Given that interested parties have had weeks to prepare alternate press releases on the fate of California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state, I'm a little surprised–even a little disturbed–by the silence emanating from most Catholic quarters in the wake of yesterday's news. The USCCB website has a short press release that features conference president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago denouncing the ruling, seconded by Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.
Judge Vaughn Walker's lengthy decision unloads with all barrels, finding in favor of same-sex couples on both equal protection and due process grounds, arguing that marriage is a fundamental right and that homosexual people make up a "suspect class" that has suffered discrimination. Absent any compelling state interest–and Walker finds none–all that is left to thwart gay marriage is personal morality and "tradition," which Walker finds rationally insufficient to discriminate against same-sex couples.
There can be little doubt that Walker's argument will eventually win the day–whether you agree with his reasoning or not–though the current Supreme Court may not follow him. It is practically unimaginable that 50 years from now this matter will have long been decided in favor of gay marriage.
And so what are the bishops and others who oppose civil same-sex marriage to do? One option is to protest until hoarse, but given the drift of public opinion and the lack of evidence from Massachusetts or anywhere else that same-sex marriage is somehow damaging to society, that course is not likely to have any effect in the civic arena.
There is also another problem: Put simply, the way people are creating families is changing, as our September cover story ("First comes love…") notes. The church may hammer away against sex and children outside of marriage, against divorce and remarriage, and against same-sex relationships, but there is a strong an unmistakable drift away from what we have come to think of as the "traditional" family–and those families will have a hard time feeling at home in a church constantly pointing out their shortcomings, church teaching-wise.
Is it possible for Catholics to have a conversation about families in all their forms (without collapsing into name-calling)? I have written three columns in the magazine over the past few years raising those questions: "Extending family" about the many kinds of Catholic families, "Marriage of convenience" about couples that don't follow the traditional path to the altar, and "Mind the gap" about same-sex couples, their children, and church teaching.
I don't expect these next few years to be very easy, inside or outside the church. But am I foolish to hope that at the end of it, a little charity, creativity, and grace might bring us safely to the other side?