I have been thinking and praying about what and when to say something about this week’s decisions from the US Supreme Court. On Tuesday, Civil Rights in this country were ostensibly thrown back fifty years into a very unsettling and precarious place in certain parts of the country with well-known and documented histories of racism and voter discrimination. On Wednesday, Civil Rights, this time for LGBT persons, were advanced in an important pair of decisions from the high court. It has been a crazy week for human rights indeed. I still don’t think I’m ready to say all that I want and need to say about these topics, sensitive as they are.
I do feel that I must say something and do so briefly, which is why I will simply say this: while the Tuesday decision might rightly be called “tragic” for its short-sightedness and lack of historical appreciation for the crimes and abuses against women and men of color in the south, the decisions on Wednesday were absolutely not tragic. That anyone would say that — and this quote has circulated widely in subsequent days — strikes me as quite appalling. Wednesday’s decisions, as best I can tell, affect no one for the worse. They do not threaten different-sex marriages. They do not ruin the foundations of our society. They do not do anything but provide another step to guarantee that all human beings have the right to be treated like other human beings in the United States. We’ve come as a society to recognize, oftentimes too slowly, the need for these legal protections with regard to sex, race, and now sexual orientation — all things inherent to a person and outside one’s control. There are theological and other important considerations that can be shared (for example, how many people up in arms actually know the history of the Sacrament of Marriage in the Western Church? You’d be interested to find out more about its development!), but I want to simply add that Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes reiterates the need the church has to recognize the legitimate role of governments to protect the rights of all people regardless of this inherent characteristics of their personhood:
If the citizens’ responsible cooperation is to produce the good results which may be expected in the normal course of political life, there must be a statute of positive law providing for a suitable division of the functions and bodies of authority and an efficient and independent system for the protection of rights. The rights of all persons, families and groups, and their practical application, must be recognized, respected and furthered, together with the duties binding on all citizen (no. 75).
All persons, families, and groups!
Enough for now. At this point, I wish to offer a reference to a very well considered piece that appeared online at NCR by Michael Sean Winters. Here is the beginning, I encourage you to read the whole post:
The Supreme Court’s twin decisions in the battle over same-sex marriage on Wednesday were momentous, to be sure. But Wednesday was not “tragic,” as the statement from the USCCB stated. Nor were the court’s decisions victories in what Harvey Milk’s nephew unfortunately termed the “defining civil right issue of our time,” a claim that was downright offensive coming within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s far more objectionable decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. Turns out, old-style civil rights remains the defining civil rights issue of our time.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state’s power in defining marriage is of central relevance to this case.” Indeed. And there is the rub for me. I do not understand why some people, including some bishops, are all worked up about same-sex marriage when the fact that the state, not the church, has the power to define civil marriage is well-established in American legal culture, and it was so long before anyone ever talked about gay marriage.
A couple gets married in a Catholic church. The couple is heterosexual and they pledge themselves to each other forever. Both parts of the equation — the complementarity of the genders and the indissolubility of the marriage bond — are central to the sacrament. But as we all know, for many years now, even before no-fault divorce made it easy, Catholics married in the church were free to pursue civil divorce and throw the ” ’til death do us part” pledge overboard. Heterosexual opponents of homosexual marriage would be more convincing if they had not made such a hash of traditional marriage in the first place…
Read the rest here: “Marriage, the Church and the Supreme Court.”