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In an act of raw judicial power, and by a one-vote margin, the California Supreme Court has declared that there is, in California law, a constitutional right for same-sex couples to enter into what the state will recognize as marriage. This despite a recent referendum in which Californians overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

Now it is almost certain that a constitutional amendment will be placed on the ballot that will preclude the recognition of same-sex marriage and may cut back on existing provisions for same-sex unions. The battle is joined, and it is likely that it will figure also in the presidential election, with Senator Obama urging “respect” for the court decision and Senator McCain reiterating his support for marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Quite apart from conflicting views on the merits of the question at hand, there appears to be increasing opposition to the judicial usurpation of politics, of which the California court’s decision is an egregious instance. At the same time, especially among younger voters, the evidence suggests an increasing disinclination to deny gays and lesbians what most of them want in principle and a minority wants in practice.

Especially among the college-educated, these young people know homosexuals and count them as friends. Lesbians are much more inclined than gays to enter into what they hope will be a permanent union. Homosexual men are frequently opposed to what they view as mimicking a “hetero” institution. They celebrate the sexual promiscuity that they see as integral to their way of life and the subculture that supports it. Among the 97 or 98 percent of the population that is not homosexual, a common and perhaps growing attitude is “Why not, if that is what they want? I don’t have the right to impose my preferences or moral judgments on them.”

In the wake of the California court decision, two radically different responses are offered by Father Thomas Reese and Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland. Reese is the former editor of America , a Jesuit magazine, who was removed from his post after years of practicing what he described as balanced journalism. His idea of balance was to give equal time to opinions supporting and opposing the Church’s teaching, leaving readers with serious doubts as to which side America was on.

Father Reese writes on Newsweek ‘s On Faith blog, “The Catholic hierarchy does not support ecclesial or state-sponsored homosexual marriage and still argues that sex outside of marriage, including homosexual activity, is sinful.” There are three nice touches there. It is not the Catholic Church but the “Catholic hierarchy” that takes such an obstreperous position. This is in line with the liberal Catholic penchant of sharply distinguishing, if not separating and opposing, the “institutional” Church from the Catholic people who are the Church, and for whom people like Father Reese modestly claim to speak.

Second, it is said that the hierarchy “still” maintains that extramarital sex is sinful. The implication is that the bishops have not yet caught up to the view espoused by more sensible people. Note also that the bishops “argue” this position, as though it is their rather peculiar opinion and not the magisterial teaching of the Church consistently maintained for two millennia.

Father Reese writes: “I agree with those who believe that the California Supreme Court’s decision was unwise, but I would oppose a constitutional amendment that would forbid gay marriages. Homosexual relationships exist in American society in not insignificant numbers. Even if you consider such relationships immoral, it can be argued that the state has an interest in encouraging these relationships to be stable and long term rather than multiple and short term.” Presumably the decision is “unwise” because it pits the vote of four unelected judges against the democratic process and is likely to provoke a backlash. As to same-sex marriage stabilizing homosexual practices, this is of course the argument of Andrew Sullivan and some other gay activists, although there is little or no evidence to support it.

Father Reese continues: “Some argue that gay marriage is a threat to marriage as a heterosexual institution. I have never understood this argument.” That is obviously the case. It is only curious that he seems to think that his lack of understanding counts as an argument. But then he takes a turn that can only be described as cute. “I think it is foolish for churches to expend their political capital opposing the legalization of gay marriage. There are many other issues of greater importance . . . . Pro-life churches and organizations should especially be suspicious when gay marriage is given more prominence as an issue than abortion. Money and resources that would have gone to pro-life work are being siphoned off to oppose gay marriage.”

All of a sudden, or so it seems, Father Reese is touchingly concerned about the pro-life cause. For years he has railed against the “single issue” politics of abortion. Now he inelegantly pivots and urges pro-lifers to stick to their single-issue politics.

Father Reese concludes: “The issue of gay marriage is not going to go away quickly. It is a highly emotional issue that continues to divide our country. Everyone needs to step back, take a deep breath and count to ten before saying anything.” (Now that I’ve had my say, Father Reese says in effect, you should shut up.) Presumably Father Reese took his own advice. If only he had, in addition to taking a deep breath and counting to ten, considered how embarrassingly transparent his support for same-sex marriage and opposition to the Church’s teaching would appear to any thoughtful reader.

Very different is the response to the court’s ruling by Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland, California. Writing in the diocesan paper, he says, “We appear to be heading¯at least for a time¯toward a social order in which same-sex couples will be able to contract marriage. This is a profoundly significant matter . . . . Marriage is a reality authored by God in his very act of creating the human race. According to his irrevocable plan, the marriage relationship is only possible between one man and one woman. The purposes of this relationship are (1) the mutual loving support of husband and wife and (2) their loving service of life by bringing children into the world and raising them to be virtuous and productive. The experience of history¯both ancient and in our own time¯has taught us that no government has the power to change the order which God has inscribed in our nature.

“This conviction about marriage, while confirmed by faith, can be known from reason. Therefore, our efforts to enshrine this wisdom about marriage in the laws of our community are not an imposition of an ideology but a service of the truth which we make for the common good. This wisdom about the nature of marriage is not a form of discrimination, but undergirds our freedom to live according to God’s plan for us.”

Bishop Vigneron reminds Catholics of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that it is a primary responsibility of laypeople to bear witness to the truth in the secular realm.

“As faithful citizens Catholics are called to bring our laws regarding marriage into conformity with what we know about the nature of marriage.” Faithfulness, however, does not ensure success.

“If such efforts fail, our way of life will become counter-cultural, always a difficult situation for Christians¯one our forebears faced in many ages past, one that the Lord himself predicted for us. Indeed, even if such efforts meet with success, our work is far from done. We would still be living in a society where many accept a set of convictions that is ultimately detrimental to the integrity of human life, with negative consequences for one’s happiness in this world and the next. Your mission then will be, as it always has been, to be a light and leaven for the new creation established in Christ. The resources of the Theology of the Body, worked out by the late Holy Father, John Paul II, will be an especially helpful resource for this task.”

Spoken as a true bishop of the Church. (Or, as Father Reese might put it, an agent of the hierarchy.) Bishop Vigneron’s bracing call to the courage of fidelity concludes with this: “Above all, let us not lose heart. As Pope John Paul II constantly reminded us: ‘Be not afraid.’ Christ is risen. His vision for our world, and for the place of marriage in it, will, according to the time he has appointed, become the truth of our world.”

For those who, like Father Reese, claim to see no connection between homosexual agitations and the deconstruction of the institution of marriage, I warmly recommend David Blankenhorn’s The Future of Marriage and Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher’s The Case for Marriage . In the months ahead, thanks in large part to the judicial hubris exhibited by the likes of the Supreme Court of California, more Americans will be forced to choose between ignorance or disingenuousness, on the one hand, or clarity and courage, on the other.


Right or Rite, Civil Discussion in Order ” by Father Thomas J. Reese

Pastoral Message from Bishop Vigneron to the Faithful of the Oakland Diocese ” by Bishop Allen Vigneron

The Future of Marriage by David Blankenhorn

The Case for Marriage by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher

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