By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos and bishops across the United States expressed deep disappointment with Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. But Catholics in general appear to be conflicted over the issue, with a new national study showing that 62 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection Clause, the court ruled June 26. The court also rejected a challenge to a ruling striking down Proposition 8, a California voter-approved initiative that barred same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court said the private petitioners lacked the legal standing to bring the case to court.
“The court got it wrong,” said a statement by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even when the states fail to do so.”
Bishop Amos issued a statement as well, noting that “Every child has a mother and a father. Only a man can be a father; only a woman can be a mother. Parenting is gender-specific, not gender-neutral. Every child has a basic right to a mother and a father who are united in marriage. While circumstances may prevent a child from being raised by his or her own mother and father, marriage provides for the needs of a child in ordinary circumstances. The Diocese of Davenport will continue to defend and to promote marriage as a sacred institution between a man and a woman.”
Meanwhile, Catholic News Service reported that a study by Public Religion Research Institute (issued May 30) found 62 percent of U.S. Catholics in support of same-sex marriage. That compares with 52 percent of Americans overall who support such marriages and 43 percent who oppose them.
“The Church should not and generally doesn’t allow social and political events to sway it,” said Father Bud Grant, a moral theologian at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. “The magisterium is to be the teacher and so rightly seeks to influence social and political spheres. Still, movement within and among the Catholic laity do and always have had strong influence on the magisterium. We even have a name for it: the sensus fideli.”
Fr. Grant said he hopes that the historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court “will give the Church the occasion to revisit its theological arguments, and not just maintain its theological conclusions.”
The magisterium, he said, “must make and then clearly articulate its reasons, not just insist on its conclusions. Otherwise it runs the risk of being sidelined and even dismissed in the greater social conversation.”
He noted that the Church “draws its moral teachings from two sources: Scripture and Tradition. In addition, we respect as sovereign the well-informed individual moral conscience.” Fr. Grant explained that Tradition is often misunderstood. “It does NOT mean that we cannot change our thinking once we have declared definitively on a subject. On the contrary, it means that we allow the wisdom and experience of the age to impact our understanding and interpretation of our faith in such a way that it grows, organic-like, so as to remain relevant and meaningful in each age and to respond honestly and smartly to the intellectual discoveries of any given age.”
The St. Ambrose theologian would like to see the magisterium address the question anew: “If gay marriage is a violation of universal and necessary moral norms then it must be resisted as vigorously as we do abortion and capital punishment. We must add violations of human rights, such as are being debated in the immigration, access to health care and voting rights debates.
“If it is not universally and necessarily to be refused, we can still decide to deny gay marriage to Catholics, but we ought not try to impose our conclusions on the rest of civil society. In other words, we could accept the implicit position of the government: that it isn’t making us violate our convictions, it is merely upholding what it believes are fundamental human rights.”
Fr. Grant adds that “explaining these arguments in a confidently open debate is, really, the only way to polish and hone them as compelling to the rest of society.”
How the Catholic Church treats homosexuals
Catholic gays have few choices when it comes to same-sex marriage, regardless of the Supreme Court’s rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, moral theologian Father Bud Grant says.
Here are the options he sees:
• “They can remain closeted and Catholic. By definition we have no idea how many people (including priests) fit this category. I suspect it is few and diminishing. It is an awful option anyway.”
• “They can remain Catholic and come out and live celibately. I know of no one who has chosen this option. Paradoxically, by refusing to ordain gay men, the Church makes this option seem unacceptable.”
• “They can remain Catholic and come out and live an alternative lifestyle challenging the Church’s position. I know of no one who has chosen this option.”
• “They can come out and leave the Church, feeling rejected and shamed and angry. This seems to be a sadly common option.”
“The Church’s view is that homosexuality is, per ipse, not sinful but that to practice a gay lifestyle IS sinful. This is an important, careful, and subtle distinction … and it is lost on most people, understandably enough,” Fr. Grant said. “As long as homosexuality is considered an aberration we will not be welcoming to gays. We ought to do a much better job of explaining this nuanced position.”