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Uphold traditional man-woman union, writes Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski

An op-ed in Friday's Miami Herald:
BY THOMAS WENSKI, www.miamiarch.org

With President Obama’s decision not to “defend” DOMA, the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, a new salvo in our nation’s culture wars was fired. A federal judge last year also deemed “unconstitutional” California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to that state’s constitution approved by voters in 2008.

The matter may ultimately be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, those of us who support the traditional understanding of marriage fear that the court might indeed impose a redefinition of marriage on us in much the same way as it imposed legalized abortion with Roe v. Wade.

The stakes are high. Those who see “same sex marriage” as progress towards a more “tolerant” society will — with characteristic intolerance — label their opponents as “intolerant, bigoted, homophobic” and so on. However, to defend marriage as a monogamous union between one man and one woman is not bigotry. Nor are the efforts of those who seek to enshrine in state or federal constitutions the “traditional” understanding of marriage intolerant.

Of course, in America, we value our privacy and that of others — and so today most agree that one’s sexual orientation shouldn’t necessarily be anyone else’s business. And even those Americans who hold homosexual activity to be immoral and sinful are increasingly tolerant of homosexuality as a “private” phenomenon. They might invite the person who experiences same-sex attractions to conversion and, in place of behavior viewed as sinful, propose chastity — but they do not invoke the coercive power of the state to force such a conversion.

Yet in redefining the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex unions, the proponents of “gay marriage” are in effect imposing their views and lifestyle on the larger populace. Once legal, the state’s coercive power will punish those who refuse to embrace gay marriages. For example, public officials — regardless of their views on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts — will be obliged to officiate at same-sex weddings, and public schools will be required to teach their acceptability to children whether parents concur or not. Even First Amendment freedoms will not be protected from assault.

Marriage has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other). The state has had a legitimate interest in favoring such traditional marriages as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations. Of course, in recent years, in the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the culture, the state has often retreated from vigorously promoting these interests. Sometimes this occurred through legislation (e.g. no-fault divorce laws); sometimes through judicial fiat (e.g. Roe v. Wade).

In the culture wars, the two sides are fighting about the understanding of man and his relationship to truth and reality. One side — and today “gay marriage” is its poster child — holds that anyone can essentially create his or her own reality. This side holds for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. The other side holds men and women are not self-creators but creatures. Truth is not constructed, but received and thus must reflect the reality of things. Or, as the Book of Genesis 1:27 says: “Male and female, He (God) created them.”

The former’s position, like that of the secular utopias of the 20th century, is a recipe for tyranny; the latter’s position promises a freedom that is only achievable through adherence to objective truth, which we do not, and could never, invent.

Same-sex “marriage” — if allowed to prevail in law — will result in the devaluation of all marriages with terrible consequences to society. That marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman is certainly part of Catholic teaching — in fact, in our teaching, this union is seen as a covenant and is a sacrament. However, marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the sake of family is not a product of religious sectarianism. Nor is marriage a creation of the state. It is founded in nature itself.

Marriage as an institution precedes church and state — if not a creation of church or state, neither has any authority to change the nature of marriage. The common good demands that the understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman not be lost.

The Most Rev. Thomas Wenski is archbishop of Miami.

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I think Archbishop Wenski’s article thoughtful and incisive – even though I must disagree with some of his conclusions. In the United States we have enshrined the separation of church and state as part of our constitutional republic.

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...” This provides special protections for churches and individuals who wish to practice any kind of faith, so long as it does not involve violence or the harming of others. It also protects those of minority faiths or those of no faith at all. It also protects the integrity of churches – including the Roman Church – to govern its own affairs without state interference.

Tradition has held marriage as both an institution licensed by the state and as ritual practice in a church setting. The two traditions are not the same. I firmly believe that Archbishop Wenski and the Pope in Rome may advocate or compel adherents to Roman Catholicism as they see fit including in the matter of the Rite of Christian Marriage. However, their opinions are not binding on those who have not professed the Roman Catholic faith. The same may be held for those of Protestant traditions, such as the Southern Baptist Church.

The union of people in a relationship covenant is, in my opinion, a private contract between two (or more) parties that has no business being regulated by the state. But the reality is that this may not change anytime soon. Since civil marriage provides certain legal benefits and protections to those who choose it, some form of extension of these principles must be extended to nontraditional couples, as a matter of equal treatment under the law.

Such provision to support same sex couples or dedicated domestic partners will not force the Roman Church or any other religious body to do anything outside their approved cannon. The Archbishop will not be forced to marry anyone he does not see fit to marry. As a former pastor, I was fully able to decide who I would marry or not marry regardless of the position of the government. This protects the church as well as non-believers.

I agree that the Archbishop is right in noting that questioning matters such as marriage foretell other societal changes as well. But such has always been the way of history. I can’t imagine that will change now.

Rev. Gus Kein, MA, CFRE (ret.)

I thank you for sharing your thoughts, but I completely disagree with your sentiment that gay marriage will devalue marriage. What devalues marriage more than anything is for two people, whether straight or gay to commit their lives to another and dishonor those vows.

I live in Sweden part of the year, where gay marriage is allowed, and it has done NOTHING to devalue marriage. People are very tolerant of gay men and women there and it makes for a much healthier, less judgmental society.

The true issue here, is that gay men and women should have the right to co-mingle their assets with their partner. The definition of marriage in the eyes of the law is the coupling of assets and protections that assure that a partner's spouse will be able to survive financially if something happens to them. It also would provide the ability for a gay man or woman to sponsor a bi-national partner -- just as straight couples can sponsor their wife or husband.

Why is it that it is so hard for you to provide GRACE to gay couples -- who have been ousted by most religious organizations and been told time and time again they are an affront to God? I think the real disgrace here is that Christian men and women throughout this country are trying to play God...when they should be focusing on their own families and their own behaviors.

I was witness to a gay pride march in Gothenburg, Sweden. There were 5,000 people anticipated to march in support of gay men and women. Instead there were more than 15,000 who marched...the number rose so dramatically because there were so many straight men and women who decided to join in support of their gay friends and family members. Upon rounding the corner into the town square, where the march ended, the Lutheran Church choir, more than 200 members strong, stood and sang "Oh how God loves you." Seeing this, after being alienated from my own church...made me break down and cry. I looked around me and others cried as well because the impact was so darn powerful. Now that my friend, is true Christianity. That is the true love of Christ (who never, ever spoke out against gay people).

If you really want to make a difference, stop making such a major deal about gay men and women, and start talking about how people can find the love of Christ. Providing the right for ADULT gay men and women to co-mingle their assets and lives can only be done as long as the word you own "marriage" is on legal documents across the land. A legal document is not owned by your church...but by the state. And so long as this is the case, I believe that it is only right for DOMA to be done away with.

I refuse to spend more than 30 seconds responding to this rubbish but want to point out one thing that I found laughable. Archbishop, you say,

"Once legal, the state’s coercive power will punish those who refuse to embrace gay marriages. For example, public officials — regardless of their views on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts — will be obliged to officiate at same-sex weddings, and public schools will be required to teach their acceptability to children whether parents concur or not."

I think back to what it was like in the 1960-70's when MLK fought for civil rights, etc, etc. I have to wonder, would YOU, Archbishop, a "child of God" be the person saying "Now we will have to teach children in school that Black People can drink from our water fountains, even when little Sally's dad and mom don't agree."

I read your statement above and I draw no other explanation that this is any different. Honestly Archbishop, I really don't think my neighbors care whether or not I marry my boyfriend. Didn't anyone ever teach you to not care what other people think?

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