The California Supreme Court supremely violated the will of the people of that state when it overturned California’s eight-year-old Defense of Marriage Act. The court declared that homosexuals have a right to marry the person of their choice.
The Catholic governor of California supported this ruling, as did several other prominent, publicly Catholic Californians. The court went on to grind salt into the wound by denying all motions to stay the ruling until October when the voters would have a chance to — once again — vote on the issue.
Leave aside for the moment the blow this event portends for the democratic process. Instead, examine the trickle-down effect: Children in California schools, from kindergarten through graduation, will be captive victims of homosexuality portrayed as a healthy, viable, and legal lifestyle choice. Parents and students who object to reading King and King (wherein the prince, not caring for princesses, marries another prince) will be penalized. Because it is now enshrined in law, if you object, you are the party out of step, beyond the bounds of new community standards.
Many sincere Catholics might hope to move their children out of public schools, if they can afford private school tuition. It is unclear just what the new legal requirements may be for religious schools (though test cases are sure to come). But we already know that California homeschooling families could face criminal charges after a District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles decreed that only certified teachers can teach homeschooled students.
What we see clearly is that people whose faith informs their morals are now squeezed between the walls of a social-political vise. The attack on marriage puts our civilization in crisis for believers and non-believers alike.
But the response from some Catholics so far has been tepid. Take the following statement released by the California Catholic Conference:
Although we strongly disagree with the ruling, we ask our Catholic people, as well as all the people of California, to continue to uphold the dignity of every person, to acknowledge individual rights and responsibilities, and to maintain support for the unique and irreplaceable role of traditional marriage as an institution which is fundamental to society.
“Maintain support” for traditional marriage? Catholic support requires more episcopal muscle than the release of a mild statement. Because the Church is “the universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium), our shepherds should be mobilizing Catholics to fight back. Every Catholic priest, religious, businessman, teacher, doctor, banker, grocer, landlord, professor, and college student should be sent out with a mandate to fight for marriage.
Others did send public and sober warnings. Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Diocese of Orlando wrote,
In redefining the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex unions, the proponents of “gay marriage” are in effect imposing their views and lifestyle on the larger populace, and once legal the state’s coercive power will punish those who refuse to embrace gay marriages. For example, public officials, regardless of their views on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts, will be obliged to officiate at same-sex “weddings.” Public schools will be required to teach their acceptability to children whether parents concur or not. Even First Amendment freedoms will not be protected from assault.
We have become a flaccid people. Catholics hesitate to speak out forcefully for the basics of societal morality. We do not wish to be labeled bigots or dismissed as intolerant. We fear social and professional opprobrium. Our goal is to preserve our comfortable lives rather than take on the challenge of gospel fidelity. We have forgotten that piety is not a feeling, but the determination to serve God despite the hardships that service might encounter.
In short, we are guilty of sins of omission.
Few shepherds teach us that we have been called to this nation at this moment in history for a reason. “A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle” (Christifideles Laici).
Thousands of Catholics will rally when visible leaders send them forth. When I speak at Catholic conferences, well-meaning people assure me that because the culture is debauched, “God will surely understand why so many have gone astray.” Perhaps. These Catholics are devoted enough to come to conferences, but have stopped short of venturing out of their comfort zones and into the culture as agents of God’s grace.
Some protest that “we aren’t responsible for what these politicians and judges do.” But Deuteronomy 16 paints a different picture: In an outline of how the Children of God are to possess the land, they are told to appoint good judges and civil leaders and not to “pervert justice.” Because we live in liberty, where we can freely choose our leadership, we have an identical responsibility to select moral leadership. We are a representative democracy — that is, our leaders are ours by choice. Thus, for Catholic Americans to choose leaders who bow to perversion is a grievous sin. Those who fail to work against evil leadership are also guilty by omission.
Thoughtful Catholics wrestle key moral issues each time an election cycle is upon us. But there are clear lines of demarcation; there are first principles. A faithful Christian cannot ignore the fact that natural marriage and the right to life are the twin pillars upon which all other societal goods are built. A presidential candidate who celebrates gay unions and refuses to defend natural marriage, but who champions the right to abort, is not our candidate.