While gay rights activists and others welcomed the June 26 rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage, Catholic leaders both locally and around the country offered a different view.
The landmark decisions struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, and let stand a federal court ruling that Prop. 8, California’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman, was unconstitutional.
DOMA was passed by large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Seven million Californians voted in favor of Prop. 8 in 2008.
Robert P. George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University, called the Supreme Court’s decisions “disgraceful.”
“It’s an occasion — especially the DOMA ruling — of the court usurping the authority vested by the Constitution in the people acting either on their own, through the processes of initiative and referendum, or through their elected representatives,” George told The Catholic Sun.
He offered a scathing commentary on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, the case that challenged DOMA.
“He has gratuitously, without any benefit of argument, asserted that any opposition to… the idea of same-sex marriage, or eliminating the requirement of sexual complementarity for marriage, has no rational basis but is rooted in animus or a desire to harm, demean, or humiliate people,” George said. “That is not only spectacularly false, it’s a slander against the majority of his fellow citizens who do believe that marriage, properly understood, is the union of husband and wife.”
Rick Garnett, professor of law and political science at Notre Dame University, said that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not mean that all states are going to have to adopt same-sex marriage — at least not yet anyway.
“A lot of the language in the opinion striking down the federal DOMA suggests to me — and I think to a lot of other people — that the majority of Justices are very sympathetic to the idea that the Constitution requires same-sex marriage,” Garnett said. In a couple of years, Garnett said, there could be even more support for same-sex marriage and more states that have legalized it. That, Garnett said, suggests that “in a few years the court will take the step that it didn’t take.”
Barb Lishko, coordinator of marriage and family life at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chandler, said that in her estimation, education is at the top of the list of what needs to be done in light of the court’s rulings.
“We have a long way to go in educating humanity on what marriage is,” Lishko said. “That’s the most clear thing from the rulings on marriage.” Once people understand what marriage is, she said, “they won’t be prone to redefining it or making it what it is not.”
Lishko meets with about 50 couples each year who are preparing for marriage. Many have been away from the Church for some time and have had little or no catechesis. Only rarely are they are from an intact family of origin or have not had a previous marriage themselves. Few can name three married couples whose marriage they would like to emulate. All of that, she said, contributes to a befuddled understanding of marriage.
“I truly think that with these decisions …people don’t know what they don’t know,” Lishko said. “And people just don’t know a lot [about marriage].”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said the rulings are evidence that the Supreme Court has “succumbed to our culture’s radical efforts to redefine marriage and, in a very real sense, is now engaged in the ongoing battle against families, society and people of faith.”
Blogger and mother of four Becky Greene, who along with her husband Steve has been leading marriage prep in the Diocese of Phoenix for four years, offered a similar take on the marriage rulings.
“It’s a hard one to argue against [same-sex marriage] if you haven’t first defined what marriage is,” Greene said. The ongoing rhetoric, she said, is heavy on terms like equality and happiness.
“It comes down to personal happiness. That’s the first problem, a big red flag,” Greene said. “We have to recognize that when we talk about marriage, the definition is not contingent on simply the romantic or emotional feelings of the parties involved.”
Greene argues that society has been undergoing a slow boil during the last 60 years regarding marriage and sexuality in general.
“We have been headed down this path for a long while. We’ve been removing sex from the marriage equation to where it doesn’t have anything to do with marriage,” Greene said. “We can do it outside marriage, inside marriage — it doesn’t have any fundamental connection to the institution of marriage.”
The widespread use of contraception by both married and non-married couples, Greene said, has helped to “disassociate any idea of biological offspring from the sexual act.” And that, she said, fed into the trend toward redefining marriage.
“That’s how we get to a point in history where you have people advocating for not just redefining but destroying the definition [of marriage] as we always have known it,” Greene said, “and trying to make it something new, just completely change up the semantics of it.”
To same-sex marriage advocates and Justice Kennedy who charge traditional marriage defenders with bigotry, George offered a sweeping vision of the historical understanding of marriage across times and cultures.
The traditional understanding of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, George said, is found “not only in our own history but in every other civilization known to man, whether it is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism — this is a constant across cultures and through history, and it was put into place without the question of same-sex anything even being on the table.”
George, who is a professor of constitutional law as well as politics at Princeton, said the fact that President Barack Obama was sworn to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and yet refused to defend DOMA was an example of him exercising a veto power he does not possess. Beyond that, the rulings on marriage, George said, “transformed democracy into oligarchy.”
“The Supreme Court has set itself up as an oligarchy, a ruling class, dictating to the people what their laws should be, even where there is no basis in the text or logic or structure or original understanding of the Constitution to [justify] such intervention,” George said.