A tremendous change is taking place in our beloved United States of America. For two weeks we Catholics observed a “Fortnight for Freedom,” praying for the safeguarding of conscience rights and religious liberty. We can be grateful that at the end of June an extension was granted for compliance with the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services. It would have been required beginning August 1 that all health care plans include coverage for certain morally objectionable practices. Now beginning January 1 all entities, including Catholic institutions that are not churches, are going to be expected to pay for contraception and abortion in the health care plans they offer employees. But there is something even more immediate that is of great concern.

We ought not to have been terribly surprised that on June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court published a 5 to 4 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Now federal benefits will be given to same-sex couples who marry in those states in which it is legal. We should all prepare ourselves for some future decision in which those same justices will find in the Constitution a right to marry a person of the same sex, and in that way sweep away all prohibitions of same sex marriage in every state.

The following is a statement by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage:

Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court got it wrong. The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage. It is also unfortunate that the Court did not take the opportunity to uphold California’s Proposition 8 but instead decided not to rule on the matter. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth. These decisions are part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance.

 Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.

 Our culture has taken for granted for far too long what human nature, experience, common sense, and God’s wise design all confirm: the difference between a man and a woman matters, and the difference between a mom and a dad matters. While the culture has failed in many ways to be marriage-strengthening, this is no reason to give up. Now is the time to strengthen marriage, not redefine it.

 When Jesus taught about the meaning of marriage – the lifelong, exclusive union of husband and wife – he pointed back to “the beginning” of God’s creation of the human person as male and female (see Matthew 19). In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand. The truth of marriage endures, and we will continue to boldly proclaim it with confidence and charity.

 Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decisions, with renewed purpose we call upon all of our leaders and the people of this good nation to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life. We also ask for prayers as the Court’s decisions are reviewed and their implications further clarified.

After the decision was announced I read one comment about an online article (never a good idea for those who appreciate charitable words) which stated, “The Dark Age of religion is ending.” There are those people out there who are gloating at people of faith who believe in traditional marriage. I suspect the negative energy directed toward the Catholic Church will only increase. There is a kind of rage against the Church in our day, and a conversation with a friend helped me realize a possible source of that rage: the certainty with which the Church proclaims truths related to her teachings is what irritates some people.

In the Code of Canon Law, the Church states the following: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its very nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (Canon 1055, section 1). Now many people are quick to point out that the Catholic Church has no right to impose her teaching on those who do not accept it. They say the Church’s teaching about marriage is a religious matter. But the Church doesn’t say it’s a religious matter. Please look back at the statement at the beginning of this paragraph. The Church does not say that the matrimonial covenant as a union of a man and a woman is a matter of faith. Rather, it is part of nature. It is revealed in the natural law, not by Moses or by Christ. It is evident to anyone who looks around and notices the complementarity of the sexes. What the Church teaches is that in the case of two baptized persons, Christ has raised the natural union to the dignity of a sacrament. That is the part that requires faith.

Our Church’s teaching that marriage can be only between one man and one woman is upsetting to many people. But we should not be ashamed of that teaching. We ought to speak about it with kindness and love even in the face of those who disagree.

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