Catholic businesses fear backlash after Supreme Court decision redefining marriage

Supporters of traditional marriage between a man and a woman rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26, shortly before the justices handed down a 5-4 ruling that states must license same-sex marriages and must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)
Supporters of traditional marriage between a man and a woman rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26, shortly before the justices handed down a 5-4 ruling that states must license same-sex marriages and must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. (Joshua Roberts/CNS via Reuters)

As news of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage swept the country June 26, Catholic voices offered a decidedly different take for the secular media on the topic.

The court’s 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, striking at the heart of the Church’s teaching on the human person and the gift of sexuality.

Catholic owners of businesses involved in the wedding industry wondered what the court’s decision would mean for them. Would they be fined for refusing to provide services to same-sex couples?

The Catholic Sun reached out to several such businesses in the Valley but owners were reluctant to go on the record for fear of reprisals. A florist noted that “tolerance seems to go all one way.” A Catholic caterer said he has already contacted the American Catholic Lawyers Association to help him defend his right to practice his faith in his business.

“Frankly I want nothing to do with catering a gay wedding. I’ve aligned my principles with what we are supposed to believe,” the man said.

“It’s a moral issue. It comes down to one thing. The natural law which is God’s law. The Fathers of the Church say anything that conflicts with the natural divine law… we are not to adhere to”.

Kevin Theriot, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the firm has represented Christian business owners who object to participating in same-sex weddings. One such client, Elaine Hugeunin, a photographer in New Mexico, was fined $7,000 in 2008 for refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony. Theriot said ADF was “optimistic that the court’s going to do the right thing” but offered a caveat.

“I guarantee you that there are going to be many states and certainly many cities that are going to attempt to try to force people to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. We’re in the process of representing those people and helping folks to understand that you shouldn’t be forced to participate in a religious ceremony that violates your convictions,” Theriot said.

Shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005, a Knights of Columbus hall was fined for not renting its space for a lesbian couple’s wedding reception, and in 2011, Catholic Charities in Illinois had to close adoption services to avoid being forced to allow same-sex couples to adopt children in their care.

As clergy pondered the implications of the court’s decision, some wondered if there would soon be pressure on them to perform weddings between same-sex couples.

“It’s pretty clear that religious liberty in America would prohibit the state from forcing a pastor to solemnize a same-sex wedding ceremony. Now, that said, we certainly have started down a path where that will be possible,” Theriot said.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman and that all are called to the virtue of chastity.

Mike Phelan, diocesan director of marriage and respect life, said the Church must redouble its efforts to reach out to those struggling with same-sex attraction.

“They are the ones, along with children, who are worst-served by this decision which legitimizes a lifestyle that is very damaging to the human person and seems to make it not only OK, but sanctifies it, in a way, with the law,” Phelan said.

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Understanding homosexuality

Statements by Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Olmsted

Courage: an international apostolate of the Catholic Church, which ministers to persons with same-sex attractions and their family and friends.

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Courage, a Catholic apostolate for those struggling with same-sex attraction, meets monthly in the Diocese of Phoenix. Jeff, who did not wish to reveal his last name, has been a member of the group for the last three years. He spoke to The Catholic Sun following the court’s decision on marriage.

“I’d like to see the Church reach out in a way that says, ‘We love you but we’re not going to accept this behavior’ and not be afraid to say that,” Jeff said. Many forces in the culture are working to normalize the gay lifestyle, he said, and “in order to do that, any kind of opposition has to be silenced. So they are working their way through institutions and one of the last ones left will be the Catholic Church.”

Beth, another member of Courage, said the group was saddened by the Supreme Court decision. “All of us there know the devastating effects of the gay lifestyle. … t tends to dismantle and destroy your inner life and your heart and soul.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the March for Marriage near Capitol Hill in Washington April 25. The Supreme Court will hear cases April 28 for states to honor the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the March for Marriage near Capitol Hill in Washington April 25. The Supreme Court will hear cases April 28 for states to honor the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. (Tyler Orsburn/CNS)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the Supreme Court’s decision “tragic,” “wrong,” and “immoral.”

“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over 40 years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix said that “the Catholic Church remains sincere in striving to love all people, regardless of their sexual attraction” and that it is “strongly committed to preserving the conjugal definition of marriage.

“Marriage is an institution that predates all governments and has served civilization well through the years. God Himself is its author. There can be many forms of love, but marital love is unique and can only exist between a man and a woman. It is through this love that children are best served, as well as society as a whole,” Bishop Olmsted said.