by Father John Catoir
WHEN I ATTEMPTED to explain to my gay nephew, whom I love as a son, that the right to marry was not an absolute right for anyone, not even heterosexual Catholics in good standing, he was not impressed.
I told him that heterosexual men and women are not permitted to marry in the Catholic Church unless they intend a permanent, exclusive union. Couples who come to us do not get to set the terms of the marriage contract.
If they decide that they want to “marry,” but not for life, only for as long as the good feelings last, we send them away. If they want a union that is open to other partners, we do the same thing. Catholic marriages are meant to be exclusive unions between one man and one woman.
If Catholics of the same gender come to us to marry, we respect them, but we cannot marry them.
Under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, gay and lesbian men and women can claim equal rights under the law, but they cannot rewrite the law or the legal presumptions behind it.
Two things are in play: the rights of others, and the separation of church and state.
It must be understood that as soon as a person’s legal rights come into conflict with the legal rights of another or others, the matter must be adjudicated in a court of law and it could be up to the Supreme Court to decide, if necessary.
One example of something similar is the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They have the constitutional right of free speech and assembly, but it is not an absolute right. If they disturb the peace or misuse public property, which exists exclusively for the common good, they lose their license to assemble.
The marriage laws are equally complex. What is a gay marriage? Gays and lesbians differ in their beliefs. Some believe in the right to be polygamous; some demand the right to be promiscuous; some are committed to a lifelong relationship; some are not.
Marriage laws must be applied equally. All parties must accept the same definition of the marriage contract.
The U.S. is a democracy, and we the people have the right to oppose any law deemed to be unjust. In the U.S., majority rules, and the homosexual community will not advance its chances of gaining a majority vote to change the law by strident political tactics, which often alienate sympathetic observers.
Even if they won a majority vote, creating an amendment to allow gay marriage, there is still the issue of the separation between church and state.
A U.S. law can never be used to command religious institutions to change their laws, which they deem to be a divine precept: namely, the concept that marriage is a contract between one man and one woman.
As a practical matter, all I can do for my nephew and his long-standing partner, both of whom are good and decent human beings, is bless them and wish them good health, long life and much happiness.