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Same-sex marriage: Lessons in conscience

Mary Hasson

At first glance, there’s nothing impressive about Laura Fotusky. Her soft, middle-aged figure, unremarkable cardigan, and dark, ‘80s-style hair capture the plain ordinariness of small-town America.

Nothing chic or trendy here.

But Laura grabbed headlines recently, standing tall to answer the call of conscience against the power of law. She resigned from her job as Barker Town Clerk, a position that would require her to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians once the newly-passed “Marriage Equality Act” becomes law on July 24.

Why resign from a fulfilling job when unemployment tops nine percent?

Conscience. 

That’s the same word that gay advocates pulled out to laud New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo, for his balance-tipping vote in favor of homosexual marriage. He too earned headlines, as homosexual activists across the country hailed him as a “hero” for “voting his conscience.”

Only 35 miles apart geographically, Laura Fotusky and Mark Grisanti stand worlds apart on the meaning of conscience. The contrast between them is itself a powerful lesson.

Conscience means more than ‘what I think is right.’ Conscience is “a way of obedience to objective truth.” So taught the brilliant, and saintly, intellectual--- Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Clerk Fotusky searched for truth by looking upwards, to the Truth-giver. She read His Book and bowed to its authority:  “[T]here is a higher law than the law of the land,” she said. “It is the law of God in the Bible…The Bible clearly teaches that God created marriage between male and female.”

Politician Grisanti sought truth by scanning left and right on the political horizon. He looked right as he wooed Christian churches, particularly African-American ones, campaigning on the promise that he was “unalterably opposed to gay marriage.” (See his 2008 letter here.)

Post-election, he looked left, bending a listening ear towards LGBT lobbyists and fielding pro-gay calls from Governor Cuomo and tweets from Lady Gaga.

Finally, Grisanti sought the truth about same-sex marriage by looking inward, to his “personal belief” (a temptation Pope Benedict once described as “self-sufficient subjectivity”). Until then, Grisanti said, “I simply opposed it [same-sex marriage] in the Catholic sense of my upbringing.” But for this pressure-filled vote on same-sex marriage, Grisanti announced, he would seek truth by relying on “reason” bereft of faith.

And so, like the politician who peels off his suit coat when it’s time to “get real,” Grisanti peeled off his faith to gay applause because it was time to “take the Catholic out of me.”

Wrong move, for any serious seeker of truth.

Newman insisted, according to Pope Benedict XVI, that, “freedom of conscience” does not mean “the right…’to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge.’” Put differently, one who seeks truth in good conscience cannot ignore God, who is Truth.

When Grisanti closed his eyes to God’s truth, he stumbled into a blind alley, hopelessly lost. Defending his decision to support same-sex marriage, Grisanti asked, “Who am I to say that someone does not have the same rights that I have with my wife, who I love…?”

In his moral myopia, marriage looks like a fuzzy framework that honors his loving feelings for his wife. But marriage bestows rights not because of the couple’s feelings but because their sexual union as male and female, unlike the sexual activity of two males or two females, quite naturally produces children--children who need the stable union of their mother and father, a commitment secured by marriage.

What about our other truth-seeker, Laura Fotusky? 

For her, ignoring God was never an option. Her search for truth brought her face-to-face with Him.  And she found her answer.

“Since I love and follow Him, I cannot put my signature on something that is against God…I would be compromising my moral conscience if I participated in the licensing procedure.”

With no option but to “choose between my God and my job,” she resigned.

For her faithfulness, she’s been rewarded with sneers from the liberal elites. The Daily Beast, eschewing the respectful convention of capitalizing God’s name, smirked that, “maybe god wanted her to be unemployed?”

No matter. Laura’s courage and clarity of conscience don’t depend on others’ approval, only God’s. And she’s not alone. Other officials, like Supervisor Karl Brabenec of Deer Park (a Catholic), have resigned as well, citing conscience.

And Grisanti? Political expediency labeled “conscience” has proven quite profitable. Days after his vote for same-sex marriage, Grisanti’s re-election campaign received over $50,000 in donations from national advocates of gay rights, including $10,000 each from New York Mayor Bloomberg and Tim Gill (the financial engine driving the same-sex marriage train).  And while Republicans aren’t happy with Grisanti, one journalist reported that, “Democratic party regulars are chasing Grisanti like hormonal tweens chasing Justin Bieber at the airport.”

Life seems good for Mark Grisanti.  When he looks in the mirror, he feels “wiser today” than “yesterday.”

But life’s even better for Laura Fotusky. She says, “I’ve made my choice, and no one means to me what Jesus means.” She’s got no regrets, today or for eternity.

And in the end, conscience is not about pleasing the person we see in the mirror.

It’s about pleasing the Person we see for all eternity. 


© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

Topics: Current Events , Marriage

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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