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July 01, 2008
Catholics should participate in discussion on nature of marriage

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Recently, the Supreme Court in the state of California ruled that same sex unions can not only be given the same status as marriages in that state but also can be considered "marriages" under the law. This decision by the court leaves the people of California with a big problem to solve that has many constitutional, social and moral implications. These implications reach beyond the state line. At the very least, this court ruling provides an opportunity for all of us to think and speak more clearly about just what really constitutes "marriage." Because this is an election year, questions about marriage may well be part of the debate. Our own clear thought and speech can enrich this discussion for all.

 

One reason why so many of us find the California Supreme Court decision to be offensive and wrong is that it attempts to close off the discussion about a matter that has huge implications for our society. It is a matter that is not settled in the public mind, and it is so fundamental that it deserves a thorough discussion, in order that we can all come to a clearer sense of what is right and good.

 

Something similar occurred several decades ago when the United States Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand. Catholics and others were very willing to talk about and work for the truth of the dignity of the unborn. This public discussion could have gone a long way toward upholding the right to life of the unborn that had always up to then enjoyed the protection of law.

 

Of course, Catholics and other pro-life citizens are now very actively involved in helping to shape public consciousness about the God-given right to life. This is something that every thoughtful person can understand and embrace, because it has been written on the human heart by God. Even as public understanding begins to embrace this truth more fully, it is very difficult to undo what has been done by a radical decision of the court.

 

In most places in the country, it is still possible to protect the essential institution of marriage. There is often a lively discussion in our communities about the nature of marriage and Catholics should be active in that discussion. Marriage and family life are not only at the heart of Catholic life, they are also at the heart of human society. If we are going to help shape society, which is our duty and our right, then we have to know what we believe about marriage and why we believe it. We also have to be in a position to articulate what we know to be true, so that society's understanding can benefit from the sharing of that truth.

 

I can only give a brief summary of our Catholic understanding of marriage here. I have written about it more extensively before, and I refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1601 and following, for a full explication.

 

Marriage is a basic human and social institution. However, it is not a human invention, and so humans are not free to change its nature. Even though marriage is regulated by civil and church laws, (because it is so important) it has not originated with the church or with civil society. It has been instituted by God. God has given marriage its nature and purposes. We are not free to change (or redefine) what God has established.

 

In God's plan, marriage is established as a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman. The couple enters a community of life and love, in which they are committed to each other and to the responsibility of bringing children into the world and caring for them. The complementarity of man and woman draws them together in a mutual union that is open to the procreation of children. Same-sex unions are not based on this complementarity designed by God, and persons in such unions cannot cooperate with God in creating new life. Because they cannot enter a true conjugal union, it is wrong to equate this relationship to a marriage.

 

Our human laws should always reflect and protect what God has designed. Because marriage makes an essential contribution to the common good of society, it is a blessing that we must value and work to protect.

 

Printed with permission from the Catholic Times.

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