The Gospel asks Christians to love and respect persons, no matter how deeply we might disagree with them. But we have no such duty to accept bad law or the confusion it creates. Law not only regulates, it also teaches, which is why our national debates over abortion and marriage have been argued so vigorously in the courts.
The misfortune of our times is that our courts have systematically overturned and sought to reshape the will of the people on the nature of marriage. And this has implications.
Helen Alvare, professor of law at George Mason University, noted recently that the U.S. Supreme Court has already “strongly suggested [in its 2013 Windsor decision] that any view of marriage which excludes the possibility of same-sex unions is irrational and even hateful” while articulating “a meaning of marriage strikingly at odds with both centuries of American law” and Christian belief about the dignity of human sexuality and the nature of the family.
In the days after a federal district court struck down Pennsylvania’s marriage law earlier this month, a variety of law professors from around the country — legal scholars with decades of courtroom practice and teaching experience — wrote to me. They described the court’s ruling and the state’s refusal to appeal the decision as “baffling,” “muddleheaded” and even “unctuous.”
One said that “I’ve been teaching constitutional law for more than 30 years, so I thought I’d heard it all; but evidently not.” Another simply quoted Justice Antonin Scalia’s famous critique of a hapless lawyer’s presentation: “Either he’s stupid, or he thinks we are.” Yet another wrote that “we’re watching a catastrophe unfold — one that will devastate the church in her ability to transmit the truth of her teaching about marriage to our own young people. As to what its consequences will be for society more broadly, you need no words from me.”
These are hard words from people accustomed to using careful language. Their frustration underscores how serious the challenges to marriage and family life have become. But dwelling on the confusion of the moment achieves very little. Our task as believers is to live and to witness what we know to be true — and to do it without rancor or disrespect for those who believe differently.
That means, first, that married Catholics need to love their spouses and raise their children with a deepened sense of Christian discipleship. It also means that the church needs to do a better job of providing a community of support for couples and families; support that makes her vision of marriage and family appealing. Every life has its sufferings, but God made us ultimately for joy, and unless Catholic life satisfies the human hunger for happiness — and articulates that joy clearly to the world — the Gospel will not be heard.
Witnessing what we know to be true also means expressing our convictions publicly and confidently. The Christian faith is personal but never private. It always has a community dimension. It always has public obligations. And that leads to the key point of this week’s column.
The annual March for Marriage will take place on Thursday, June 19, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., on the U.S. Capitol grounds, First Street NW and Constitution Ave., in Washington, D.C. This is a crucial opportunity for Philadelphia Catholics to show their support for the family and for marriage as a permanent union of one man and one woman. Buses will leave from St. Raymond Parish in Philadelphia; St. Andrew Parish in Newtown (Bucks County); SS. Simon and Jude Parish, West Chester (Chester County); St. Pius X Parish, Broomall (Delaware County) and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Limerick (Montgomery County).
Cultures change when people change. And people change through the word and witness of other people. This is a moment to show our support for the nature of the family and the integrity of marriage as foundation stones of our life as a nation. Please make every effort this year to join the March for Marriage.
To reserve a bus seat, please contact the Office for Life and Family website at http://phillycatholiclife.org/marchformarriage/. For more information about the March for Marriage, please visit www.marriagemarch.org/about.