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Catholic Voice
  March 7, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 5   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Future prospects of marriage, democracy go hand-in-hand

It is a curious irony that in this moment of history, when people in a number of countries in the Middle East are agitating for change from dictatorship to democracy, here in our own country, the oldest democracy with a written constitution in the world, there is a movement of the ruling class toward taking more and more power into its own hands. The flashpoint for this movement? The hot-button issue of our day: marriage.

The comparison of the Middle East and the United States, though, is just irony No. 1 among many others in the ongoing saga of the inter-relation between the marriage issue and democracy. The examples are legion, and it would not be possible to list all of them here. I will, though, mention some of the more salient ones.


Hundreds of supporters of traditional marriage line the street across from the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston in 2007, urging legislators to restrict future marriages to the union of one man and one woman. The same day, the joint Legislature voted 151-45 to kill the amendment.
CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot
In an explicit denial of his public duty, the then attorney general of the state of California (now governor) refused to defend the law of the state in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8. His reason? He is personally opposed to it.

Irony No. 2: after decades of hearing Catholic legislators (whose job, admittedly, is to make the law, not enforce it) claim that they could not let their personal views on a public issue (in this case, abortion) influence their public role, we now have the chief law enforcer in the state doing exactly that.

When the City Council of Washington, D.C., passed a local ordinance to allow same-sex “marriage,” the citizens organized to put it to a vote so they could decide for themselves. The City Council obstructed them from doing so every step of the way. Bear in mind that the city of Washington has a very large African-American population.

Fundamental right denied

Thus, irony No. 3: a small group of political elites (almost all of them white), in a claim to expand rights, deny one of the most fundamental rights in a constitutional democracy — the right to vote — to the masses of black citizens.

In an egregious violation of separation of powers, the president of the United States has ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. (DOMA — passed by an overwhelming majority with bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law by President Clinton — preserves the right of the states not to recognize same-sex “marriages” contracted in other states.) Obama claimed to do so on the basis that it discriminates against a sexual minority, and is unconstitutional and irrational.

Sadly, the Department of Justice had already submitted an apparently deliberately weak defense of DOMA — setting up its being overturned in the courts — by omitting the one argument that has convinced every court in which the argument was made: the connection between marriage and the good of children. For example, this is what Maryland’s high court stated in a ruling in 2007: “Marriage enjoys its fundamental status due, in large part, to its link to procreation. This ‘inextricable link’ between marriage and procreation reasonably could support the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman only, because it is that relationship that is capable of producing biological offspring of both members.”

This latest decision of our president brings us even more ironies.

A change of course

Irony No. 4: During the presidential campaign, Obama stated that he favored preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In a change of course, he more recently had said he favors the repeal of DOMA, but asserts it should be done through the legislative process, not the courts. Now, he has taken an action that does exactly that, i.e., repeals DOMA by the decision of a federal court judge.

The affirmation of marriage does not discriminate against anyone and casts no judgments on how people work out their intimate relationships, but rather affirms the most fundamental good in any healthy society. But if we were to admit the argument that it did, it would bring us to irony No. 5: In the court case challenging the constitutionality of the legislation that allowed the revival of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy that had expired long in the past, the federal district court judge ruled against the plaintiffs. With regard to the argument that the Church was targeted, he did not deny this claim (the evidence was apparently too overwhelming that we were). Rather, he argued that it is not unconstitutional to target a religious group, as long as their access to worship is not impeded. Why, then, would it be unconstitutional to target a sexual minority (which defining marriage in the law does not do, anyway) as long as their freedom to engage in sexual activity as they choose is not impeded?

Most disturbing of all, irony No. 6: It is not the role of the executive branch to decide which laws are unconstitutional. That is the exclusive purview of the courts. The job of the executive branch is to administer and defend the law of the land. That is why this latest decision of our president is an egregious violation of the separation of powers.

Avoiding the democratic process

The fact of the matter is, wherever “gay marriage” has become the law of the land, it has happened in a way that avoids the democratic process, and sometimes even goes directly against it. On the other hand, whenever the people have had the chance to vote on marriage, they have consistently affirmed it. And this, despite the proponents being outspent (sometimes by huge margins), facing opposition from the cultural elites and enduring strong media bias. Often this bias is quite blatant, but sometimes it is subtle. For example, in a recent report on this story on National Public Radio, the reporter said: “Backers of Prop. 8 say that nearly every time gay marriage has been put on the ballot, voters rejected it.” The fact is “gay marriage” has never been put on the ballot. Rather, the traditional definition of marriage has. Moreover, in the 31 states that put this on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, voters have approved it 31 times, i.e., not “nearly every time,” but every time. And this is not counting states where the people have approved the traditional definition of marriage as a statute.

Cause for concern

Regardless of one’s position on the marriage issue, these and so many other moves by our public officials should give cause for concern about the fate of democracy in our country. I urge all of our people to inform themselves of the facts, to inform their consciences from the natural moral law and Church teaching — understanding that marriage is not discrimination against anyone, but benefits everyone and that we must treat those who disagree with us on this issue with respect and compassion — and then to take action by speaking truth to power, advocating for this fundamental good of our society and voting their conscience at the ballot box.

Many people describe our country as currently being engaged in a “culture war.” A century-and-a-half ago, we were engaged in a civil war. Now, as then, the conflict puts the future prospects of our democracy at stake. Now, as then, no more apt words can describe the moment than those spoken by President Abraham Lincoln in what has become the most famous speech in American history: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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