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How the U.S. Catholic Bishops Reacted to Supreme Court’s Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

Crowds celebrate gay marriage in front of US Supreme Court

Michael Hernandez / Anadolu Agency

Zelda Caldwell - published on 07/06/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Here are their responses to the Court's decision:

Now that the dust has begun to settle following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on same-sex marriage, here’s a round-up of reactions from Catholic bishops in the United States. Most took their cue from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz , the head of the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishop’s who called the decision “a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us,” but others emphasized the difference between civil marriage and sacramental marriage and the need to show tolerance and respect to the same-sex attracted.

The following quotes are excerpts from statements released by the bishops:

• Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):

"Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

• Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston:

"As a citizen of the United States and a Catholic bishop, I am saddened by the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage.

The institution of marriage understood in its human, moral and legal dimensions is a fundamental building block of any society.  The protection of marriage and families is a shared responsibility for all of us.

In a pluralistic society we inevitability face disagreements about important political and legal questions. But our division over this question in its moral, political and legal significance is particularly painful.

Certainly every citizen of this land, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves to be respected in their personal and civic life.  But enshrining same sex marriage in our constitutional system of governance has dangers that may become fully evident only over time.

I can only express my disappointment with the decision and invite members of my own religious community to remember and reaffirm the fundamental truths of our faith about marriage"


• Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas:

"The Supreme Court’s narrow majority decision today is gravely unjust as it attempts to change the nature of marriage. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error harming the common good and the most vulnerable among us. The ruling does not and cannot change what marriage really is. No one and no court can make what is false true.

Marriage is a perennial institution, with deep roots in who we are and in our nation’s culture and laws. Marriage is and always will be the union between one man and one woman. This truth is inseparable from the duty to honor the God-given dignity of every human person, to protect the beautiful truth of marriage, which concerns the essential well-being of the nation, especially children. Children have a basic right, wherever possible, to know and be loved by their mother and father together. The law has a duty to support every child in this most basic right.


With renewed purpose, we call upon all people of good will to promote and defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life. The redefinition of legal marriage to include any other type of relationship has serious consequences, especially for religious freedom."


• Archbishop Blase Cupich, Archdiocese of Chicago: 

"…The United States Supreme Court has ruled that two persons of the same sex have a constitutional right to marry each other. In doing so, the Court has re-defined civil marriage. The proposed reason for the ruling is the protection of equal rights for all citizens, including those who identify themselves as gay. The rapid social changes signaled by the Court ruling call us to mature and serene reflections as we move forward together. In that process, the Catholic Church will stand ready to offer a wisdom rooted in faith and a wide range of human experience.

It is important to note that the Catholic Church has an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (n. 2358). This respect must be real, not rhetorical, and ever reflective of the Church’s commitment to accompanying all people. For this reason, the Church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.

It is also important to stress that the Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church. In upholding our traditional concept of marriage, we are called to support those who have entered into this sacred and loving bond with God and each other.

This will be especially important for the members of our own Church as we walk together, respectful not only of the political demands of equality, but above all else, guided by the higher claims of divine revelation. Our aim in all of this will be to hold fast to an authentic understanding of marriage which has been written in the human heart, consolidated in history, and confirmed by the Word of God."

• Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that in effect redefines the civil definition of marriage nationwide. The law of the land affirms that “marriage” in civil law may now include two persons of the same sex.  While this is not the Church’s understanding of marriage, it is a definition confirmed by the Court.

Our Catholic faith teaches that every person, regardless of race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation, has dignity and is loved by God. The Church’s teachings on human sexuality and life reflect this truth.

Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a truth that predates courts and constitutions. This understanding transcends cultures, religions and all time – it is the foundation of civilization. More than just a bond between people who love and are committed to each other, marriage is also about creating and nurturing the next generation – something that requires both a man and a woman with their distinctive and complementary gifts. This is the reason that civil governments have given marriage special recognition throughout all of human history. Men and women are not interchangeable. Marriage is not ours to define.  History, nature and revelation all profess these truths.

Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court changes none of this.  The Court deals with civil law not revealed truth or religious faith.

The Court’s opinion rightly affirms the freedom of religious organizations to continue to express and teach the truth of marriage.  Nonetheless, the Court’s ruling has the potential to create circumstances in which the Church’s teaching and practices may be perceived to conflict with civil law. As such situations arise, the local Church will have to undertake a moral evaluation to determine, on a case-by-case basis, the manner in which it will respond to this
conflict.

• Archbishop Jose Gomez, Archdiocese of Los Angeles:

"…It is hard to understand how the Court can feel so assured that it has the power to discard and rewrite the definition of marriage that has existed since the beginning of history — as the lifelong union of one man and one woman.

This decision reflects a deep confusion about the meaning of marriage, the family and the human person; about individual liberty; and about the role of the courts and legislatures in our democratic system of self-government.

By their nature, court decisions cannot really resolve social questions that are rooted in deeply held values, history, and tradition. So the public conversation and debate about marriage will continue."


* Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Archdiocese of Atlanta

“Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some people and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of these divisive cases, there would simply be no reason for the Court to convene. This most recent decision is no different.

By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again, this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessing of precious new life.

This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement.

• Bishop Robert McElroy, Archdiocese of San Diego:

"Today the United States Supreme Court ruled that the historic definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman is unconstitutional.

The Catholic Church, along with other faith traditions, teaches that the nature of marriage and the family cannot be redefined by society, as God is the author of marriage and its corresponding gift of co-creating human life. The legal recognition of marriage is not only about personal commitment but also about the social commitment that husband and wife make to the well-being of their children. It is for this reason that it is important for government to give a unique status to marriage between one man and one woman both in law and in public policy.

The Catholic community of San Diego and Imperial counties will continue to honor and embody the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman as a gift from God — in our teaching, our sacramental life and our witness to the world. We will do so in a manner which profoundly respects at every moment the loving and familial relationships which enrich the lives of so many gay men and women who are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, and ultimately our fellow pilgrims on this earthly journey of life."

  • Bishop R. Daniel Conlon,  the Diocese of Joliet:

"The Supreme Court has decided that every state must make provision for same-sex marriage.  This is a legal decision.  It is not a decision about morality or religious belief.  Thus, it has no impact on what the Catholic Church understands to be the mind of God about marriage, nor does it affect how the Church will teach and act with regard to marriage.

Although the Church cannot accept the concept of two men or two women being married, we nevertheless respect those persons who experience same-sex attraction.  Like everyone else, they are children of God whom Jesus came to lead to eternal life.  Following Christ is a source of great joy; it is also, for all of his disciples, a call to sacrifice."

• Bishop David Malloy, Diocese of Rockford:

"Recently, Pope Francis’ Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, called the legalization of marriage between couples of the same gender, ‘a defeat for humanity.’

Those strong words underscore the time honored significance of marriage as recognized in reason and faith between a man and a woman, open to the life that is the future of humanity. The truth about ourselves and our world comes not from the votes of elected or unelected representatives but from God’s hand.

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is deeply regrettable. But it is also an opportunity for the Catholic Church to further its resolve to teach and live the plan for marriage found in nature and in faith.

The issue of the definition of marriage can also be expected to have great significance for the future of religious liberty in our country. As even the Court’s majority opinion issued today acknowledged, ‘Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.’"

• Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Archdiocese of New Orleans:

"As Catholic Christians, we believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. This belief is rooted in Sacred Scripture, Natural Law and 2000 years of Christian Tradition. To change and redefine marriage will have ramifications for families now and in the future. I stand with the Catholic bishops of the United States as we had hoped there would have been another means of moving forward in society without redefining marriage and family life.

While we stand firm in this belief, as Christians we must extend respect to all and treat all of God’s children with dignity even in disagreement. We cannot be disrespectful but always loving in witnessing our faith. Disrespect and hatred can never be condoned.

This is an historical moment in the United States. It gives us as Catholic Christians an opportunity to uphold the Sacrament of Marriage and the importance of family life.


* Bishop Gregory Harmeyer, Diocese of Savannah:

"Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of divisive cases, there would be no reason for the Court ever to convene. This most recent decision is no different.

By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again this one is no exception. This decision does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and a woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessings of precious new life.

The Catholic Church will always maintain that marriage is a vocation of a man and a woman to faithfully commit themselves, through sacred vows, to a life shared until death which pledges them to complement one another in their development as husband and wife and to be co-creators with God in the procreation of human life.

This decision of the Supreme Court is primarily a declaration of civil rights and not a redefinition of marriage as the Church teaches.

However, this judgment does not dispense either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Nor is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions differ from our own.

This Court action is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

The moral debate however must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another. In many respects that moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as is the granting of this civil entitlement.

This decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.

This decision has made my task as bishop more complex as I continue to uphold the teachings of my Church on the Sacrament of Matrimony and the equal transcendent dignity of every human person.

 • Archbishop Alexander Sample, Archdiocese of Portland: 

"I am deeply saddened by the narrow majority decision of the Supreme Court requiring all states to license and recognize same-sex ‘marriage.’ It is indeed a tragic ruling that will negatively affect the common good of our society, especially the future generations of children. The Court is simply wrong, as the minority opinions state. Our Constitution does not require states to redefine marriage. A Court ruling cannot make what is intrinsically false to be somehow true. Marriage, by its very nature, can only be between one man and one woman. No human decision can trump the natural law which is inscribed in the very nature of man and woman as we come from the hand of the Creator.

Just as the Roe vs. Wade decision did not end the debate over the right to life of the unborn, so this decision by the Supreme Court will not silence those of us who will continue to advocate for a just and proper understanding of the very nature of marriage itself based on the natural differentiation of the sexes."

• Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Diocese of Tucson:

"The Supreme Court today released what was not a completely unexpected decision with regard to same-sex marriage. While this decision is obviously not in keeping with the Church’s teaching that marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman, it reflects a changing attitude in our country and in many places around the world, such as the recent vote in Ireland permitting same-sex marriages in that country.

There are many marriages performed by the state that are not recognized as sacramental marriages by the Church. Clearly, that lack of recognition would pertain to civil marriages of same-sex couples. In light of the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the right of same-sexed persons to marry, we now expect the Supreme Court to uphold religious liberty and the right of conscience for members of faith communities to live according to their conviction that marriage is a unique union between a man and a woman that brings new life into the world.

The Church will continue its pastoral outreach to people of same-sex orientation. Since the Church believes that every person is made in the image of God, it follows that each person is to be treated with dignity and respect. The Church rejects the ill treatment of any person and will continue to uphold the dignity of all."

• Bishop Joe S. Vásquez,  Diocese of Austin: 

I am deeply saddened by the Supreme Court’s decision to require States to recognize same-sex marriages, because the opinion is based on the court’s belief that the culture has changed its views of marriage. This causes confusion among those who are faithful to the Gospel and erodes rights of persons in each State.

Regardless of the court’s decision, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable.  We will remain true and faithful to the Gospel and we will continue to call people to look deeply into the beauty and understanding of our theology of marriage."

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