The Joint Defense of Marriage and Democracy

Wedding RingsLast November, Bishop Sal Cordileone, the youthful and talented bishop of Oakland, California, was appointed to head the U.S. Bishops efforts to defend marriage. While an auxiliary bishop in San Diego, he had led the efforts of the Catholic Church in California to pass Proposition 8, which defined that the only marriage that would be considered valid in state law would be between a man and a woman. Upon his nomination to head the Church’s national efforts, he forcefully restated his and the Church’s conviction that marriage is the “most vital and defining issue of our day.”

“Marriage and the family,” he affirmed, “are the essential coordinates for society. How well we as a society protect and promote marriage and the family is the measure of how well we stand for the inviolable dignity and good of every individual in our society, without exception. The consequences for our future — especially that of our nation’s children — cannot be greater and must not be ignored.”

This connection between the future of marriage and the future of our country he elucidated in a powerful article entitled “Future Prospects of Marriage, Democracy Go Hand-in-Hand” in the March 7 edition of “The Catholic Voice,” the Catholic Newspaper of the Diocese of Oakland. In it he described several of the most salient “ironies” as examples illustrating how the means of those pushing for the redefinition of marriage are not only undermining the foundations for marriage and the raising of children but are enfeebling the foundational structures of our democracy as a whole.

The first irony is how political leaders who once employed the “shibboleth” that they wouldn’t “force” their personal beliefs on others are now doing just that with respect to the redefinition of marriage. He noted how newly-elected California Governor Jerry Brown of California, while attorney general two years ago, refused to defend California law concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8 because he was “personally opposed” to it. Bishop Cordileone noted: “After decades of hearing Catholic legislators … claim that they could not let their personal views on a public issue (in this case, abortion) influence their public role, we now have the chief law enforcer in the state doing exactly that.” While Catholics like Brown claimed that it was not fair to use the democratic processes of the legislature to foster a culture of life, they now claim that personal belief is sufficient justification totally to avoid even more serious responsibilities. Pushing a gay agenda, in other words, is a more important value than keeping their oaths to uphold their state constitutions and enforce state laws.

The next irony he mentioned is how political leaders, while claiming that they’re advancing the putative “rights” of people of the same-sex to marry, do not hesitate to suppress the rights of other citizens who do not want to see the legal and cultural definition of marriage dismantled. He cited what has recently happened in the District of Columbia, where the City Council passed an ordinance allowing same-sex marriage. Local citizens began to organize a referendum drive so that on something so fundamental the citizens could decide for themselves at the polls. But the City Council, with Machiavellian maneuvering, has so far triumphed in not allowing the question to get to the ballot. Bishop Cordileone observed that this shows how “a small group of political elites … in a claim to expand rights, deny one of the most fundamental rights in a constitutional democracy — the right to vote — to the masses.”

Several other ironies have recently been evinced by President Obama and his administration. The first is that, in order to push for the “constitutional right” for those who are gay to marry, the President needed to disparage the institution of marriage, the Constitution and all those who overwhelmingly supported the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). “In an egregious violation of separation of powers,” Bishop Cordileone wrote, the President of the United States has ordered the Department of Justice not to defend” DOMA. “Obama claimed to do so on the basis that it discriminates against a sexual minority, and is unconstitutional and irrational.” Pushing the redefinition of marriage, in other words, required the President to claim that the founding fathers, not to mention President Clinton and all those in both parties who supported DOMA in 1996 were acting unconstitutionally and irrationally. Supporting the so-called right of those of the same-sex marriage has changed overnight from being literally unthinkable and obviously constitutionally unsupported to the only rational and constitutionally supportable position, both retrospectively and prospectively.

An added irony is that up until a couple of years ago, Barack Obama himself was as “irrational” and constitutionally ungrounded on the issue as almost everyone else. For a man whose curriculum vitae says that he taught Constitutional Law, for him to have “irrationally” supported the traditional and “unconstitutional” definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is particularly incongruous. “During the presidential campaign,” Bishop Cordileone commented, “Obama stated that he favored preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In a change of course, he more recently had said he favors the repeal of DOMA, but asserts it should be done through the legislative process, not the courts. Now, he has taken an action that does exactly that, i.e., repeals DOMA by the decision of a federal court judge.” Pushing the redefinition of marriage, in other words, has brought the President to abandon the ideas and principles he taught in the classroom, trumpeted on the campaign, and apparently once firmly believed.

The “most disturbing” irony of all, however, is that to push same-sex marriage, the President has sought to ignore not just what the Constitution powerfully does not say about same-sex marriage but also what it does say about the separation of powers, one of the most important foundations of our structure of government. He did this — as our March 4 editorial noted — by seeking to usurp for the executive branch the power of determining the constitutionality of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by his predecessors. It is “not the role of the executive branch to decide which laws are unconstitutional,” the Bishop of Oakland stressed, repeating a point that elementary school social studies student learns. “That is the exclusive purview of the courts. The job of the executive branch is to administer and defend the law of the land. That is why this latest decision of our president is an egregious violation of the separation of powers.”

Reviewing all of the “ironies” — which in context is clearly euphemism for instances of hypocrisy — Bishop Cordileone concluded: “The fact of the matter is, wherever ‘gay marriage’ has become the law of the land, it has happened in a way that avoids the democratic process, and sometimes even goes directly against it. On the other hand, whenever the people have had the chance to vote on marriage, they have consistently affirmed it. And this, despite the proponents being outspent (sometimes by huge margins), facing opposition from the cultural elites and enduring strong media bias.”

The stakes of the marriage debate clearly go beyond marriage to the future of democracy, he asserted. “Regardless of one’s position on the marriage issue, these and so many other moves by our public officials should give cause for concern about the fate of democracy in our country.” The actions of those pushing for the redefinition of marriage put “the future prospects of our democracy at stake.” He cites President Abraham Lincoln who reminded us all that the “great task remaining before us” is that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It’s time for all those who care about our country to note the “ironies” that Bishop Cordileone points out and how they are undermining not just marriage but the foundational principles and workings of our form of government. Then, conscious of the stakes, it’s time for us to get involved personally in ensuring that that government of, by and for the people is appreciated, defended, endures and thrives once again.

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About the Author

Father Roger Landry

Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. He is the former pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, Massachusetts and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

After receiving a biology degree from Harvard College, he studied for the priesthood in Maryland, Toronto and for several years in Rome. After being ordained a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Fall River by Bishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. on June 26, 1999, he returned to Rome to complete graduate work in Moral Theology and Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family.

Fr. Landry writes for many Catholic publications, including a weekly column for The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, for which he was the executive editor and editorial writer from 2005-2012. He regularly leads pilgrimages to Rome, the Holy Land, Christian Europe and other sacred destinations and preaches several retreats a year for priests, seminarians, religious and lay faithful. He speaks widely on the thought of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, especially John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He was an on-site commentator for EWTN’s coverage of the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis, appears often on various Catholic radio programs, and is national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA.

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