During his time as leader of the Catholic Church in western Oregon, Archbishop John Vlazny confronted challenges to traditional marriage.
In 2004, for example, Multnomah County issued thousands of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“The Catholic understanding of marriage is well known. Same-sex unions are not marriage,” Archbishop Vlazny countered. “Marriage is an intimate covenant relationship between a man and a woman, which by its very nature is for the good of the couple and the generation and education of children.”
He realized that Catholics could not impose church restrictions on secular culture, but said the church had a right to persuade fellow citizens to look at the bigger picture and not regard gay marriage only from the perspective of civil rights.
Voters eventually would agree to define marriage in Oregon as between one man and one woman. But state lawmakers soon paved the way for civil unions, giving gay couples most of the benefits of marriage.
The church’s opposition to civil unions “in no way diminishes our care and respect for homosexual persons, children of God, one and all,” the archbishop wrote in 2005. “But,” he added, “the issue is marriage, not homosexuality.”
Even in his last months as archbishop, he was concerned about the attempt to redefine marriage as one of a list of trends that oppose what’s good in human nature.
“At this critical time in world history, the church has some important responsibilities,” he wrote. “We need to proclaim loudly and widely the great truths taught by our Catholic tradition concerning human life, marriage and caring for the poor. We need to oppose vigorously arguments that go against these truths.”