Today, April 28, our U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument concerning the question of whether state laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman are constitutional. It seems, as expected, that Court-watchers believe that the swing vote will once again fall to Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Justice Ginsburg had previously shown her hand in an interview earlier this year, essentially expressing a belief that America is “ready” for same-sex marriage. And Justices Sotomayor and Kagan appear in favor of it as well.
As you go about your day, and in the two months or so that it will take for the Court to issue its decision on this highly important case, please pray for the Justices, and Justice.
Same-sex marriage does considerable injustice: to the persons who enter into such relationships, to the people who “support” and “affirm” them, to surrounding families and relatives who experience its consequences, to the social fabric of our communities, and particularly to children who will suffer if such “rights” are recognized.
However, even if the Supreme Court determines that there are no compelling reasons for preserving the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, it does not mean that the battle is over, or that Truth has been defeated. The Supreme Court does not possess the authority to redefine marriage. That it would do so will have grave implications for the Rule of Law.
In Evangelium Vitae, St. Pope John Paul II cites to Aquinas on the question of the natural law and its relationship to the civil law: “human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence”. And again: “Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law“. (para. 72).
As with abortion, civil law will again oppose natural law, leading to further corruption. We should be prepared for this, as we will remain subject to Caesar going forward.
Also recall that while this “culture war” has certainly spun into overdrive in the past decade, the efforts to redefine marriage are, in fact, centuries old. Nearly five hundred years ago, an English sovereign known as Henry VIII wished to establish a Tudor Dynasty that would outlive his reign, and to secure it he knew that he needed a male heir. Yet, his lawful wife, a princess of Spain, did not conceive and carry a male heir to term.
Thus, Henry decided that he would divorce his Queen and marry Anne Boleyn. To do this, the King tore Christendom asunder. The Pope, despite the efforts of Cardinal Wolsey, refused to grant an annulment. So Henry declared himself head of the Church of England, confiscated the Church’s property in his realm (making himself the richest King in the history of England, and perhaps all of Europe), and required every English subject to sign an oath affirming his headship of the Church in England and the queenship of Anne Boleyn.
Scores of (Catholic) bishops, and hundreds, if not thousands of priests, all signed the oath and assented to the break with Rome. Their assent, however, was certainly under duress, since refusal to take the oath meant permanent residency in the Tower of London, the stripping of all titles, privileges and property, and ultimately, execution. They were cowards, but they kept their heads.
Only a handful of Catholic martyrs, including Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, refused to assent to Henry’s break with Rome, and for their steadfast loyalty they earned a swift death.
Also recall that for nearly a century, our laws in this country have favored the option of “no-fault” divorce, which permits civil dissolution of marriage absent cause. Husband and wife have been citing “irreconcilable differences” for some time now, which has harshly abused God’s intention for marriage. We’ve grown rather ambivalent about the bonds that God has joined together, that no man should put asunder.
And finally, we’ve also observed cultural shifts within the same last century that have adopted favorable attitudes regarding the use of artificial contraception and abortion. Many of our own Catholic brothers and sisters, and a much wider array of Protestant Christians and secular folks, have in their own marriages willingly traded the procreative aspect of marriage, and the call from God to remain open to the gift of children, in exchange for sex as recreational activity.
This too, has compounded our divorce rates, reduced the numbers of individuals who consider sexual activity to be something that belongs within marriage, and led to the further objectification of women.
In all, even without a new pronouncement from the Supreme Court, marriage “isn’t what it used to be”, or rather, for much of the world it is not what God intends. Inasmuch as we Catholics would see God’s laws reflected in our civil codes, we cannot be especially surprised at the so-called (civil) institution of marriage devolving to the point that it is so dissolute that it is virtually unrecognizable.
What remains to be gained from civil marriage is a package of legal entitlements, to which gay couples believe they should also be permitted to access, and for many, it is hard to disagree.
We shouldn’t blame them. What occurred prior to same-sex marriage to undermine the institution of marriage may well have had diabolical origins, but it was hardly the suggestion that two people of the same sex should be able to “marry” — however diabolical such a suggestion may be — that brought us to this point.
Now, more than ever, faithful Catholics are presented an opportunity to truly live their faith, stick out their own necks, and witness to the reality that marriage (as God intends) is a lifelong sacramental union of one man and woman, consisting of unitive and procreative aspects.
Catholics everywhere must joyfully proclaim the reality that strong marriages are established by God not just for husband and wife and their children, but as the foundational building block of society, the strength of which brings us closer to establishing the Kingdom and promoting the dignity of every person. We must articulate the Truth of marriage with the example of our living, and along the way we will show the world what it has abandoned.