Now that the fireworks — political as well as pyrotechnic — have faded, it’s time take a deep breath and look at what the U.S. Supreme Court did and did not do in two same-sex marriage cases.
In a 5-4 decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, the court ruled that defining marriage as between one man and one woman violates equal protection guarantees of the Constitution.
It did not make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. It said the federal government must recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples but does not require any states without such laws to recognize such marriages performed in other states. The court did not say that marriage is a constitutionally protected right for all couples.
In the other case dealing with California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage, the court dodged the question of constitutionality by dismissing it on grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring action.
In 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the country. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
The Catholic Church believes and teaches that marriage is only between one man and one woman. The majority of Catholics in this country have not found this convincing, even to a greater degree than the general population. Is it a problem with the belief or with poor communication of this belief?
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said, “Our work remains unchanged. We need to catechize our people about marriage.”
Polls show support for same-sex marriage increasing among Catholics.
The Public Religion Research Institute reported recently that 57 percent of U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage while only 52 percent of Americans overall support such marriages. A March New York Times/CBS News poll showed 62 percent of Catholics favor legalizing marriage for same-sex couples and, that same month, a Quinnipiac Poll showed 54 percent of American Catholics support same-sex marriage.
Even allowing for differing definitions of what is a practicing Catholic, the reports are not encouraging. The church, of course, remains free to teach and practice its position on same-sex marriage. Nothing requires the church to recognize or perform such marriages.
The legal system views marriage from the perspective of how it benefits secular life, such as taxes and Social Security. Marriage is a way to achieve material benefits.
A sacramental marriage, however, has benefits far exceeding the material. A sacramental marriage provides grace and blessing from God.
“The blessings of such a marriage cannot be legislated, litigated or changed by civil authorities,” Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester said about the court’s decisions.
The Supreme Court does not rule something to be right or wrong; it rules whether or not it is in compliance with the Constitution. So, change the law, not the truth, to achieve compliance. The Constitution can be changed, unlike truth and morality, which are immutable.
A constitutional amendment could have just this statement: Marriage is between one man and one woman.
Even if an amendment failed, it would not affect the truths of our beliefs of natural law. But it would stand as a strong statement of national policy.
A constitution is the foundational document of what a nation believes. Natural law is foundational to what the creatures of God believe.
Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org