With these words Chief Justice Roberts of the United States Supreme Court underlined his firm opposition to the majority ruling of that same court making “marriage” for same-sex couples a constitutional right throughout the United States of America. Reading the majority opinion delivered by (Catholic) Justice Kennedy and then the dissenting opinion delivered by (Catholic) Chief Justice Roberts is like reading two tales of two entirely different worlds. Both justices write their opinions with civility and respect for the other, but that is the only similarity.
The first point that should grab our attention is the fact that two judges known to be Roman Catholics hold diametrically opposed views when it comes to marriage and its definition. This fact should give Catholics pause for thought, as well as the fact that it is traditionally Catholic and Protestant-Catholic countries in the West that have in recent years been redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, without much of a real fight ever being fought over it, let alone a fair public debate being held or sought: Ireland, France, Spain, Canada, Belgium and The Netherlands. It seems that many of us Christians have given up the good fight or have chosen to go with the flow, which is so much more comfortable and does not disturb our nice lives of quietism amidst material well-being. It is also a sign of our own flawed understanding of what marriage really is and how it should be lived.
The problem, really, lies in the following definition the United States Supreme Court gives to marriage, in which it does not differ much from the way too many Christians think about it today:
From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations. (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015), 26 June 2015, Opinion of the Court, II.A, P.3)
At first reading, this sounds quite profound and beautiful. However, the fundamental issue that has been the defining raison d’etre for marriage since the beginning of mankind is entirely missing from this definition, and deliberately so. Throughout the ruling of the Court, procreation plays no part in its deliberations and neither does the welfare of children who objectively need their biological father and mother to rear them in a stable and lasting relationship, which is what marriage is meant to be. The fact that many children have to suffer the absence of (one of) their biological parents in their lives does not take away their natural need to know and love them, even if circumstances do not always allow a closer relationship. Where marriage as an institution protected and privileged by the law was meant throughout all ages and cultures to secure the well-being of a people by enabling children to grow up in the best possible of imperfect human environments, the lifelong bond between their father and their mother, the West has now reverted to a model of marriage where the feelings and desires of the couple itself come first. Once more, the United States Supreme Court makes this very clear:
Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.
Very true, but also very limited. There is much more to marriage than this alone. Self-giving, the complementary character of man and woman, and openness to life make marriage fruitful in many different ways (ways that can make marriage equally fruitful for heterosexual couples who cannot have children of their own) and allows new human beings to come into this world and find a protected environment where they learn what it means to be human and thus how to live in this world. Our self-indulgent Western societies have instead chosen to institutionalize pleasure-only selfish sex, where it is not spousal fidelity, measure and fruitfulness that defines this intimate realm, but rather the unlimited access to chemicals, rubbers and medical interventions that treat the gift of human fertility as a dangerous risk to be controlled by all possible means, including the massive state-sponsored killing of new life in the mother’s womb. Once sex becomes the free-for-all commodity it now so often is, anything goes. No wonder that American judges, even Catholic ones, are profoundly confused about the true meaning of marriage.
Some weeks ago Pope Francis had some clear words to say about love and sexuality as he addressed young people gathered in Turin. He reminded them that true love is chaste and “you young people, in this hedonistic world of ours, in this world where only advertising, pleasure…the good life…prevail, I tell you: be chaste! Be chaste!” This is the core issue we have to address – and which for many, also within the Church, is still a taboo – to bring back to our societies a correct understanding of love and marriage. As long as sex is deliberately disconnected from fidelity, fertility and life-long responsibility, marriage in the secular understanding can only be a public legal form to arrange a feel-good relationship between different persons, today two, tomorrow any given number. The redefinition of marriage in Western countries is just a symptom, not the illness itself. The illness itself is contraception, and this can only be treated by the Catholic Church and its members following their call as Christians to go against the flow and live and speak charitably and responsibly the truth of God’s plan with humanity, so clearly stated in the first pages of the Bible many thousands of years ago:
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.(Genesis 1, 26-28).
God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good… (Genesis 1, 31).