It is impossible to watch any news report about the current same-sex marriage debate without hearing that opposing, or even questioning, the idea of two people of the same gender being married to each other is bigotry and a denial of basic human rights.
Bigotry is an ugly word, and it should be. It bespeaks an attitude completely opposite the approach, for example, so compellingly taken by Pope Francis in his dealings with one and all. Christian love for everyone is his standard.
It should not be forgotten, however, that not that long ago, although he was clearly identified as accepting anyone as a child of God and preaching that the love of God includes all people without exceptions, the pope as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, stood emphatically against same-sex marriage in that country — and for that matter against other behavior that many asserted was a right — abortion, for example.
The Church is for or against practices because of the effects of these certain practices.
It is not only about an individual person, but about the implication for any other who might be touched by what one person does.
Leave the Church aside and look at governments. By any theory of Western political philosophy, governments have the duty to assure that rights are protected, but also that no one nor society is harmed.
As to marriage, governments, including those of the United States and its 50 states, very much involve themselves in the marriages of citizens, and they have done so historically.
Every state government, for example, outlaws any attempt to be married to more than one person at the same time. Every state requires that if the law is to recognize a marriage, this marriage must be performed under certain requirements, be licensed and duly be recorded.
Some states license, or at least delegate, the officials who witness marriages. Every American state vests in itself the right to dissolve marriage through divorce and sets the criteria by which divorces are granted. States forbid underage citizens to marry. Many couples remember that before they could obtain marriage licenses, they had to undergo a blood test for syphilis and/or rubella. Why? State governments saw the prevention of disease as paramount. Individual rights to marry came second.
The laws of every state are replete with requirements on spouses, even pertaining to spouses after they die in terms of estates and wills, custody of children, and so on.
This is the point. While marriage is between two people, Western society always has regarded it more broadly as a social institution, because it has an impact on more than just two people.
Last month’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the comments of the justices, were interesting. The justices again and again questioned how such an arrangement would affect society as a whole.
Love everyone and do whatever possible to assist everyone to attain full dignity and stature in society. This, by the way, is the great heritage of the Catholic Church. This great heritage at this time calls Catholics to love all people and, specifically in this unqualified love, to ponder the effects, good or bad, of same-sex marriage on the whole society, not just upon two persons who wish to be married.
In this matter, as in others, Catholics have the benefit of being guided by divine Revelation as it is understood and presented authoritatively by the Church. How is the well-being of all best served? Love others. Serve others. Work for social structures that serve others. Listen to the Church. Hear what God has revealed.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.