What’s next for Catholics after the same-sex marriage ruling?


The long-awaited ruling on marriage from the Supreme Court is finally here. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land—no more state bans, no more legislative battles, no more voter referendums. The highest court in the land has made a definitive ruling on the issue. So now what?

The Catholic Church has been one of the most outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage in recent years and various Catholic groups have devoted a great deal of time and money to fighting against efforts to recognize civil marriages for same-sex couples. But now that fight is over, and the church is on the losing side. As former U.S. Catholic editor Elizabeth Lefebvre wrote in a blog post just over a year ago, this wasn’t unexpected. The question is whether the church will be able to accept such a decision, “To basically say: We don’t think this is the right way to go, but we accept that the courts say this is legal and that this here to stay. Instead of reacting by declaring court decisions mistakes and travesties of justice.”

So how did the bishops actually choose to respond? Essentially, they called the decision a mistake and a travesty of justice. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Joseph Kurtz wrote in a statement this morning:

“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”

There is no reason to think the bishops would ever celebrate this decision. But what good will it do for them to condemn the Supreme Court and try to continue the fight?

Many Catholics have already come to terms with the reality of same-sex marriage. Many have friends, family members, neighbors, or coworkers who are in same-sex relationships. Many same-sex couples are themselves members of the Catholic Church. They are in our pews every Sunday. I think it is safe to say that these Catholics are going to have a vastly different response to the Supreme Court’s decision than the bishops.

So how should the church, and the Catholic community as a whole, respond? We could begin by talking about what marriage means to us, and to reflect on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s statement in the court’s majority opinion that “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.” We can talk about the dignity of same-sex couples and how we can treat them with respect. We can talk about the differences between sacramental marriage and the civil rights now afforded to same-sex couples. We can talk about how we may move forward as a church and society by respecting the laws of the land and the different viewpoints of people in our communities and in our own church.

But in order to do any of this, we must first stop fighting. The legal battle is over. Rather than beginning new efforts to overturn the court’s decision, Catholics need to begin a different kind of conversation about the new reality in which we live.

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About the author

Scott Alessi

Scott Alessi is a former managing editor of U.S. Catholic.