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Disappointed, but Not Surprised: Aleteia Experts React to Supreme Court Marriage Rulings

Experts on Supreme court decisions on marriage


Brantly Millegan - published on 06/26/13

Reactions will be updated throughout the day

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional under the 5th amendment, meaning that the federal government must recognize all state marriages for the purposes of applying federal law. The Court did not issue a ruling on California’s Proposition 8 and instead dismissed the case saying that those defending the law did not have the legal right to do so.

We asked our Aleteia Experts for reactions. Reactions will be updated throughout the day as they come in.

Jennifer Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute

"The Supreme Court ruled that the proponents of Prop 8 had no standing to defend it in federal court.

"I was a spokeswoman for Prop 8. We spent $40 million on it. We had 70,000 individual contributors from all walks of life and all income levels. We had 100,000 volunteers, from across the religious spectrum. Our masters in Sacramento don’t agree with our views. So, when some Hollywood leftists invent absurd legal challenges to Prop 8, our masters in Sacramento refuse to defend it. Surprise, surprise.

"And now the Supreme Court tells us to sit down and shut up.

"I do not plan to be silent. The scorched earth tactics of the Sexual Revolutionaries are now taking down democracy itself. This is too high a price to pay for the supposed benefits of sexual ‘freedom.’"

Stephen M. Krasen, political science professor at Franciscan University, and founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists

"The Supreme Court did not outrightly claim that there is a constitutional right to same-sex "marriage," which is what many of those pressing these cases sought. They made the one decision on procedural grounds, and the other (supposedly ) on federalism grounds. Still, it is a portent for the future, because the majority in one of the cases seemed to adopt the mind-set of the secular left and the homosexualist movement that the denial of same-sex "marriage" is somehow malicious against a particular group (I should comment that it is a group only because the homosexualist movement and its promoters in the opinion-making strata of American life have made it out to be). All this suggests to me that those opposed to the full-scale assault on nature that is what is represented by those who want to view homosexual activity as normal and seek acceptance of same-sex "marriage" need to assert themselves more visibly, vocally, and insistently. They need to make the case more vigorously and continuously about what is wrong with these notions and the profound consequences that American culture–and American liberty–will face if they are allowed to prevail."

Peter Lawler, Dana Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College

"I actually think there are reasonable people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Finally, the biggest thing wrong with Kennedy’s opinion is that its unhinged moralism–based as it is on a conception of dignity or personhood that’s has no real constitutional anchor–might make solid citizens believe that those who disagree with him–including the overwhelming majority of members of our Congress who voted for the DOMA–are hatefully evil, so evil that their opinions deserve no place under our law or our Constitution. Talk about a “conversation stopper,” not to mention a civic-engagement stopper. Consider the conclusion of Justice Scalia’s “cheeky” dissent:

"In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad. A reminder that disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage can still be politically legitimate would have been a fit task for what in earlier times was called the judicial temperament. We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide. But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent."

Peter Wolfgang, Executive Director of the Family Institute of Connecticut

"The good news is that the Supreme Court did not find a right to same-sex "marriage" in the U.S. Constitution as it did with abortion in 1973. The bad news is that the Court said the dozen states that have same-sex "marriage" can impose their definition of marriage on the federal government. It is especially outrageous that Connecticut’s same-sex "marriage" law can be imposed on the federal government because that law was not even enacted by the people of Connecticut or our elected representatives but by a 4-3 decision of our state supreme court. The fight for traditional marriage is, if anything, only beginning. It will only be further energized by today’s rulings."

Fr Joseph Fessio, SJ, founder of Ignatius Press

"They are profoundly wrong and wrong-headed decisions. And it is deeply depressing that in each decision a Catholic justice was the swing vote. There is a twofold problem that underlies both decisions: 1) That issues of such fundamental significance for society should be decided by a single, unelected person. That’s what happens when there is a 5-4 decision. 2) That the judges of the Supreme Court who ought to be exemplary for their wisdom as well as their technical knowledge of the law can be completely blind to the obvious: this is not an issue of equality at all. Same sex unions are not in any way equivalent to marital unions.

