Amy Hill

Judge John E. Jones III, a federal district court judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, declared this week that Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional. He also ruled that Pennsylvania must recognize same-sex marriages entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction.

Based upon the judge’s ruling, licenses were immediately issued to same sex couples in many county courthouses.  Marriages may occur three days after a license is issued. In effect, the court ruling legalizes same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania; however clergy will not be required to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies if they disagree with the practice.

Gov. Tom Corbett, whose administration had been defending the law, announced he will not appeal the ruling. “Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,” he said in a statement.

However, other cases in other federal appellate courts around the country may produce conflicting results in which one may deem same-sex marriage prohibition constitutional while another deems such laws unconstitutional.  If those conflicts arise, it is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider such laws.

If the court would deem such laws constitutional, Judge Jones’ order would be of no effect; but, given other recent decisions on this issue, it is uncertain if the court will uphold DOMA-like marriage laws.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference decried the outcome of the court case stating:

“Today’s decision by one federal judge speaks to the confusion and misunderstanding among many today about the fundamental building block of society: the family.  Every child has a basic right to a mother and a father united in marriage as a family. Today’s decision does not change that.

“Yes, marriage is a personal relationship, but it is not merely a private affair between two people. It is a relationship with great public significance and, since it is the foundation of the family, it affects the wider society. By God’s design, every child has a mother and a father. Circumstances may prevent a child from being raised by his or her own mother and father, so we stand in solidarity with single mothers and fathers who work responsibly each day to raise their children. However, marriage is the way society provides for children’s needs. The redefinition of marriage enshrines in law a denial of the rights of children to a mother and a father united in marriage.

“The Catholic Church teaches that all people are made in the image of God and that everyone has inherent dignity. No one should face unjust discrimination. But human experience, considerable social data, as well as our religious convictions, lead us to see clearly that children thrive best in a stable family grounded on the marital union of one man and one woman. Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage is not a statement about the worth of human beings who experience same-sex attraction, but a statement about the nature of marriage itself.

“Pope Francis recently said, ‘The image of God is the married couple: the man and the woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both of them together. This is the image of God: love, God’s covenant with us is represented in that covenant between man and woman. And this is very beautiful!’  Marriage is beautiful indeed, and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference does not support this judge’s redefinition of this fundamental human institution.”

In light of these decisions, many Catholics may struggle to understand what the church teaches about marriage, sexuality and same-sex attraction, and how our beliefs factor into the debate. They also struggle to reconcile church teaching on marriage and sexuality with their love for gay and lesbian family members and friends.

Reflecting on what the church teaches and why will help us to better understand what is at the heart of the debate, what is at stake, and why defending traditional marriage doesn’t preclude loving our homosexual family members and friends.

Learn more about Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality:

Catholics for the Common Good

Marriage Unique for a Reason

Pa. Bishops’ Statement on Human Sexuality, Marriage and Same-Sex Unions

Share your opinion with the governor through the Catholic Advocacy Network or sign up to participate in the March for Marriage in Washington, DC, on June 19.
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A.B. Hill is communications director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at www.pacatholic.org, www.facebook.com/pacatholic, and www.twitter.com/pacatholic.