The price of belief

It has been one year since the U.S. Supreme Court officially blessed the redefinition of marriage and opened the federal floodgates to a wave of (largely successful) lawsuits by same-sex couples.

In the past 12 months, there has been a tectonic shift not only in the courts, but in popular opinion. Those who support a traditional definition of marriage — just as President Barack Obama did only a few years ago —­ are now on the defensive. Even the Church is struggling to find the language to explain what has been its teaching for 2,000 years without sounding prejudiced or spiteful.

What makes the task even more difficult is that many self-identified Catholics tell pollsters they don’t agree with their Church either. I wrote recently about two incidents in which Catholic students and parents vociferously objected to speakers defending the Church’s teaching on marriage.

While such protests suggest a wide divergence in the pews, the Church also is being dragged into the courts by lawsuits filed when diocesan, parish or school employees marry their same-sex partners and then lose their jobs. As recent moves in Ohio and elsewhere illustrate, the Church now tries to shield itself from such suits with preemptive contracts explicitly stating what is expected of its employees, but those in turn are creating another backlash. The lawyers may be reducing risk but raising ire.

Where this all will lead is anyone’s guess, but the future does look ominous. No matter how the Church tries to articulate its position, there is, at least at this moment, a reaction in the popular media against divergent viewpoints that is quite clearly intended to intimidate and silence.

Take the case of Brendan Eich. He was the hapless digital genius who created the JavaScript found in millions of computers. He also co-founded Mozilla, a company with a popular open-source Internet search engine called Firefox. Earlier this year he was appointed CEO.

Unfortunately, he had been outed two years ago on Twitter as someone who had donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. California law makes donors list their place of work, which brought criticism on Mozilla then. After his appointment as CEO in March, a campaign was begun to boycott Mozilla. Eich resigned in less than two weeks.

It is important to note that there were no charges that he had been discriminatory in the workplace. There were no charges that he had made derogatory comments or had acted in ways overtly hostile to people with same-sex attraction or that he had imposed a hostile environment at Mozilla or any place else.

Eich’s only sin, and it was apparently mortal, was that he had dared to support the traditional concept of marriage by quietly making a political donation.

Many people of goodwill are struggling with this issue now, and Catholics are no different. The Church has a huge pastoral and catechetical problem that to date it has not been able to address effectively on a broad scale. My concern, however, is that those who accept that the Church’s teachings in this area are true may soon pay a price for such beliefs. Catholic institutions may not be always immune from the wrath of the courts, and Catholic individuals — whether lawyers or doctors or bakers or photographers — who accept this teaching may expect a backlash as well.

So make that two challenges the U.S. Church faces. The first is how to teach effectively what it believes. The second is something it has not had to worry about in a long time: preparing people for the price that may be exacted for believing what they have been taught.

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.