Archbishop William E. Lori
Editor’s note: The following text was adapted from a speech that Archbishop Lori recently gave to diocesan directors of family ministry.
What is perhaps most disturbing in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, is the view that those who uphold traditional marriage are guilty of bigotry. In other words, the majority adopted the opinion of those who try to intimidate and silence people who oppose redefining marriage by branding them as hostile and against equality. Such attacks are patently unfair and ignore the central question of the definition of marriage.
In promoting the traditional definition of marriage, the Catholic Church is not against anyone and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. We are for marriage; we are for children; we are for families, and we are for preserving our God-given and constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty.
THE NATURAL LAW
An increasing number of people see the redefinition of marriage simply as a matter of equality. If two people of the same sex love each other enough to commit to each other, so the reasoning goes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry and enjoy the benefits accorded to all married couples? It’s seen as a matter of fairness, civil rights and overcoming unjust discrimination.
Yet for thousands of years, people of diverse cultures and religions have regarded marriage as a complementary relationship of love between one man and one woman, pledged to permanence, fidelity and openness to the gift of new life. It is an all-encompassing relationship so complete that, by its very nature, it is capable of bringing forth children into the world and establishing homes where they can flourish.
It is further thought that the state has a legitimate interest in the unique marital relationship because loving parents and stable homes produce well-adjusted, educated, skilled and virtuous citizens. Because of its immense contribution to the common good, the state has historically afforded special protections and benefits to marriage.
This view of marriage is not particularly religious. It has been broadly shared in many cultures and did not emerge out of a desire to discriminate against any group or class of persons. In a word, the truth of marriage has something to do with the natural law that is written on the human heart.
Today, however, this truth is blurred. The body is often regarded less as an integral part of one’s personhood and more as the instrument of one’s will. Reason is not thought to guide the will in choosing the good, but is seen instead as the servant of the will, guiding it to find ways to obtain and enjoy what it wants. And the interior of the person is seen less as a spiritual core of contemplation and virtue and more as a bundle of wants, needs and desires, often styled as “rights” that have little to do with real freedom. Ideas have consequences, and this set of ideas is no exception.
While the fundamental notion of marriage has been under assault philosophically, things such as contraception, abortion, no-fault divorce, and unrelentingly negative portrayals of marriage and family in entertainment have also undermined the institution of marriage. These cultural problems helped prepare the ground for the wholesale redefinition of marriage that is now underway.
RECOVERING CATHOLIC TEACHING
Marriage is now increasingly understood as a legally sanctioned emotional bond between any two consenting adults. We can readily see that this idea of marriage jettisons what is in fact unique to marriage: the one-flesh union of a man and woman open to new life and ordered toward permanence, fidelity and stable family life. Once marriage has been loosened from its conjugal moorings, it is on the path to extinction.
As the legal redefinition of marriage stands today, there are few, if any, meaningful religious and conscience exemptions for either religious institutions or private employers.
Catholic teaching clearly and wholly condemns unjust discrimination against people with a homosexual inclination, but it also strongly upholds the truth about human sexuality and marriage (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358). Not content with that, many seek to delegitimize the Church through local and state anti-discrimination legislation. They see the Church’s teaching not merely as old-fashioned and culturally irrelevant, but rather as a form of hate-speech that deserves to be punished.
Likewise, bills that ban bullying are not merely a matter of teaching children to treat others with respect something every Catholic school and parish religious education program fosters; rather, they often consist of a mandate to promote the LGBT agenda in public schools and are far from “religion-neutral.”
In the face of these challenges, we must seek to recover, know, and share the beauty and truth of the Church’s prophetic teaching, which is central to the new evangelization. It is necessary that programs of catechesis aimed at youth, families, those preparing for marriage or those already married be transformed by the Holy Spirit and allow people to encounter Jesus Christ, in whose light we see light and in whose love we find love.
Pray, teach, witness live the vocation of marriage and family joyfully and robustly! This is what will open minds and hearts, defending marriage and religious liberty for the salvation of souls and the good of our society.