Of all the church’s teachings, its teaching on same-sex marriage is among the most challenging.
What makes it so challenging, at least in part, is that the teaching affects a group of people in our society who have been mistreated, much like lepers in Scripture, again and again — targets of hate crimes, discrimination, bullying and disrespect.
Our faith compels us to reach out compassionately to people who are downtrodden. That hasn’t changed.
Immediately after the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, bishops around the country, including our own Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, reminded Catholics that the church’s position does not target individuals or even groups of individuals. The church disagrees with the ruling on same-sex marriage because it violates the traditional definition of marriage as a sacrament shared between a man and a woman open to creating new life.
Archbishop Kurtz wrote last week, “I see the decision as a ‘tragic error’ not because I want to demean any person but rather because of my concern for the common good and the good of all.
“Jesus, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. The church, seeking to witness to Christ in every age, welcomes all and treats every person with equal dignity,” he wrote in a column for the Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly. (The column was issued online as an exclusive by Our Sunday Visitor on June 29 and was not available for reprint by The Record’s July 8 deadline.)
“We agree with those who seek change in the definition of marriage in one thing: that every person has equal dignity. We disagree about the nature of marriage,” he said.
The archbishop’s message is important to remember.
After the ruling was announced, Facebook and Twitter lit up — some were celebrating, others were condemning. Somewhere in the middle, a lot of Catholics who have friends and loved ones who are gay found themselves grappling with hard questions and asked their pastors for guidance.
Clergy and seminarians also have been publicly discussing their own questions, concerned about what the ruling will mean in their ministry. Would they one day be required by law to witness a same-sex marriage and end up in prison for their refusal?
There are a lot of unknowns right now about how the law will be interpreted. In the meantime, Catholics can pray for understanding and guidance. And we can remember what Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of the Savannah Diocese said in his statement released June 26:
“This judgment does not dispense either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Nor is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions differ from our own,” he wrote. “This court action is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.
“The moral debate however must also include the way that we treat one another — especially those with whom we may disagree,” the bishop said. “We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another. In many respects that moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as is the granting of this civil entitlement.”
Jesuit Father James Martin, the acclaimed author who spoke at the Archdiocese of Louisville Leadership Institute in 2014, said late last week on Facebook, “The Catholic Church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism says: that we should treat our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) brothers and sisters with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’
“But God wants more. God wants us to love. And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions and admonitions that try to masquerade as love, but actual love,” he wrote.
Archbishop Kurtz opened the conclusion of his column for Our Sunday Visitor with this:
“How do we respond to the Supreme Court’s decision declaring marriage to be something we know it cannot be? First, be a good witness. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. Love everyone just as Christ has loved you. Be a joyful witness to the truths Christ has revealed and the Church has taught. Second, together, let us speak this truth with love. Sometimes preaching the truth means speaking of sin, our own and that of society. But our faith is rooted in reconciliation; Christ constantly invites us out of the darkness and into the light of His merciful love.”