Marchers, bishops push back on marriage

A woman holds a sign showing her support for traditional marriage on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington June 19 at the second annual March for Marriage. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
A woman holds a sign showing her support for traditional marriage on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington June 19 at the second annual March for Marriage. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Much can change in a year.

Where in June 2013 the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building hosted hundreds of people on either side of the marriage equality issue awaiting rulings on two seminal cases, this June those same steps marked the endpoint of a now-annual march seeking to push back against the decisions the high court ultimately made.

The thousands who gathered June 19 in the nation's capital for the second March for Marriage did so in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's rulings the previous year: reopening same-sex unions in California by letting stand a federal court's reversal of Proposition 8, and finding unconstitutional the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The D.C. rally provided an opportunity for traditional marriage supporters to regroup, as the marriage scene in America has changed dramatically since they last gathered March 27, 2013.

The DOMA decision lit a fuse that has sparked federal judges in eight states to overturn existing same-sex marriage bans and another four to issue rulings in favor of same-sex marriage. Should all federal judges' rulings be upheld, 31 states would permit same-sex marriage or recognize unions from other states. Most of the rulings are currently stayed while higher courts review the cases; as NCR went to press June 25, a federal appeals court ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the latest polls show 55 percent of Americans supporting same-sex marriage, a high-water mark.

The marriage march, organized by the National Organization for Marriage, featured notable speakers such as former presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, in addition to San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

In his comments, Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, called on the crowd to "build a civilization of truth and love" upon a foundation of marriage as one man and one woman.

"Every child comes from a man and a woman, and has a right, a natural human right, to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their own mother and father," he said.

Cordileone spoke little about threats and instead emphasized that the "foundational truth" of marriage must be proclaimed with love for single parents, women contemplating abortion, teens struggling with calls to chastity, and couples facing infertility.

He talked about reaching out to "those who disagree with us on this issue."

"We must recognize that there are people on the other side of this debate who are of goodwill and are sincerely trying to promote what they think is right and fair," he said, though adding, "It is misdirected goodwill."

The speech at the march contained little of the sense of dire straits he brought to his fellow bishops a week earlier in New Orleans at their annual spring meeting. There, Cordileone starkly stated, "We are at a critical point in this country when it comes to the promotion and defense of marriage in the law," and re-endorsed a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At the state level, local bishops have countered each federal ruling supporting same-sex marriage with statements that have articulated the church's teaching on marriage as divinely defined as one man and one woman and to the benefit of children. But bishops' approaches have not been uniform.

In most states that have seen bans thrown out, bishops have issued joint statements through their policy arms, but not all have made comment of their own. New Mexico's bishops issued a statement in December that counted fewer than 60 words; Texas' 15 bishops issued a three-paragraph statement.

In May, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., decried approaches to the marriage debate that marginalize homosexuals or "redress this injustice" by attempting to redefine marriage. Instead, Taylor said, church teaching provides a "third way" that views sexual intercourse as exclusive to heterosexual married couples as an expression of self-giving and openness to children.

In Wisconsin, Madison Bishop Robert Morlino called for "respect, love, and care for every individual we encounter," but also likened marriage to "the very first 'domino of civilization,' "one that when it falls, "everything that is good, true, and beautiful, which is rooted on the natural family, is seriously threatened."

Elsewhere in the state, Green Bay Bishop David Ricken told WBAY-TV he was disappointed in the ruling on same-sex marriage, "but I would really hate to come across in a way that would say we don't value every human being who has this particular attraction." He said moving forward, the church would "hold the line" on its teaching "but also remember we're all sinners" and offer mercy in helping all grow.

A statement from the bishops of Indiana and one from Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Mich., both began from a point of restating the dignity and value of every person. Before addressing church's teaching in light of the overturning of Oregon's same-sex marriage ban, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland devoted the first third of his response reaffirming the church's love for all people.

"In no way do we wish to add to any existing discrimination against those who identify as gay or lesbian," he said, admitting later that "perhaps we don't always do the best job" of stating teachings in a way that avoids disrespect or hostility.

While numerous statements expressed church teachings with "I believe" or "we believe" language, not all have taken the same pastoral approach. The statement from the Oregon Catholic Conference struck tones more common to the culture wars, calling the ruling "a travesty of justice" and "a sad day for democracy." In January, Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley said his state's ruling "is cause for great concern" and "thwarts the common good." In May, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said the striking down of the state's Defense of Marriage Act "is a mistake with long-term, negative consequences."

In a joint February letter, Virginia Bishops Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Paul Loverde of Arlington wrote that their state's overturned marriage ban "strikes a severe blow to the citizens of our Commonwealth. It undermines our right ... to define marriage, and, moreover, ignores the express will of the people."

In a separate June statement, Loverde wrote to support Cordileone after calls came for the San Francisco prelate to bypass the March for Marriage. Loverde praised Cordileone's response "to those who would silence him," saying his fellow bishop "is discharging faithfully his mandate ... despite worldly catcalls and criticism from some government officials."

A letter signed by 61 people, including California politicians and national LGBT advocates, expressed concerns about Cordileone and the church affiliating with groups like National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, which they view as denigrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Responding to that letter, Cordileone said he was "willing to meet personally with any of you not only to dialogue, but simply so that we can get to know each other."

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBT group Dignity USA and one of the letter's signers, told NCR she intended to take the archbishop up on his offer. "I think that is always productive. I do agree that getting to know one another, if nothing else, it humanizes us."

Other bishops also called for further dialogue among those engaged in the marriage debate, an approach that Julie Rubio, an associate theology professor at St. Louis University, welcomes.

"I think people are ready for a different conversation," she told NCR, pointing toward the positive reception of Pope Francis' style. Rubio is working on a book, Between the Personal and Political: Catholic Hope for Common Ground, expected out in 2015.

Where the bishops' discussion of marriage so far has been almost exclusively in terms of fighting same-sex marriage, Rubio sees others arenas to turn the discussion: issues of single-parent families, divorce, broken families, and the needs of children.

Turning the gaze away from federal courts and toward parishes and individual couples' struggles offers another starting point for strengthening marriage.

"Talk to married couples and talk to single parents, talk to younger people who are dating and thinking about marriage, and ask them what they need," she said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is]

A version of this story appeared in the July 4-17, 2014 print issue under the headline: Marchers, bishops push back on marriage.

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