Supreme Mistake – A Response to the Supreme Court Decisions on Same-Sex Unions

062613The decisions of the Supreme Court regarding marriage today were disappointing but not surprising. Especially disappointing was the decision turning away “Proposition 8” where California voters rejected the status of  legal marriage for same-sex attracted couples. The court seemed to set aside that proposition for technical reasons. This is not a legal blog, and hence I am not equipped to speak to legal aspects of the questions. And frankly, I am not at all certain that a Proposition 8 were it voted on again today, would pass.

For indeed, I think many of us who support traditional marriage are bewildered by the kind of tsunami that has swept over our culture in regards to this matter. DOMA passed not so long ago with an overwhelming majority in the House and Senate, and was signed into law by a relatively liberal President, Bill Clinton. More recently, Proposition 8 passed in the rather liberal state of California. Now, just a few years later, polls show that over 60% of Californians want Proposition 8 removed.

Yes, there have been dramatic shifts, and within such a very short number of years! Perhaps “tsunami” is a adequate description, or that it almost seems as if some hallucinogen has suddenly had its effects on American opinion.

And while this is also not a political blog, it seems, culturally that proponents of same-sex unions have scored their victory by successfully shifting the terms of the discussion away from marriage per se, to the rights of the individual adults in the question. The legal analysis of the attorney for the plaintiffs in these cases indicated that a crucial factor in his victory was that his side was able to demonstrate damages incurred by the plaintiffs, whereas of those who opposed them could show forth “no damages” in permitting the same-sex unions to be recognized.

Culturally and politically this also seems to be the essence of the problem, that the focus is on the rights of the adults in the question, not on what is best for children. And we Catholics too, who engage to debate on behalf of traditional marriage, often fall into this trap of focusing on the adults in the equation, not on the children, and what is best and just for children.

Simply put, the Church has, and must continue to oppose every erosion of traditional marriage because traditional marriage is what is best for children. And while it is true that we have a pastoral concern to call to repentance those who commit serious sexual sins, such as fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts, from the public policy point of view the Church’s stance on marriage is that traditional marriage is what is best and just for children. Hence to act in ways, or adopt policies that further erode traditional marriage, is to act unjustly. It is unjust because it fosters and encourages a climate that is increasingly poisonous and problematic for the children who are raised in it.

And hence, our objection to the legal recognition of Same-sex unions is not only an objection to homosexual aberrations, but also to other assaults on the family such as fornication, cohabitation, polygamy, no-fault divorce, intentionally single motherhood, and fatherhood, and so forth. Every child deserves, and has the right to be raised by his father and mother, who have committed themselves to a lifelong stable union.

Psychologically as well, every child deserves to have a father and mother. The father both teaches and forms his child in the way a mother cannot. Likewise for the mother, she also teachers and forms a child in ways that a father cannot.

Given what is best for children, the Church holds that it is reasonable to expect that traditional marriage and the traditional family be upheld and encouraged in our culture. Fornication and cohabitation should be shunned. Where adoption is necessary, the traditional family setting should be sought and have the preeminence among any other sort of setting. Only in rare cases where a traditional setting absolutely cannot be found, the children be put into less than ideal settings such as with one mother, or one father, or same-sex couples and so forth.

Further, as a culture, we ought not go on celebrating all sorts of other “diverse” forms of family and marriage. This does not help children, but it harms them by further fostering less than ideal family settings.

One may wish to argue the legal aspects of giving special recognition in terms of benefits and other legal rights to traditional families. There are possibly legitimate legal arguments about the equal protection clause etc.

But as a principle, it is not unreasonable that a culture might seek to foster traditional family settings and bestow special benefits upon a traditional family to encourage such settings. And thus, prescinding from all the legal questions that may surrounded special benefits, as a principle the Church does support certain special benefits and prerogatives be given to traditional families.

Again, the bottom line is we want to support and foster what is best for children. The traditional family setting, with a father and a mother in a lifelong committed relationship of marriage, and raising their children in that setting is what is best for children. It is what we must seek to promote.

As a faith community, we set forth what God himself has set forth. God’s wisdom is also vindicated by the common sense of natural law. Traditional marriage, is what is best, and what is just for children.

Supreme Mistake – The systematic dismantling of traditional marriage through sexual irresponsibility, fornication, adultery, easy divorce, and now elevating as same sex unions to the status of legal marriage, all shred what children need and deserve, namely, traditional marriage.

The Supremes of SCOTUS have weighed in on the topic, but it is we who have made the supreme mistake, as a culture. We have made a mess of the family over the last 60 years. Sadly, it our children who suffer, and our children yet to be born will suffer by our supreme mistakes.

Natural Law is Not New

The Natural Law Tradition of the Catholic Church is often criticised by some Protestants and more often by secularists. Some think of it as merely an invention of the scholastic period. Others (esp. some of the Protestants) think we should limit our discourse to the Scriptures alone. But Catholicism has always seen God’s revelation in broader terms that Scripture alone. To be sure, Scripture along with Sacred Tradition is revelation it is clearest manifestation. But creation too is revelation from God and speaks to his will and to his attributes.

Natural Law, far from being an invention of the Middle Ages is enshrined in Scripture. We find it in the Wisdom Tradition of the Scriptures and also in the New Testament. Most clearly, St. Paul points to it in the Letter to the Romans:

What may be known about God is plain to [the Gentiles],  because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20)

Notice that St. Paul does not speak of murky sort of revelation vaguely noticeable in creation but rather a revelation that can be “clearly seen.” Paul does not call this revelation “natural law” (that designation would come later) but what we now call Natural Law is what Paul is speaking of here.

