July 3, 2015


Court decision must lead to respectful dialogue, especially about families

It’s unlikely that many people were shocked by the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court decision to redefine marriage in a fundamental way.

As Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin observed in his statement about the decision, “The ruling is not surprising in light of the number of states in which courts have recognized same-sex marriage, as well as rapidly changing attitudes in American popular culture regarding the nature of marriage. The Catholic community has long recognized values that distinguish its understanding of marriage from the legal definition. Those differences have become more acute.”

What is the difference between our understanding of marriage and the rapidly evolving attitudes in our popular culture? Three fundamental things come to mind.

First, as Archbishop Tobin noted, Catholic Christians understand marriage as “a natural institution established by God as a permanent union between one man and one woman” that can be understood and affirmed through reason apart from faith.

From the perspective of faith, Catholics also embrace marriage as a sacrament instituted by Christ that he blesses and sustains and which the Church nurtures and defends.

Second, Catholic teaching on human sexuality affirms the inseparable connection between the love and commitment of a man and woman in marriage and the generation of new life.

We believe that marriage is ordered to procreation, even in cases when individual couples are unable to conceive children. Marriage and the natural family are bound together in a way that disqualifies same-sex unions from consideration as true marriages, even when they are loving, committed and lifelong relationships.

Third, Catholic Christians and many others who share our fundamental values regard the institutions of marriage and family as the first and most fundamental units of human society. This means that marriage and the family come before all other institutions in society. It is not the place of legislators, judges or other public officials to define marriage. These are God-given human realities. They are not subject to manipulation or redefinition by human society.

Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has observed that, “Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over 40 years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today.

“Neither decision is rooted in the truth and, as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”

As Archbishop Tobin has said, “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. 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.”

Our Church is not against women’s rights when we oppose abortion. We are for all human life, especially the most vulnerable. We are not judging people with same-sex attractions when we insist on seeing marriage as the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment of love that is oriented toward new life. We are for the timeless truth that authentic marriage, the union of one man and one woman in love, is the bedrock of all human society.

The Catholic Church strongly supports the human rights and dignity of all persons regardless of whether or not we agree with them—or they with us—on matters of fundamental importance such as these. We ask that we be allowed to live according to our religious beliefs and values without retaliation by individuals or groups and without the interference of local, state or federal governments.

Archbishop Tobin believes that “the decision of the Supreme Court is an invitation to Catholics to proclaim the Gospel that sets all people free.” In his statement, the archbishop asks “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.”

Dialogue and respect are two-way streets. We are increasingly divided as a society, and as a Catholic community, over issues such as abortion, same-sex unions and more. We strongly affirm our archbishop’s prayer that “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.”

—Daniel Conway

Local site Links: