Same-sex Marriage Initiatives — Why Should Catholics Care?

San Diego Auxiliary Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone was at the forefront of efforts for a campaign to put a state constitutional amendment affirming traditional marriage on California’s Nov. 4 ballot. That initiative — known as Proposition 8 — was approved for the ballot just days after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May.

Constitutional amendments affirming traditional marriage are also on the ballot in Florida and Arizona, and while California and Massachusetts are the only states so far to legalize same-sex marriage, polls show an increasing acceptance of the concept among Americans.

Many Americans — including many Catholics — view same-sex marriage as an equality issue for homosexuals. But Bishop Cordileone says redefining marriage will undermine parents, Catholic schools and the Church’s ability to teach faith and morality to children. The prelate says legal recognition of same-sex unions has already ushered in discrimination against those who disagree on moral grounds.

Our Sunday Visitor: Why does the government definition of marriage matter to the Church?

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone: A lot of people think of this as live and let live. But what is really happening is there are two fundamental ideas of marriage on the table right now and they are mutually exclusive. For society to be a society people have to recognize certain values, common understandings and definitions. The most basic social unit is the family, which is defined by marriage.

The one idea of marriage is the way that it has been understood in every human society since the beginning of human civilization. In the Church we would define it as the lifelong union of a man and woman of exclusive and lifelong fidelity for the purposes of the procreation and education of offspring and the mutual good of the spouses.

The other idea is that marriage can mean whatever you want it to mean, and so there is no moral difference between the union of people of the same sex and of husband and wife — and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bigot.

OSV: If marriage is redefined, wouldn’t that just give homosexuals rights to marry without taking away anyone else’s rights?

Bishop Cordileone: What does that mean in terms of the consequences for us in society? All we have to do is think about how, nowadays, the government and society treat people who are racist. It is not against the law to be racist. There are laws about hate speech and that would be coming as well. But there are other means the government uses to stigmatize and marginalize such people: they can’t get professional licenses, radio broadcasting licenses, licenses to work as a teacher or a therapist, school accreditations.

This already occurred after New Jersey legalized civil unions. A Methodist camp with a beachfront pavilion refused to allow a lesbian couple to rent it out for a celebration of their civil union. The state environmental protection agency revoked the non-profit status of that property. This is an example of the kind of consequences people face.

OSV: What will it mean for Catholics?

Bishop Cordileone: For our schools, it will mean teachers who are in same-sex marriages could not be denied employment because it would be unjust discrimination; same-sex couples could enroll their children regardless of how public they make their relationship; and it could possibly mean requiring Catholic school curriculum approving of homosexual lifestyles. For Catholic Charities, therapists would be required to do marriage counseling for same-sex couples.

The question about whether or not church organizations will be required to perform same-sex marriages — that’s still on the table. I think it would be a long shot myself, but the very influential gay newspaper the Washington Blade treated that in an article and said it would have to be worked out in a steady stream of court cases. I think it’s more conceivable that Church organizations that refuse to perform same-sex marriages would no longer be licensed by the state for marriages. So, couples coming to church to be married would also have to be married by a civil official.

OSV: How does this relate to the Church’s pastoral responsibility to the people who have a homosexual inclination?

Bishop Cordileone: We have to recognize, those of us who are strongly in favor of preserving marriage, that people of same-sex attraction have been subjected to unjust discrimination, and have been persecuted. In fact, it’s in our Catechism that people of same-sex attraction are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and that any unjust discrimination should be eliminated.

More than half of all AIDS hospices are run by people of Catholic and other faith traditions. We have support groups such as Courage to help people live a virtuous life so they can avoid behaviors and lifestyles that so often end in self-destruction. So we affirm the human dignity of every human being.

OSV: The whole homosexuality and same-sex marriage issue is a tough one for a parish priest to tackle. What advice would you give to a parish priest on how to address this in his parish?

Bishop Cordileone: The advice I would give to priests is first of all to assure people of same-sex attraction that we love them, that we are not against them. In fact, we love them too much to tell them a lie. But, rather, we love you so much that we are going to try to affirm you living in the way that God intended you to live; to affirm you in friendship, and especially try to encourage joining a support group. And then to speak about the benefits of marriage and why marriage is so important and what marriage really is.

There’s a deeper issue here in terms of the Church and communicating the saving message of Jesus Christ, because marriage is the primary image that God uses to explain his relationship to us. The whole Bible is replete with this image of marriage. As those who teach “theology of the body” point out, the Bible begins and ends with a marriage — Adam and Eve, and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. And our whole relationship with Jesus is one of marriage. Christ is the bridegroom and we, the Church, are the bride. If people cannot understand this basic concept of marriage, how will we be able to understand the truth of revelation?

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage