socially and legally recognized seems at least worthy of our consideration.
Anne Danielson
4 years ago
All of us have disordered inclinations of various types and degree, some more difficult to overcome than others. This does not change the fact that Salvation Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy, exists for all persons, including those men and women who have developed a same-sex sexual attraction.
Dan Hannula
4 years 4 months ago
If I remember by religious education, from catechism through my years at a Jesuit University, I remember that Jesus spoke so very often about justice and so very little about marriage. Is it really so odd that most Catholics support a change in the rules of civil marriage. What did you teach us? Who really is out of step?
Frank Bergen
4 years 4 months ago
I seldom read much of the online version of the magazine but my paper copy arrives so late that I just read this piece last evening. It reminds me of my longstanding suspicion that there must be a test administered to candidates for the episcopacy. Is it a stupidity test or an insanity test? From far outside that particular loop I simply don't know. My immediate reference is Archbishop Wenski of Miami. If indeed "marriage must be a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation", then what is my relationship with the woman I've called my wife for the past 25 years? We were 60 and 53 when we were married in the church [Episcopal] and have a certificate from the State of Arizona. Neither of us was capable of or even remotely interested in conceiving, bearing and rearing children. We do love one another enough to want to declare our commitment before God and man as did my mother and her second husband 40+ years ago when I officiated at their marriage when they were 61 and 62 years old and already grandparents. As to "the inevitable consequences of sexual activity", what might those be, pray tell us, dear archbishop. A day before witnessing my mother's marriage I officiated at my sister's. She and her husband, then 23 and 25, have been married ever since and have never produced offspring, not for lack of trying. And the American Catholic hierarchy never cease to amaze me!
Anne Danielson
4 years ago
Christ's teaching is that we be open to new life, that we respect the Sanctity of human life.
Anne Danielson
4 years ago
It is important to note that when a man and woman are united in Holy Matrimony as husband and wife, this one flesh union creates a new family, thus two, become one, become three.


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