In reflective (not reflexive) response to President Obama’s recent statement this past week on affirming gay marriage rights, there is much to think about. This is, indeed, THE topic of religion and politics today.
Stated eloquently by Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. in the The dignity and sacredness of marriage of a man and a woman, there are two challenges to this issue. To sum them up less eloquently: the first being the support and maintenance of educational programs in local parishes to clear up misunderstandings about this issue; to uphold marriage as a sacrament. The second, to abolish all hate for homosexuals.
To address the second challenge first, absolutely – the hate shown for those who identify as being gay is as disgraceful and meaningless as it is un-Christian. There should never have been a time when homosexuals were hated, bullied, or robbed of their rights. We are all people and should be treated as such. This should have never been in question, but let us be reminded once again.
Addressing the first, there are naturally some misunderstandings here. Yes, marriage was, and is, a sacrament, meaning that it is a holy tradition belonging to the church. A union between one man and one woman, in front of God, as we have heard many times. Even so, the idea of marriage has been adopted by our culture quite lovingly, so it is not surprising that we would want to adopt it fully and therefore change it to what we believe to be relevant in our day. However, we must understand that there are complications involved that are not just lawful, but also spiritual. Insisting that it be re-defined according to different standards is a bit like dismissing the Church of their rights to have the sacrament remain.
One might compare it to someone desiring a Bar Mitzvah, claiming it is “agist”, and fighting to re-define the age limits before and beyond 13. To do so would be to impose current belief on the Jewish tradition that has remained sacred according to that particular faith, and quite frankly, has a specific purpose. In the case of a Bar Mitzvah in Judaism, a rite of passage and transition from childhood to adulthood. For Marriage in Christianity, to unite one man and one woman to become a family.
Marriage has always been a lawful and spiritual union. If the government wishes to make a stance, this counts for one of the two components needed to change the definition. The second, represented by the church, is in disagreement. And here we have our stand-still.
To be clear, the church remains firm with her stance on even some heterosexual unions. If a straight couple desires a marriage, they are asked to do it within a church (acknowledging both the lawful and spiritual components).
If church and religion is a private matter, as Obama alludes to in previous commentary, why publicly re-define a religious sacrament? Let alone attempt to pinpoint that the law is the only system that matters to re-define something that was originally, and still is, a matter of the church as well.
In essence, the argument stands: to insist that marriage remains a union between one man and one woman is not sexist, exclusive, or robbing anyone of rights. It is simply asking to keep the definition the same as it has been. This does not mean that Catholics dislike gays, or that they are behind the times. On the contrary, the church is quite aware of this issue and continues to discuss ways in which this can be better acknowledged and treated. Questions as to why same-sex marriages are not permitted by the church is a great critical question. Directing these questions to discussion would often times be helpful, instead of assuming that the reasons are oppressive. Looking toward legitimate sources and informed opinions is important in such a theological and political debate.
In essence, the church only intends to preserve their tradition. There are other options for same-sex couples, such as a civil union. This may be a choice available which allows unions to be recognized by law. This doesn’t mean that homosexuals are not allowed in a church. Like anyone else, they should be welcomed with open arms.
As we continue to discuss this very controversial issue, recognizing that many may feel unjust and out of date, recognizing that this is not just a matter of law, it is also a matter of faith. Both of which are current and relevant, despite popular belief.