Court rejection of DOMA 'dangerous and disappointing,' US bishops say

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.


After a federal judge in Massachusetts rejected a congressional act that recognized marriage as being between one man and one woman, the U.S. bishops' chairman for the Defense of Marriage responded by emphasizing that the state does not have the authority to redefine the vital institution, since marriage existed before the state.

“On behalf of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz began, “I express grave concern over these dangerous and disappointing rulings which ignore even the most apparent purposes of marriage and thus offend true justice.”

The archbishop, who is chairman of the committee, responded on July 12 to two July 8 rulings which held that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Section 3 states that for purposes of federal laws, regulations and rulings, “the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman.”

“Marriage – the union of one man and one woman – is a unique, irreplaceable institution. The very fabric of our society depends upon it,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “Nothing compares to the exclusive and permanent union of husband and wife. The state has a duty to employ the civil law to reinforce – and, indeed, to privilege uniquely – this vital institution of civil society.”

“The reasons to support marriage by law are countless, not least to protect the unique place of husbands and wives, the indispensable role of fathers and mothers, and the rights of children, who are often the most vulnerable among us,” the archbishop explained. “And yet, a judge has decided that a marriage-reinforcing law like DOMA fails to serve even a single, minimally rational government interest.”

The two court rulings were from separate lawsuits filed in Massachusetts. In Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, the court ruled that section 3 of DOMA violates the principles of equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. In Commonwealth of Mass. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the court ruled that it violates the Tenth Amendment and Spending Clause.

As part of the Gill ruling, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro stated that “as irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest,” section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

But Archbishop Kurtz strongly disagreed, saying, “To claim that defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is somehow irrational, prejudiced, or even bigoted, is a great disservice not only to truth but to the good of our nation.

“Marriage exists prior to the state and is not open to redefinition by the state. The role of the state, instead, is to respect and reinforce marriage,” he explained.

“Thursday’s decision, by contrast, uses the power of the state to attack the perennial definition of marriage, reducing it merely to the union of any two consenting adults,” the bishops' marriage committee chairman said.

“But only a man and a woman are capable of entering into the unique, life-giving bond of marriage, with all of its specific responsibilities. Protecting marriage as only the union of one man and one woman is not merely a legitimate, but a vital government interest,” he insisted.

The USCCB Office of General Counsel commented that the court rulings erred on the meaning of marriage. The rulings were also mistaken, they said, because the Constitution does not prohibit Congress from acknowledging “marriage,” as the term is used in federal statutes, regulations and rulings, as being the union of one man and one woman.

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