"Justice Kennedy wrote: "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity." This is only slightly less outrageously self-contradictory than his famous “mystery” utterance: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” If you can define your own concept of meaning, well, I suppose you can play Alice in Wonderland with any concept you want, including marriage. So at least Justice Kennedy is consistent in his self-contradiction, and this decision is simply a consequence of the earlier principle. However, he even goes farther here and apparently can read hearts, since he claims that the “purpose” is to “disparage and to injure”. So one man sets himself against the wisdom of all recorded history which recognizes the obvious: a marital union can do what no other union can; further it is not only a benefit to the state, but the state cannot exist without it. Giving it special status and protection does not disparage or injure anyone; it simply recognizes an empirical fact that only the willfully blind can fail to see.

"Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here," Chief Justice Roberts said, alluding to the state of California’s decision not to defend Proposition 8 in court.” By that principle the Supreme Court should have never made any decisions, since each new decision was a “first time”.

"So we have the sad parody of one Catholic judge being so liberal that even the meaning of meaning isn’t fixed. And another Catholic judge so conservative that he can’t recognize the need for an unprecedented decision when there is an unprecedented set of facts.

"People, myself included, lament the moral decline of America. Without this stunning intellectual decline—where one can claim that an unborn baby is not a human person and that man-to-man copulation is equivalent to marital union—we could not have sunk so low. With this decision we are about to sink even lower. God help us.

"I’m not a prophet. But it is certainly going to make it far more difficult for those who defend marriage.

"[The Church] will call forth saints and scholars who will “shine like the stars in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation”. They will also be humiliated and very likely, in time, persecuted. Welcome to the Brave New World."

Matthw Lamb, Professor of Theology and Chair of the Department of Theology at Ave Maria University

"The two narrow decisions (5-4) of the Supreme Court today ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional and dismissing Proposition 8 are as unjust and unwise as the Supreme Court decision of 1992 in the case of Planned Parenthood vs. Governor Casey.  That decision did not make abortion moral and the two decisions today will not make homosexual marriage moral. 

"A proper response to such dictatorial decisions has been provided by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae I-II, 95, 2: 
As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) "that which is not just seems to be no law at all": wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91, 2, ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from thelaw of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.

"Fundamental to these issues is the need for twenty-first century scholars to recover the understanding of legislation as primarily an act of intelligence and reason.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out, a dictatorship of relativism has resulted from the nominalist voluntarism that devalued legislation into acts of will severed from intelligence and reason.  It is indeed unreasonable to be shouting out the fiction that homosexuals can be properly married, thereby severing the nature of marriage from the procreation and education of children, at the very time that the so-called advanced societies are dying out.  I recommend a reading of Jonathan Last’s recent book
What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: The Coming American Demographic Disaster."

Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute

"This decision, while disappointing, provides an opportunity to emphasize the good of marriage between a man and a woman."

Fr. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D., pastor of Holy Family parish in New York.

"The Supreme Court, in striking down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, has accomplished a societal and legal revolution by annihilating in Federal law the fundamental human institution of marriage. The People of the United States, acting through their elected officials in Congress, decided in 1996 that the word marriage meant what marriage has always meant: the union of man and woman in view of procreation. Today the Court overthrows both the dictionary and the constitutional order. The coercive power of the Court has been misused to force the People of the United States to recognize a counterfeit version of marriage as being marriage, or face the wrath of the Federal government in multiple ways.

"Religious and other institutions which refuse to comply with this re-defintion of marriage now face hitherto unimaginable intrusions upon their right to act freely in accord with both right reason and religious doctrine. This is a terrible day for the United States. The Supreme Court has essentially said: Words, and hence laws made up of words, have no meaning apart from what we decide.This is perilous for liberty and heralds a flood of discrimination lawsuits and enforcement actions that will make the free exercise of religion in America ever more difficult."

