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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Archbishop Vlazny's Past Columns
10/23/2012 3:55:00 PM
Defense of Marriage

Most Rev. John Vlazny
Archbishop Emeritus of Portland

Is an anti-Catholic bias growing among the media?  I would suspect that very few reporters and commentators are truly anti-Catholic in the sense of hating Catholics.  But lots of them have an aversion to Catholic teaching, even some who are Catholic themselves.  In their judgment the church comes across as very negative about too many things, including sex before marriage, cohabitation, contraception, in vitro fertilization and now gay marriage.  They focus on what the church opposes, but they don’t always know the reason why.

Recently I came across an example of this in an article about the success advocates of gay marriage are beginning to have across our nation and in our own state.  Folks in the media know that most people won’t spend too much time studying an issue and so they develop some “sound bites” or “zingers” that attempt to ridicule the opposition.  When Christian preachers and teachers speak up about marriage as a union between a man and a woman, they are labeled “anti-gay.”  The label is an insult and clearly intended to be so.  I have begun to wonder whether Christians are also “anti-straight” when they oppose cohabitation and adultery.  When it comes to the promotion of sexual ethics, Christians are being quietly and effectively put in the dog house by the leaders of the secular culture and media.

Some would say, “Why bother about the definition of marriage?  Does it really make it any difference?”  That is probably a fair question because, unfortunately, many who are “straight” also disparage, by their behavior, the traditional understanding of marriage.  When spouses are unfaithful to one another, unwilling to commit themselves to a permanent union and the inevitable struggles with difficulties over a lifetime, and when children are to be avoided at all costs, what has happened to traditional marriage? Folks who are “gay” can very easily feel legitimately disrespected in a world which for a long time had been quite homophobic.  

Those who promote unraveling the traditional definition of marriage so that people of the same sex can make such a commitment claim they are looking only for their civil rights.  It seems to come down to a matter of commitment, one that heterosexual persons can make but homosexual persons cannot.  Interestingly, gay people nowadays want to be married.  Many straight folks don’t.  The church is in the business of promoting and defining true marriage, not the kinds of unions, already legal in some places, which in no way represent the kind of loving and committed relationship of husband and wife that is essential for either a true civil marriage or a true sacramental marriage.  

So why all the fuss?  Catholics fuss about this because marriage is a fundamental good in itself and foundational to human existence.  Marriage affects everybody.  People all over the world suffer because of the breakdown of the family, divorce, out-of-wedlock child-bearing, etc.  Marriage is not a private matter.  It definitely has public significance and public consequences.  Just think about all the fatherless families and young men in jail.  Furthermore, the purpose to “redefine” marriage to include two men or two women is really an attempt to “redefine” the human person.  It causes us to forget what it really means to be a man or a woman.  

The fuss over marriage has intensified in recent months because of a decision made by a federal appeals court last spring which struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Interestingly, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had been approved by a bi-partisan majority of congress back in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.  For purposes of federal law it recognized that marriage was the union of one man and one woman and it also protected the rights of states to uphold this definition.  The federal appeals court ruled that this assertion was unconstitutional.

Almost as troublesome were remarks made by the President of the United States this past spring in support of the redefinition of marriage.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, took issue with these comments, which he found, sorry to say, not surprising because the present administration already had begun to erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage.  No, the church is neither “anti-gay” nor “anti-straight,” but it surely is pro-marriage and pro-people.  

In an open letter signed by leaders of some of the largest religious communities in our country last winter, it was pointed out that altering the civil definition of marriage does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once.  All laws where rights depend on marital status – such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, health care, elder care, housing, property, and taxation – would be affected.  Same sex relationships would be treated as if they were marriage.  This would apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries, including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services and many others.  

Examples of the real threat to religious liberty posed by “same-sex marriage” are already in place.  A Catholic college in Massachusetts must provide the extension of married student-housing to same-sex married couples.  Catholic Charities in Portland, Maine must provide the extension of employment benefits to same-sex “domestic partners.”  Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, Washington, DC and Illinois have lost funding and licenses to provide adoption for refusal to place children with same-sex couples.  There has been an imposition of tax penalties for preaching about marriage amendments in Montana.  In other countries some of these threats have been even more persistent and invasive.  

The most common criticism leveled against those of us who hold to the classic definition of marriage is that we are being “discriminatory.”  Advocates argue that marriage is a human right and it’s unfair to exclude people from marriage simply because they want to marry someone of the same sex.  But this begs the prior question about marriage.  Rights, equality, fairness and non-discrimination are important principles and values for the good of society.  If these principles are to be measured accurately, there must be an honest consideration of the natural facts about marriage.  Marriage as we have always known it serves a unique and irreplaceable social role and deserves the protection of the state.  

Christians don’t want the teaching and beauty of marriage to be an occasion for division.  The church must speak the truth in love.  Those advocating same-sex marriage are not necessarily evil, but they are clearly wrong.  Sad to say, sexual lifestyles, both “gay” and “straight,” which disregard the true and traditional nature of marriage are especially destructive in today’s world to lives, to marriage and to families.

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