July 3, 2015

Despite ruling, Church’s marriage teaching unchanged

By Sean Gallagher

In a landmark ruling issued on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the civil definition of marriage to include couples of the same sex.

In the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, however, Catholic bishops across the country, including Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, said that the Church’s understanding of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman would remain the same.

“This decision does not change the truth that is older than states and courts,” said Archbishop Tobin in a statement issued on June 27 about the court’s marriage ruling. (Read Archbishop Tobin's full statement)

Archbishop Tobin also expressed hope that continued public discussions about marriage would be marked by civility, and that the religious liberty of those who disagree with the ruling would be respected.

“I pray the Supreme Court’s decision will be an invitation for all people of good will to discuss respectfully what divides us and seek the common good of all, especially of families,” Archbishop Tobin said. “I ask that those who disagree with the teachings of our Church may recognize our God-given freedom to live according to our faith and our consciences.”

The four Supreme Court justices who dissented from the Obergefell ruling expressed concerns in their dissenting opinions about the impact on religious liberty of the court’s mandated redefinition of marriage.

Justice Samuel Alito said that the ruling “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

He later noted, “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers and schools.”

Ed Whelan, president of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, said the majority opinion in Obergefell, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, could pave the way for governments to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches and other religious bodies that do not hold to the court’s redefinition of marriage.

“There’s plenty of language in Kennedy’s opinion that would invite comparisons between racial bigotry and opposition to same-sex marriage,” said Whalen, a graduate of Harvard Law School and previously a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. “It’s essential that legislative protections be enacted at the federal and state levels to protect the tax-exempt status of churches, schools and other institutions that hold religious beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”

Given the pressure put on the freedom of religious institutions and individuals over the past several years, Whelan expects that Obergefell will usher in more attempts to limit religious liberty.

“Religious schools will be threatened with loss of accreditation,” he said. “Religious charities will be disqualified from government grants and contracts. Americans who hold the same beliefs about marriage that President [Barack] Obama professed when he was elected risk being harshly penalized, marginalized and stigmatized.

“The Court’s decision will inevitably lead to further litigation over whether people who believe in traditional marriage will be able to do so without risking the loss of their jobs, their professional licenses and their businesses.”

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the Church’s advocate on legislative and public policy matters in Indiana, said Obergefell will make his work more difficult, but will not deter him from it.

“It will be more challenging, because we will be, in many people’s eyes, reckoned as a voice that is not accepted,” said Tebbe. “But that’s not a new position for us in terms of many of the other issues that we’ve advocated for.”

He said that the ruling—and general attitudes in society about marriage redefinition and its opponents—may make it more difficult for the Church’s voice to be heard on a variety of matters.

“It will spill over to other issues,” Tebbe said. “It does make it more challenging, there’s no question. Our image is supposedly less respected now.”

In the eyes of many people his age, Kevin Duffy is certainly out of the mainstream. A young adult member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Duffy, 23, supports the Church’s teachings on marriage. A 2014 Gallup poll indicated, however, that 78 percent of people ages 18 to 29 support marriage redefinition.

“I wasn’t surprised that they came out with this ruling,” said Duffy. “Reading the signs of the times, this is where the culture is moving. It’s getting a little harder to be an advocate for traditional Catholic views. But it makes it all the more important that we do have people who stand for that kind of thing in the public sphere.”

Despite cultural trends steering toward marriage redefinition, Rebecca Niemerg, director of the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life, will continue to share the good news the Church offers in its vision of marriage.

“In fully embracing the beauty, truth and goodness that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, Catholics can continue to sanctify and transform our society according to the plan of God in their daily actions,” she said. “We in the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life will support Catholics in this endeavor through marriage preparation and enrichment opportunities.”

Archbishop Tobin echoed Niemerg in his statement.

“The Catholic Church will continue to teach and preach the truth that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, and encourage all people of good will to embrace the fullness of that truth,” he said. “We will work to promote and strengthen marriage and families. We will strive to uphold the dignity of every human person, including persons who experience same-sex attraction, welcoming them as our brothers and sisters.”
 

(For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, visit www.indianacc.org. For more information on the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life, visit www.archindy.org/plfl.)

 

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