This is startling — and unsettling. Of the 11 nations in which same-sex marriage now is legal, five are very high in percentages of citizens who identify themselves as Roman Catholics: Argentina (93 percent), Belgium (73 percent), Brazil (85 percent), Portugal (88 percent) and Spain (93 percent).
(Figures are from Our Sunday Visitor’s 2013 Catholic Almanac.)
All are democracies, meaning that in each country the legislative body, presumably heavily composed of politicians calling themselves Roman Catholics, freely elected by the people, voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The heads of state, or the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Portugal, and the kings of Belgium and Spain, all publicly listing themselves as Roman Catholics, are constitutionally required to approve legislative acts before they can have any force, and all signed these legislative acts into law.
Catholics in this country, upset with political figures in the United States who describe themselves as Catholics but enable abortion on demand, insist that such politicians in effect be excommunicated because their public decisions do not correspond with Catholic doctrine. No pope has ever required this, but if such action were taken, and also applied to support for same-sex marriage, another intrinsic evil, across the world, then thousands of Catholic political leaders would be denied holy Communion!
Same-sex marriage has crept up on Catholics, in this country and elsewhere. Twenty years ago, it was unknown. No one would have thought that it ever might come to be. Catholic religious education accordingly taught the young that homosexual relations were wrong, but nothing was said about same-sex marriage.
The same situation occurred 40 years ago in this country when abortion on demand was legalized. Before then, it was a taboo, not just among Catholics but among Protestants and Jews as well.
I suspect that many Catholics do not know how to argue against it. This has to change.
In many parts of the world, catechetics will have to catch up when it comes to the immorality of same-sex marriage. Church leaders, the pope, bishops and priests have work cut out for them. So do parents. So does every Catholic.
Even so, powerful attitudes run through the culture in Western society, and opposing same-sex marriage will not be easy, if possible at all.
The first of these attitudes is that each person is supreme in his or her conscience. In a sense, this is true. It also is true that people have the obligation to form their consciences wisely, and this means with God’s law duly recognized. This is where our culture is slipping, and Catholics are by no means exempt. We set the individual will, regardless of whether or not God is in the picture, as supreme over everything and everybody.
The second is that the vogue, today arguably more than ever before in Western civilization, is to keep religion hidden and remove it from any discussion about public policy.
The third is to “do my thing and expect others to do their thing,” without anyone daring to interfere in the actions of another.
Opposing same-sex marriage, as bishops are opposing it and as the pope is opposing it, is not to inflict a Catholic point of view on anyone. It is not to impose Catholic reasoning on people who are not Catholics. Rather, it is because same-sex marriage fundamentally damages a basic premise of human life: that marriage between one man and one woman guarantees stability in the society.
We wander away from this ancient premise at our peril.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.