It’s Time for the U.S. Bishops to Take a Reality Check on Marriage Equality

U.S. bishops at their recent meeting in New Orleans.

” ‘Let’s face it, anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on. There is a question whether (the courts) should be able to tell the states what they can or cannot do with something as important as marriage, but the trend right now in the courts is to permit gay marriage and anybody who doesn’t admit that just isn’t living in the real world.’ “

Those are the words of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who recently joined the growing Republican chorus admitting marriage equality’s inevitability. Jumping off these statements, Elizabeth Lefebvre asks in U.S. Catholic whether the Catholic Church needs its own reality check when it comes to same-gender marriages. Judging from the U.S. bishops’ actions it seems that, at the very least, they need one. Lefebvre proposes a detente of sorts:

“Is there a way for the Catholic Church to respond to this reality [of marriage equality being made legal] in a similar way? To basically say: We don’t think this is the right way to go, but we accept that the courts say this is legal and that this here to stay. Instead of reacting by declaring court decisions mistakes and travesties of justice—as was done after the recent decision in Pennsylvania that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional—it seems more realistic for the church as an institution to adopt the attitude that Hatch is putting forth. It’s no secret that Catholics in the pew don’t see eye to eye with church teaching on the issue…”

Unfortunately, more typical of responses from American bishops are the remarks made by Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, who said that Wisconsin’s legalization of marriage equality “is an element of the very first ‘domino’ of civilization…When that first ‘domino’ falls, everything that is good, true, and beautiful…is seriously threatened.” Perhaps he should take notes from fellow Bishop David Ricken who remained firm about the bishops’ understanding of marriage, but added:

” ‘I was disappointed by the decision, but I would really hate to come across in a way that would say we don’t value every human being who has this particular attraction, would just hate if they feel like they were being prejudiced against, every human person is a gift of God, created by God and we can’t lose sight of that…

” ‘I think everybody wants everybody to be happy and feel everybody has a right to that. Mistaking happiness for this, I think, though, is an incorrect way of understanding it.’ “

Some select bishops have followed Pope Francis’ lead away from the culture wars.  For example, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland promised dialogue and healing after Oregon equalized marriage rights. But statements like this is the exception to the rule that America’s hierarchy remains obsessed with stopping the expansion of rights to LGBT people. The U.S. bishops as a whole reaffirmed their decision to focus on marriage equality opposition during United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings in June , seeming to ignore Pope Francis altogether in their agenda and decisions.

Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service lays out five reasons why marriage equality is inevitable in the National Catholic Reporter.  One of the main ones, he says, is the influence of LGBT-affirming faith communities and leaders. We can assuredly count the majority of US Catholics standing up for LGBT rights in this group. Instead of continuing to spend tremendous resources in their failed fight against marriage equality, and causing ongoing pastoral damage,  America’s bishops need to have that reality check. Lefebvre offers a few suggestions on where they could go from here:

“The church could spend more time and resources figuring out how to deal with the reality that people (including Catholics) will continue to have legal same-sex marriages. Church teaching is clear that gay people have full human dignity, even though church teaching is just as clear that the sacrament of marriage is meant for one man and one woman. But wouldn’t it be better for the church to acknowledge what’s happening, namely that legally recognized same-sex marriage is a reality in many states and that it will likely one day be legal nationwide? By, say, figuring out ways to effectively minister to gay couples, or to welcome children of same-sex parents into Catholic school?

“These are real issues that the church faces now and will continue to face in the future. Pretty soon, it could be time for a reality check from the church.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

3 thoughts on “It’s Time for the U.S. Bishops to Take a Reality Check on Marriage Equality

  1. Terence June 23, 2014 / 6:05 am

    Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, last week described the idea of calling bishops to Rome to deliberate on marriage and family as “bonkers”. Referring to last year’s “survey” on the subject, she says she has only one question for the bishops: “How many of you have ever changed a baby’s nappy”?

    Her wise words could equally adapted to bishops seeking to pressure politicians on marriage laws: “How many of you have ever experienced marriage, that you know anything about it?”

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