Over the past few days, we have received numerous messages and calls from our viewers and readers asking us to comment on US President Barak Obama’s and Vice President Joseph Biden’s public support for same-sex marriage. We can only echo New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s public statement
, in his capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
President Obama’s comments today in support of the redefinition of marriage are deeply saddening. As I stated in my public letter to the President on September 20, 2011, the Catholic Bishops stand ready to affirm every positive measure taken by the President and the Administration to strengthen marriage and the family. However, we cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society. The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better. Unfortunately, President Obama’s words today are not surprising since they follow upon various actions already taken by his Administration that erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage. I pray for the President every day, and will continue to pray that he and his Administration act justly to uphold and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. May we all work to promote and protect marriage and by so doing serve the true good of all persons.
At the risk of being judged "politically incorrect," we need to recall that such recent statements by American Government officials on the eve of political election campaigns, and previous statements and laws by Canadian Government officials, are deeply offensive to the moral and religious sensibility of a great number of citizens of both Canada and the United States, Catholic and non-Catholic. In fact, many Christians and adherents of other religious traditions find the union of persons of the same sex to be morally unacceptable, even as they refrain from judging those persons themselves.
The Catholic’s Church’s teaching on marriage
The teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage is clear, constant and well known, and has been reiterated by the Bishops of Canada on many occasions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Second Vatican Council, states: "The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman.... ‘The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life'" (no. 1603, quoting the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, no. 47).
The Bishops of Canada and of the United States uphold the exclusive union of a man and a woman as central to marriage, and thus cannot accept the civil redefinition as the union of any two persons. This conviction is shared by many other Canadians and Americans from all religious traditions as well as those who hold no religious faith.
Our societies need to do more to encourage the committed relationship of man and woman that remains so basic to all civilizations, and has proven to be the best support for the rights and needs of children. Canadians and Americans have to reflect carefully on the social consequences involved in the redefinition of marriage, examining all that is entailed if society no longer gives a privileged place and fundamental value to the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage. As the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome children. At the same time, freedom of conscience and religion needs to be ensured, while also respecting the dignity of all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.
Let us never forget that other bonds of love and interdependency, of commitment and mutual responsibility exist in society. They may be good; they may even be recognized in law. They are not the same as marriage; they are something else. No extension of terminology for legal purposes will change the observable reality that only the committed union of a man and a woman carries, not only the bond of interdependency between the two adults, but the inherent capacity to bring forth children.
Two distinct challenges
Two distinct challenges emerge from these great debates of our times:
- Lay people are the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage. They are its beneficiaries. As Catholic Christians, each person must uphold the dignity of this important institution and sacrament. Each and every person is encouraged to do all he or she can to support the Marriage Preparation Programs in parish communities. Insist that in parishes and dioceses, there are solid vocational programs for young adults. Parishes, dioceses and movements that do not have creative pastoral strategies and vocational programs for young people leave the door open to tremendous moral confusion and misunderstanding, misinformation, emptiness.
- As Christians, we must banish from our vocabulary, our hearts and our communities all existing tendencies of hating, reviling and destroying gay people - women and men with same-sex attraction who, in most cases, have not chosen that orientation. For many homosexual persons, being gay is anything but being happy.
These individuals may be our sons and daughters, brothers or sisters, colleagues, neighbors, confreres, health care workers, clergy, and friends. They are also sons and daughters of God, created in God's image and likeness. Hateful language that labels all homosexual persons as "radical gay activists out to destroy society and family life" is not only erroneous, it is anti-Christian.
The question we must all face is this: do we wish to discard the universal definition of marriage, which reflects the nature of things, the common sense of the people, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the wisdom of the great religions? The conjugal partnership of a man and a woman constitutes a unique good for society, providing a stable and positive environment for children and thus for future generations. The choice to be made could bring in its wake bitter and unpredictable demographic, social, cultural, and religious consequences. Let us pray that our political leaders leave marriage unchanged while meeting the legitimate needs of those in other interdependent relationships.
Together as God's people, let us continue to help one another to bear the crosses that the Lord has given to us. Let us recommit ourselves to building up the human family, to strengthening and enshrining marriage, to blessing and nurturing children, and to making our homes, families and parish communities holy, welcoming places for women and men of every race, language, orientation and way of life.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation