Called to Be Faithful
The issue of marriage, and in particular “same-sex marriage,” continues to be one of the most debated societal issues in Maine. The issue, for many, is emotional, difficult to discuss, and at times contentious. Often included in that discussion is the question as to why the Catholic Church in Maine has chosen to play such a central role in the effort to launch a successful people’s veto of the recently enacted “same-sex marriage” law. We have received more mail, both electronic and otherwise, on this topic than any other in recent history, both in support and in opposition to our public stand. Allow me a few minutes to address you as Catholics and explain why we must stand publicly in defense of marriage.
For Catholics, marriage is a divinely established institution and holy sacrament that allows us to share and model God’s love for humanity, Christ’s love for His Church. We don’t seek in any way to coerce the public into accepting this faith principle. However, there are other good reasons to preserve traditional marriage that are not based exclusively on faith principles but can be understood through human reason alone. Throughout history, marriage as the union of one man and one woman has been the underpinning of societies. Marriage is the cherished place for the procreation of offspring, the transmittal of values and morals, and the balanced development of healthy children. Throughout history, there have been various examples of societies that have deviated from this norm, but those societies either perished or returned to tradition in time. There are many reasons why traditional marriage is so important to society, but chief among them is the fact that child rearing by both a male and a female role model provides children with an understanding and appreciation of the complementary roles played by both males and females in life. So called “same-sex marriage” can’t do that. Procreation isn’t biologically possible and despite the best of intentions, same-sex child rearing will always lack an essential ingredient, the benefit of an opposite sex role model.
Many ask why there isn’t room for both traditional marriage and “same-sex marriage”. Or they can’t see how legalizing “same-sex marriage” will have any impact on their marriage. Legalizing “same-sex marriage” has the power of casting into law the erroneous notion that “same-sex marriage” is one and the same as traditional marriage, just a different expression. That has profound legal impact on for all of us. First of all, calling “same-sex marriage” and traditional marriage the same doesn’t make them so. Secondly, legalizing “same-sex marriage” brings the influence and the force of law into play in many ways. Although churches may not be forced into performing “same-sex marriages,” they and the public will be forced into accepting them in multiple ways. For example, we will no longer be able to disqualify “same-sex marriages” from our group insurance benefits programs at Catholic Charities or at any of our Catholic hospitals. In Canada, there is a pending case whereby a minister was cited for preaching his faith’s teachings about homosexuality. Clearly, legalization of “same-sex marriage” will have chilling effects on life as we have known it.
This leads us to the big question: Why has the Catholic Church in Maine taken such a lead role in this public debate? The answer isn’t all that complicated if we turn to some rudimentary principles of Catholicism. We are called not only to know our Church’s teachings but to apply them to our daily private and public lives. We are called to transform the world, to bring reason and justice to it and to serve those most in need. Catholics do that in so many ways already by giving generously to the poor, speaking out for justice and compassion in our state legislature and in Congress, and bringing God’s mercy and forgiveness to those around us in our private lives.
Some challenges we face are more difficult than others. Some demand that we endure the criticism more than others, and some test our true commitment to our faith far more than others. The controversy over “same-sex marriage” and our commitment to preserving traditional marriage is a true test of our fidelity. Despite ongoing criticism and even some ridicule, despite the lack of support from some of the faithful, we must defend and preserve marriage for the good of society. If not us, who?
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
11th Bishop of Portland