No one can be surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court has acted to radically redefine marriage to include same sex relationships.
The handwriting, as they say, has been on the wall – certainly in recent years, with polls showing a dramatic shift in favor of same sex “marriage,” and courts in state after state striking down laws upholding the natural definition of marriage as between one woman and one man.
But really, the die was cast long ago, beginning with the sexual revolution of the1960s and made inevitable, I would submit, by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling mandating virtually unrestricted abortion.
While there were many arguments put forward in favor of abortion – it is a woman’s “choice;” it would alleviate social ills like poverty, child abuse, disability, out-of-wedlock pregnancy (which, of course, it hasn’t) – the driving force behind the pro-abortion momentum of the ’60s and ’70s was certainly the sexual revolution. And once the Court decreed that sexual “freedom” is so absolute that it justifies even the deliberate, mass destruction of innocent human lives, what other limits on sexual license could possibly stand?
Years ago, my former TLIC colleague Pete Sheehan remarked that America seems to be a kind of “why not” society. If a particular practice or taboo is challenged, people have a tendency to simply ask, “Why not?” And if the answer is not immediately self-evident to them, they assume there is no good reason “why not.”
With abortion, the “why not” is self-evident: every abortion kills a living, growing human being. Now, obviously there are still reasons why many people justify abortion. But polls consistently show public sentiment – especially among younger Americans – trending more and more pro-life, consistent with advances in science and medical technology that affirm more and more the living humanity of the innocent child in the womb.
On same sex “marriage,” however, there seems to be no such immediate “why not.” When they cannot articulate a moral basis for their objections, many people assume there is none; and so, accepting the gay activists’ characterization of their objections as rooted in narrow-minded bigotry, they abandon those objections, and accept that “if two people love each other (or three, or four, as polygamist “reality” shows are already laying the groundwork for), why not?”
The “why not,” of course, is rooted in the “why” of marriage as instituted by God – as a union of one woman and one man. Pope Benedict XVI taught well that every “no” contained in Catholic teaching follows naturally from a broader “yes.” Our “no” to abortion or euthanasia, for instance, is part of a universal “yes” to God’s gift of life; the prohibition against missing Mass on Sunday is part of our glorious “yes” to accepting the love of Jesus Christ and His gift to us of His body and blood in the Eucharist.
But to understand the larger “yes” into which is incorporated the Church’s “no” to same sex marriage, one must understand the concept of God’s natural law. And that is a concept that is today alien to most Americans – including most American Catholics. One would hardly know, given how they are denigrated – when not completely ignored — in today’s political, educational, and even religious cultures, that natural law principles were integral to America’s founding; and that they long pre-date Catholicism, going back at least to the philosophers of ancient Greece, who discerned the existence of a natural law inscribed by God on every human heart, and discernible to us through God’s gift of human reason.
The concept is simple, really. Just as God has set in motion natural physical laws that we all know exist, and know we must abide by — if we violate the law of gravity by jumping off a high building, we know we’ll get hurt – so He has also set in place natural moral laws, the violation of which will also do us harm. Thus we know instinctively that it is wrong to kill another human being, to enslave or otherwise hold a human being in captivity, or to steal from others that which does not belong to us. But these “nos” derive from our “yes” to the very positive natural law of God affirmed in our nation’s founding documents, that every human being is “endowed by our Creator” with inalienable rights to life, liberty and property.
When we understand and accept this natural law, its application to marriage is self-evident. “Male and female He created them,” and when we observe the physiology of man and woman, their complementarity, as marriage partners, as lovers, as parents of families, is undeniable. How else explain how it has been the accepted understanding of marriage in virtually every civilized society throughout recorded history? Clearly, this is God’s design, and human beings have always discerned it, through human reason, regardless of their social, cultural or religious inclinations – because it is the natural order.
Now that order has been overturned in America, with consequences yet to be seen; and it has been overturned not by a consensus of the people, although we were perhaps headed toward that consensus; rather, as with Roe v. Wade, the decision was an exercise in “raw judicial power,” as Justice Byron White termed that ruling; in this case, a sweeping redefinition of the institution of marriage was made by “five lawyers,” as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his dissent.
Immediately – as all of the four dissenting justices warned – our religious freedom is further at risk. While Justice Anthony Kennedy tried to downplay this concern, if he’s been paying attention he knows it is already a reality, with people of faith being penalized for refusing to participate in same sex “wedding” ceremonies, others charged with “hate speech” for voicing their religious belief in traditional marriage, and Catholic adoption and foster care agencies having to abandon their mission or be forced to place children with same sex or unmarried heterosexual couples. Now, with same sex “marriage” the “law of the land,” this will only intensify – and the challenges we will face as Church are daunting. I will address some of them in my next blog post.
For now, however, as Catholics we must begin with a very positive reaffirmation of what we believe about marriage and why. We must rededicate ourselves to teaching about marriage and God’s natural law – in our schools and catechesis, in our adult formation programs, from our pulpits and in our publication, broadcast and online media. We begin by affirming that it is a teaching of love – love for one another, love for all God’s children, and, most of all, love for God and gratitude for the natural law He has so generously given us to guide our lives, form our culture, and pass on to future generations.