August 13, 2010


What God has joined together, let no one redefine

On Aug. 4, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled against California’s Proposition 8, an initiative which passed in November 2008 with the support of 7 million Californians.

Proposition 8 defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Judge Walker concluded that the amendment to the California Constitution “fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and women for denial of a marriage license.”

In fact, California’s Proposition 8 is not intended to deny anyone’s civil rights, which is what the judge’s comment about marriage licenses implies. The law positively affirms the traditional definition of marriage.

Contrary to Judge Walker’s ruling, it does not create “an unconstitutional burden” on the basis of sexual orientation. Although special interest groups, supported by the media, have worked hard to characterize this as a “fairness issue,” it is in reality an issue that affirms much more than it denies.

Leaders in the Catholic Church, including Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee for the defense of marriage; and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles have voiced strong opposition to the judge’s ruling.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of any society. The misuse of law to change the nature of marriage undermines the common good,” Cardinal George said. “It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support for the institution of marriage. No court or civil law has the authority to reach into areas of human experience that nature itself has defined.”

Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville added that, “Citizens of this nation have uniformly voted to uphold the understanding of marriage as a union of one man and one woman in every jurisdiction where the issue has been on the ballot. This understanding is neither irrational nor unlawful.”

Cardinal Mahony’s response to Judge Walker’s ruling speaks to the fundamental conflict between the secular ideology that seeks to redefine marriage. According to Cardinal Mahony, millions of people in California supported Proposition 8, not because they oppose civil rights for people who have a homosexual orientation but because they “truly believe that marriage was instituted by God for the specific purpose of carrying out God’s plan for the world and human society. Period.”

To redefine marriage is to deny God’s will for humankind. According to Cardinal Mahony, Judge Walker was wrong to assume that marriage is of human and civil origin, and “can mean anything any person wants to ascribe to this institution.” The cardinal also said “the union of a man and a woman in a life-long and caring relationship is of divine origin. No human nor civil power can decree or declare otherwise.”

Why does the Church take such a strong—and often uncomfortable—position on this issue? What real difference would it make if civil laws expanded the definition of marriage beyond its historic and customary meaning? What’s wrong with saying that any two human beings, regardless of their gender, can freely choose to marry and to be recognized by civil authorities as a married couple?

If marriage is simply a social contract, like a business partnership, there would be no problem with changing the terms of the agreement. But if marriage is a divine institution “embedded deeply” into the human spirit, as Cardinal Mahony points out, the differences are truly profound. If marriage is “the bedrock of human society,” as Cardinal George observes, it is dangerous to play around with it.

“Marriage is more fundamental and essential to the well-being of society than perhaps any other institution,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “It is simply unimaginable that the court could now claim a conflict between marriage and the Constitution.”

Why are Church leaders so vocal in their opposition to Judge Walker’s ruling? Because we have been down this road before. In 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws that prohibited abortion, we witnessed firsthand what this kind of judicial activism can do. Millions of innocent human beings have lost their lives before birth because judges, backed up by insipid executives and spineless legislators, redefined the beginning of a human life and declared unconstitutional a fundamental human right.

Having been down this path before, our bishops—and people of good will from many different faith traditions and secular points of view—are determined to speak out to prevent the redefining of marriage.

What God has joined together, let no one redefine.

—Daniel Conway

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