Further, the concept of “Logos” present in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel also enshrines Natural Law premises. The ancient Jews, particularly those who collected the Wisdom Tradition in the Scriptures (Books such as Wisdom, Sirach, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs etc.) understood that the created world has a Logike (a kind of Logic) based on the fact that God made it through his Logos (Word). When God spoke creation into existence through his Word (Logos) his Logos sets things forth with a Logike(logic) that is discernible and could be studied to make one wise in the ways (the logic) of God. We have come to call this scriptural teaching, Natural Law. In effect we can discern a logic of rationality to what God has made and come to know of God and his will for us.

As a final example of the antiquity of Natural Law in the I would like to share excerpts from one of the Church Fathers, Athanasius who teaches on in his great work, “Against the Arians.” In this excerpt Athanasius uses the term “Wisdom” but the teaching, as you shall see is the same as the Logos tradition and what we have come to call “Natural Law.”  Here are excerpts:

An impress of Wisdom has been created in us and in all his works. Therefore, the true Wisdom which shaped the world claims for himself all that bears his image…Wisdom himself is not created, because he is the Creator, but by reason of the created image of himself found in his works, he speaks [of himself] as if he were a creature, and he says: The Lord created me in his works, when his purpose first unfolded.   The likeness of Wisdom has been stamped upon creatures in order that the world may recognise in it the Word who was its maker and through the Word come to know the Father. This is Paul’s teaching: What can be known about God is clear to them, for God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature has been there for the mind to perceive in things that have been made….So there is a wisdom in created things, as the son of Sirach too bears witness: The Lord has poured it out upon all his works, to be with men as his gift, and with wisdom he has abundantly equipped those who love him….and in the light of this wisdom the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. –  Discourse “Against the Arians” by St Athanasius

Hence we see a valuable and very ancient pearl in what we have come to call Natural Law. In these secular times the testimony of Natural Tradition gives us something of a basis to address a world that rejects the authority of Scripture. The use of Scripture may still be best in the circle of believers, (though even there the testimony of Natural Law should not be overlooked), but Natural Law can provide a possible basis for discussion with non-believers. Even here, there are challenges today. In an age as “skeptical” as ours the plain testimony of “reality” is not so plain to some who radically doubt that we can or should derive moral norms from things that appear in creation. Still Natural Law at least provides some navigating points for a discussion with most non-believers.

One of the glories of the Catholic Church is our rich appeal to several sources for truth. Scripture surely ranks first but Sacred Tradition supplies us additional revelation in addition an interpretive key for the Scriptures. Further, Natural Law, attested to in the Scriptures also supplies a witness to the truth about God and it reveals his glory. This is the broad and beautiful foundation upon which the Catholic faith rests.

The following video sets forth the challenges that a radical skepticism poses and illustrates why the Natural Law is a precious gift to be recovered and respected.

I’m in the Holy Land this week until November 8th. I have scheduled blogs that will appear each day while I’m away so stay tuned! My participation in the comments however may be a little light since my time with the internet will be sporadic. Comments will be moderated by someone else on the team and I’ll participate when I can. – Msgr Pope.

What is Natural Law?

Many of the modern moral debates stem not only from a rejection of Scriptural teaching but also from a rejection of the natural law. But many today are not even sure what is meant by the phrase “Natural Law.” I hope to give a brief, not too philosophical answer to this question.

We live in a world governed by many laws and principles. For example, there is the Law of Gravity, the speed of light, the fact that some elements are poisonous to our bodies and so forth. To attempt to deny these laws is not only absurd but usually brings grave consequences. Try denying that gravity exists and then try stepping  off a ten story building. The denial lacks substance and gravity takes a deadly toll. Try denying poison exists and then swallow drano, the deadly results belie your denials.

So, the natural order has things to teach us. Refusing this teaching usually ends badly. Our bodies too are part of the natural order. When it comes to sexuality, the fact that men and women were made for each other is quite obvious. Without getting too anatomical the very physical structure and design of men and women make it clear that they are meant for one another sexually. Such is not the case with homosexual activity. Again, this is a family blog and we can’t get too specific but anatomically things are just not meant to be in this manner. Break this natural law and the consequences of disease announce the wrong-doing. However, it also seems clear that heterosexual promiscuity is against the natural law. Why?  Sexually transmitted diseases that can be quite deadly run through the population if we allow widespread promiscuity.

Now the Natural Law also points to the need for lasting, stable marriage. How? It is clear enough that to engage in heterosexual activity tends to result in children. Children require 18-20 years to raise and need a stability to be raised well.

So, briefly, the Natural Law manifests order to which we must be submitted or risk the consequences. Notice here, I did not even quote the Bible. What makes the Natural Law is that it provides some basis to discuss things with non-believers or to address a secular world that demand secular answers. Even here the Natural Law is not a slam dunk since many have had their minds darkened even to what is right in front of them. We have these slippery minds that can slither out or any argument if we simply refuse to acknowledged the truth.

Although I said I had not quoted scripture, you know me too well by now and understand I can’t resist SOME reference there. The Natural Law is referred to by St. Paul in the First Chapter of the Letter to the Romans: For what can be known about God is evident to them [The Gentiles who have not Scripture], because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools

The Natural Law, it’s right in front of me, if I have eyes to see it.  Now please understand this is very short, many more things can and will be said about Natural Law, but this is a start.

The following video briefly defines Natural Law and why our culture tends to resist it.