Government can’t redefine marriage, Catholic leaders say


Catholic News Service

The archbishops of Los Angeles and New York criticized a federal appellate court decision Feb. 7 that ruled unconstitutional California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 voter-approved initiative that forbade same-sex marriage in the state.

“The government has no competence and no authority to ‘redefine’ marriage or ‘expand’ its definition to include other kinds of relationships,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a Feb. 7 statement. “To do that is to say that marriage no longer exists. And this would have grave consequences for children and for the common good of our society.”

“Our government has a vital interest in promoting marriage for two reasons,” Archbishop Gomez said. “First, because marriage is the foundation of society. Second, because government has a duty to promote the well-being of children, who have the right to be born and raised in a family with both their mother and their father.”

Advocates of same-sex marriage cheer during a rally outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco Feb. 7 moments before hearing the court's decision on Proposition 8. By a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel struck down the California ban on same-sex marriage, saying that it violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens due process and equal protection under the law. (CNS/Reuters)

He added, “This debate over marriage is not about equality or about the needs of individuals. It is much bigger than that. It is about the nature of the human person and the nature of society.”

Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York called the 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals “a grave injustice, ignoring the reality that marriage is the union of one man and one woman” in a Feb. 7 statement.

“The Constitution of the United States most assuredly does not forbid the protection of the perennial meaning of marriage, one of the cornerstones of society,” said Cardinal-designate Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The people of California deserve better. Our nation deserves better. Marriage deserves better.”

The majority opinion said Proposition 8 violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees citizens due process and equal protection under the law. It said the state, which had given homosexual couples the right to marry, could not revoke that right.

ProtectMarriage, which put the initiative on the ballot and fought in court to uphold it, can appeal the decision, either to the full 9th Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the appeals panel said no same-sex marriages can be performed.

“Our society does not operate in an amoral or valueless vacuum,” said Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

“To flourish, it must be infused with moral direction that is grounded in the truth. Of course, the true meaning of marriage, like the gift of human life, is ultimately not subject to a vote or court ruling,” Bishop Cordileone added in a Feb. 7 statement.

“But in California, as in every other state where marriage has been put to a vote, the people justly upheld the truth of marriage. How tragic for California, for the nation, and especially for children, that this correctly informed judgment has now been set aside.”

The 9th Circuit’s decision is “the latest action in an ongoing attempt to redefine marriage,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

“What cannot be changed is the truth: Marriage is the sacred institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with the children born of their union. It is not the mere public recognition of a committed relationship for the sole benefit of two adults,” Cardinal Wuerl said in a Feb. 7 statement. “While today’s action is disappointing, it will not be the final word on this issue.”

“The proponents of same-sex marriage do an outstanding job of creating the illusion of momentum and support for their cause,” said Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, in a Feb. 8 statement.

“However, in reality they are steadily losing support among Americans. Every single time the issue of same-sex marriage has come to a vote by the people, it has failed. In 31 states, Americans have rejected attempts to redefine the one institution that is fundamental to the continued existence of every society.”

Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote, although backers of same-sex marriage in California are gathering signatures for a new ballot measure that would explicitly overturn Proposition 8.

Auxiliary Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson of Los Angeles, president of the California Catholic Conference, expressed disappointment in the ruling but also confidence that it would be reversed.

“We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the 9th Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union,” he said in a Feb. 7 statement. “However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been — and always will be — the most basic building block of the family and of our society,” Bishop Wilkerson added.

“In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8. We continue to pray for that positive outcome.”

Supporters of the court’s decision included Suzanne Bennett Johnson, president of the American Psychological Association.

“Research shows that marriage provides important health and wellness benefits and that same-sex couples are similar to heterosexual couples in essential ways including the fact that they are just as likely as opposite-sex couples to raise mentally healthy, well-adjusted children,” she said in a Feb. 7 statement. “There is no scientific basis for denying marriage equality to same-sex couples.”

The 154,000-member association said it has been a strong advocate for full equal rights for gays for 35 years, based on social science research on sexual orientation.

The decision “affirms basic American values and helps tear down a discriminatory barrier to marriage that benefits no one while making it harder for people to take care of their loved ones,” said a Feb. 7 statement by Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Mary, which advocates legalized same-sex marriage.

The court, he added, “rightly held that a state simply may not take a group of people and shove them outside the law, least of all when it comes to something as important as the commitment and security of marriage.”

“We know how important marriage is to our neighborhoods, our cities, and our nation,” said a joint Feb. 7 statement from Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Jerry Sanders of San Diego and Annise Parker of Houston, co-chairs of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, which claims 130 mayors in its membership.

“When committed couples are able to pledge their love to one another and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage, our communities flourish and our cities are more competitive,” they said.