Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
For the last 10 years, polls have indicated a steady increase in support of same-sex unions. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently reported a March-February 2015 poll showing that 59 percent of Americans now support same-sex “marriages.” This means that, within just the last decade, the number of Americans no longer inclined to limit the definition of marriage to a man and a woman has nearly doubled.
In the same period of time, courts throughout the country have been handing down one judicial decision after another in favor of this popular trend for same-sex “marriages.” In the past two years alone, the courts have issued 65 rulings in favor of acknowledging same-sex unions as marriages. As a result, 72 percent of Americans now live in states where marriage has been redefined.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the national campaign to redefine marriage has reached the highest court of the land. The spotlight is now on the nine judges of the Supreme Court. Which way will they vote? What far-reaching decision will they issue? On May 1, Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune predicted a unanimous victory for same-sex unions. Clearly many, judges, legislators and citizens no longer hold to the definition of marriage that has shaped civilization since the days of Adam and Eve.
As Americans await a Supreme Court ruling on the definition of marriage, reporters routinely grill politicians running for the office of president about their views on same-sex marriage. Do they accept it? Would they attend a same-sex wedding? Many advocates of same-sex “marriages” are dragging into court those who refuse to provide services for such an occasion. Others are hurling charges of bigotry and hate speech against the defenders of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.
All the while that the debate on marriage is raging in this country and in other countries as well, Pope Francis has been teaching consistently and courageously about marriage, the family and the gift of children. On many different occasions, he has spoken the truth about the beauty of God’s design of marriage for the human family. And, since Dec. 17, 2014, he has been conducting a catechesis on the family in his Wednesday audiences in the Vatican.
The Holy Father has keen insight into the cultural shifts in modern society. On Jan.16, speaking to more than 1 ,000 families in Manila, the pope said “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.” Faithful to his teaching office, Pope Francis is trying to steer society away from false ideas about sexuality, marriage and the family.
Touted by the mainstream media as “the pope of climate change” for his interest in ecology, the same media seem to bypass his strong will to deal with the crisis in “human ecology” caused by the efforts to redefine the family. In a Nov.17, 2014 colloquium held in the Vatican, the pope stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” As we need to “address conditions that menace our natural environment…, [we, likewise, need to] recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well…It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”
Fundamental to the pope’s teaching on marriage and family is the biblical understanding of the complementarity of man and woman. On the first pages of Genesis, God creates man and woman as the masterpiece of his creation. Man and woman are far superior to every living creature, because they are made in the image and likeness of God himself. This image of God is uniquely found in the union of man and woman (cf. Gn 1:27). Therefore, in the beauty of God’s creative design, marriage is based on the complementarity of man and woman. One man and one woman open to life in a lifelong commitment of fidelity and mutual love: that is God’s gift of marriage.
Pope Francis’ great compassion toward every individual, regardless of sexual orientation, does not hinder him from speaking clearly and unequivocally about the very nature of marriage as God intends. He says that “the difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God” (Pope Francis, General Audience, April 15). For the pope, “the removal of difference, in fact, creates a problem, not a solution” (ibid.).
In the past, the Supreme Court has not always made the right decision. It upheld slavery in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857. It blessed “separate-but-equal” segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. In the near future, if the Supreme Court decides not to redefine marriage as it has been understood for millennia, it will boldly reaffirm the plan that God has designed for the good of his creation. On the other hand, if the Supreme Court decides to include same-sex unions in the very concept of marriage, it will alter our society in a radical way by emptying marriage of its natural meaning. The consequences of this decision will have long-range effects in politics, economics, education, and, in no small way, religious freedom.
Whatever way the Supreme Court ultimately acts, as faithful followers of Jesus, we are answerable to a higher court. As Pope Francis has pointed out, the family as designed by God, one man and one woman open to life, is not an ideological concept. It is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but an “anthropological fact” that transcends ideological labels (cf. Pope Francis, Colloquium on the Complementarity of Male and Female, Nov. 17, 2014). It is truth given by God. We reject it for our own harm. We live it for great benefit to all.