Anthony Esolen, literature professor at Providence College and senior editor for Touchstone

"The decision means that the people of the United States, as a whole, have no power to make laws affecting the most fundamental institution in a society, directing the most intimate relations between human beings, and arising from the one thing about which any adult human being must know a great deal, namely the family.

"The decision purports to protect the states against the federal government — a protection very rarely offered in the last century and more; but the aim of DOMA was to protect one state from another, and the very institution of marriage from dilapidation. The people who passed DOMA were concerned that a "marriage" in North Carolina would have to be regarded as such in Virginia, regardless of the understanding of marriage prevailing in that state. It was on such grounds as these that the entry of Utah into the Union was made conditional upon that territory’s rejection of polygamy. For if polygamy is accepted in one state, and if it therefore must be accepted by the federal government for the apportioning of federal benefits, then in effect it becomes legal everywhere, since each state must affirm the contracts made in other states."

John Zmirak, author and blogger at The Bad Catholics Bingo Hall.

"The Defense of Marriage Act was unfortunately a legal muddle that confounded state and federal privileges, so I’m not surprised it didn’t survive–though I wish it had. I think it was proposed cynically by Clinton in 96 to thwart the prospect of a constitutional amendment defining marriage correctly, which might have passed back then. We took the bait, and now we gag on the hook. On the California bill, the Supreme Court has disgraced itself. The State of California declines to defend the constitutional amendment passed by its own voters, and the Supreme Court says that no one else has "standing" to defend it? This is a grotesque corruption of democratic principles, in service of ideology.

"The anti-marriage activists will take this as evidence that their momentum is building, as one more reason for the rest of us to accept that "resistance is futile," so we might as well collaborate, not resist.

"Any progress toward same-sex marriage is very dangerous, given our culture’s deranged attachment to legal enforcement of "equality," which invariably trumps freedom–of association, of contract, even of religion. I foresee states like California suing Catholic parishes that won’t marry two women, or three men and an android, and our fate will be in the hands of Caesar’s magistrates. Orthodox Christians and Jews will be legally the equivalent of white supremacists, people whose crank beliefs cannot prevail against the public consensus of what "equality" means. As Tocqueville warned, it is Americans’ besotted love of equality that might just destroy our country."

Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM)

"These decisions are regrettable. First, the government of California and the federal government were not willing to defend their own laws created by the democratic process. Moreover, once more we have a slim majority of the Supreme court imposing their own highly controversial public policy views on the people who should have been allowed to decide. it should be understood that these decisions do not make homosexual marriage the law of the United States. What will happen is the debate will continue and we will end up with a majority of states that defend man-woman marriage and a small handful of states that have accepted a revisionist view of marriage. The fight for man-woman marriage will go on."

Rick Garnett, Professor of Law and Associate Dean at Notre Dame Law School
“As most Court-watchers expected, a narrow majority of the justices voted to strike down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Similarly, a different narrow majority’s conclusion that the supporters of California’s Proposition 8 lack standing to appeal the trial court’s decision was widely expected.

“At the end of the day, the Court declined to announce that the Constitution requires all states to include same-sex unions in their legal definitions of ‘marriage.’ At the same time, the majority’s ruling and reasoning in the Defense of Marriage Act case will encourage additional challenges to most states’ definitions of ‘marriage’ and at least one of those challenges will return to the Supreme Court in the near future.

“It would have been a misguided judicial overreach, and it would have been damaging to our democracy, if the Justices had issued a sweeping ruling that invalidated most states’ marriage laws. At least for now, the political process and public deliberation on the marriage question will continue.”

Fr Thomas Berg, Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary
"Beyond or underlying the decision in DOMA, we have to recognize that a thoroughly secular non-classical and non-Biblical conception of marriage has prevailed here and is in fact dominant in American culture. Within the Church we must also recognize that likely a majority of (at least nominal) Catholics are sympathetic to gay unions because they lack a Christian and classical understanding of the unique reality brought into the world by the loving and faithful union of one man and one woman. "Marriage" has been hijacked by the secular notion. Probably the time has arrived for the Church to cease administering marriage licenses and draw a clear distinction between legal marriage on the one hand and the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony on the other."

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