To the surprise of no one, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—the section that defines marriage as being “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”—proclaiming it to be unconstitutional. California State Proposition 8, which was an amendment to California’s constitution that provided that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” was dismissed by SCOTUS, opening the way for the state to resume recognizing same-sex marriages in spite of the vote of the citizens of California to pass Prop 8.
Statements of jubilation and despair have filled the media in the days following the SCOTUS rulings, with some of the reaction found in the very opinions given by the SCOTUS justices themselves. Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, wrote:
DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage.
As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe. By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.
SCOTUS’s actions were hailed by President Barack Obama as a “victory for American democracy,” although how American democracy prevailed when the vote of the people of the most populous state in the United States was dismissed for lack of standing is unclear.
That said, now we have to live with what has been done. We have to find a way to live in peace with secular neighbors while witnessing to the truth of marriage as a sacred institution. However despairing we may feel right now, no one can live in a state of perpetual despair. As humans, as Christians, we must find a way forward, reaching out, not retreating.
Do we have any common ground with “gay marriage” supporters? That was a provocative question recently asked by a Catholic blogger. I would provide a link to that blog post and give him credit for asking the question, but he evidently decided against asking the question because the post has since been removed from his blog. But I think the question important, so I’ll ask it again myself and look for an answer.
No longer having the post available to reference all I can say is that this blogger mentioned the cross of Christ, and how all true love refers us to the cross. This is entirely true. And I think this is the common ground we can share.
We all understand suffering. Every human person, heterosexual or homosexual, knows suffering and has experienced a share of suffering. That means we all understand the cross. We don’t always recognize it, or realize that the only way to conquer it is to carry it, but every human person, heterosexual or homosexual, has on some level met the cross and faced its challenge.
In the years ahead, our challenge as Christians will be to show our friends and family, and through them society as a whole, that true love is suffering borne willingly for a greater good to be accomplished. Love suffers. Love does not demand satisfaction. Love calls us to relationship with God and neighbor. If we can show those who support same-sex “marriage” that we are all broken, that we are all in need of grace, that we speak from shared turf and not with any one person speaking down to others, then we can invite them to join us in carrying the cross together with Christ.
In the Jubilee Year 2000, I went with Catholic Answers on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On that trip we had the opportunity to walk the Via Dolorosa, visiting the fourteen stations of Christ’s journey through the city of Jerusalem to Calvary. The final stop in our trek was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses the place tradition identifies as Calvary, where Christ died on the cross.
I loved the walk through Jerusalem, helping to carry a cross provided pilgrims visiting the stations. When we got to the Holy Sepulchre, I was pleased to be near the front of the line to visit Christ’s tomb. The last place to visit in the church was Calvary itself, which could only be accessed by climbing a steep, narrow staircase. But once I visited the tomb, our group’s chaplain had a request for me. Could I run back and forth between the tomb and the stairs to guide our group to the stairs as they finished visiting the tomb?
Once the last person from our group finished visiting the tomb, it was my turn to climb the stairs. By this time, I had walked the half-mile of the Via Dolorosa, shuttled back and forth between the tomb and the stairs quite a few times, and had been on my feet all day. When it came time to climb the stairs to Calvary, I made it about halfway up and ran out of steam. All I could do was sit on a stair and wait to get my breath back. By that time, I had to descend the stairs again to catch up with my group. I never made it to the top of Calvary.
I was disappointed to be sure, and I keep hoping that I can one day visit the Holy Land again so I can finish climbing Calvary. But it occurs to me that there’s a parable here. We all walk the Via Dolorosa. We all need help to find the right path. We all need help to make the final ascent. There is no shame in not being able to finish the climb by ourselves, but only in never having made the attempt.
Our road ahead is a Via Dolorosa. We may make our walk before the jeers of unbelievers; or we may be able to invite them to share our walk. Like Simon of Cyrene, they may assist us in carrying our cross and in it find their own salvation. But we cannot despair. We must think of these recent developments in the culture wars not as a defeat but as a commission.
God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do his work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments.
Therefore, I will trust him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, he knows what he is about (Bl. John Henry Newman).