For many cultural and religious conservatives, the U.S. Supreme Court redefined marriage in 2015. That was the year in which the Court ruled same-sex attracted couples were constitutionally required to receive the same benefits of marriage as people in heterosexual relationships.
That view is popular. It’s also dangerously wrong for the Christian witness in America.
For many Catholics, where we are now is simply logical. Humane Vitae predicted how the societal departure from God’s sexual requirements would lead to our current state of affairs.
But the wider “conservative Christian” world – to use a common term that is grossly broad – is unaware of this. They are not told that it was opposite-sex-attracted people who opened the door to same-sex couples’ marriages. Instead, what is described is that as a society, we are heading downhill in large part because we embrace same-sex sexual relationships.
For orthodox Catholics, the link between the Sexual Revolution and today’s destruction of marriage in America is obvious. Contraception separates sex from children and responsibility. Abortion separates parents from the realities of sex, the intention of sex, and the responsibility of parenting. Divorce allows for “love” to be considered just as an emotion that rises and falls, so when things are tough parents separate – regardless of the consequences for children.
Even sex outside of marriage violates Jesus’ demand that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
What Jesus demanded
I attended a wedding last month during which the celebrant addressed the above points. The priest did not, however, merely comment on how contraception, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage violate the Church’s teachings. He tied them directly to what Jesus said, and how Americans have been redefining marriage for a half-century.
For example, Jesus told the Pharisees:
Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19:3–8; cf. Mark 10:2–9; Luke 16:18)
These demands are quite simple: divorce isn’t what God intended, and neither is sex outside of marriage. Additionally, how can a man and woman cleave to each other and “become one flesh” if they are putting a reproductive barrier between themselves, or if they have not pronounced lifelong vows? Regarding abortion, Jesus regularly told his apostles and others to not interfere with the ability of children to come to Him. Abortion ends the life of a child rather than guide that child in the life of a Christian.
Likewise, Christ said man and woman shall cleave – not man and man shall attempt to cleave through sodomy, or that woman and woman shall not cleave at all.
To paraphrase the priest: with all of these destructive norms in place in our society, marriage is nothing more than a contract which is regularly and easily ended when one or both parties desires it. Yet many “conservative” Christians who support divorce, who fornicate or commit adultery, or who use contraception frequently argue that marriage was redefined in America a mere three years ago.
The truth is that it was these Christians who decided to redefine marriage by continuing decades of violations of natural laws and Heaven-designed rules for marriage. Additionally, by making this argument, current Christian society is a) historically and theologically ignorant, b) hypocritical, and c) focused on short-term cultural and political goals related to marriage and religious liberty.
Some of this may provide some short-term political victories. None of it will bring our wider society or individuals to whom we evangelize closer to Heaven. And all of it focuses on the splinter in the eye of those with same-sex attractions instead of looking at the log in our own community’s eye.
The simple fact is that we have lost the marriage debate in America not because of 2015 but because of a half-century of failure to uphold our own standards and to explain those standards to an increasingly secular society. Yet we can still help souls by remembering that Jesus’ demands for marriage transcend politics. They bring us towards eternal happiness, beyond the Twitter and Facebook activism of 2018.