On September 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Large majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate supported the law. This federal law upholds the definition of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The law stipulates that no state can be required to recognize as a marriage a same-sex relationship recognized as marriage by another state.
However, the federal government has now taken a much different approach to the understanding of marriage and with serious and far-reaching practical consequences. The executive branch of the federal government is required to uphold the nation’s laws. Yet, early this year, the Department of Justice announced that it will no longer defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. If that were not enough, the same Department of Justice is taking an active role in attacking the law.
On July 1, 2011, the Department of Justice, under President Obama, filed a brief in the case Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The government is against the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that promoting marriage as a union of one man and one woman is a form of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Framing the question of same-sex marriage in this way not only clouds the issue, but distorts the truth.
Discrimination springs from prejudice. It denies to some the rights that others enjoy. Our country suffered through the injustice of not allowing blacks the right to vote, while others could. Those who do not accept same-sex marriage cannot be labeled prejudiced. They do not advocate that only heterosexuals have the right to vote, to hold political office, to live, to work and to dine where they choose. The real question is not who has the right to marry. The underlying question is what marriage really is. To label as prejudiced and discriminating anyone who holds that marriage is between a man and a woman is to move the issue into an emotional arena where it does not belong.
This past June, all federal agencies were introduced to a sexual orientation “sensitivity training” program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designed the program for its employees. The training materials label the support for the understanding of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as “heterosexism.” The program aims at eliminating “heterosexism,” in the same way as racism and sexism are to be eliminated. Clearly the issue of the definition of marriage is not an idle question.
In a stern letter to President Obama, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly stated:
“it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies…attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias. It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.” (Letter of the Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan, September 20, 2011)
Most Americans support the authentic definition of marriage. They also desire that our laws reflect this. In all three branches of the federal government, the sustained campaign to mandate all of us to live by a definition of marriage that contradicts the natural law and that goes against our entire Judaeo-Christian heritage is causing a serious rift in the nation’s moral landscape. It is dividing us. It is casting us as the enemy.
Our support for marriage as union of a man and a woman is being turned into a constitutional violation. As same-sex unions are redefined as marriage and gay marriage becomes a civil right, civil rights laws will be applied to the Church. The consequences will be disastrous on a practical level. The Church will face lawsuit after lawsuit for “discrimination” in her extensive charitable works of education, adoption, housing and even employment.
To simply ignore what is happening is to acquiesce in a radical change in our society for the worse. It is to forfeit our freedom of conscience and religion. This is not time for silence! This is time for action!
Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.