The quality of a civilization may be measured both by the complexity of its ingredients and by the harmony of their order. The more diverse elements it succeeds in integrating within a harmonious and unified balance, the greater its potential and, usually, its achievements are.Yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has yielded simultaneously great rejoicing from some, much hand-wringing from others. From Twitter to Facebook, blogs to news sites, the Court's actions were debated and discussed, celebrated and denounced. Mike Huckabee tweeted that "Jesus Wept" and the USCCB called it a "tragic day for marriage and our nation." The New Ways Ministry website likens the experience to "justice rolling down like a river," washing away what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to in March as "skim-milk marriage."
~ Louis Dupré, Passage to Modernity, 29
I find the above quote from Louis Dupré particularly helpful this morning as I reflect on yesterday's events. For, to my mind, a new question begins to emerge and demand response: if gay marriages are considered equal and of the same standing as heterosexual marriages, will this contribute to or detract from the harmony of society? Can this so-called marriage equality contribute to unification or will it result in further fracturing?
In their press release, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rightly stresses "the common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. These decisions are part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance."
Yesterday's SCOTUS decision is hardly the final word on the issue of marriage. As the USCCB asserts, it is "part of a public debate of great consequence." Indeed, it may be better to see these decisions less as offering the definitive word on marriage than on opening up a space for new words to spoken. The words to be spoken can come only through the lived witness of same-sex couples living lives of love and commitment that contribute to, rather than detract from, the common good of our nation.
Pope Francis has managed in three months to capture the attention of a skeptical world and an increasingly jaded flock. The credibility of his words arises from his actions and it's hard to deny that the Holy Father is active. His is a faith that works, his works are born of faith.
In the months and years ahead, a great burden will continue to be shouldered by those same-sex couples in the United States willing to commit themselves to one another. Great attention will be focused upon them and many Christian communities will remain skeptical of their relationships' ability to witness to the values of God's Kingdom. Gay and Lesbian Christians must now accept the shadow of the Cross falling long upon them. Many will deny that God's Spirit can be active in their commitments. It is only through the testimony of their lives, the witness of fidelity and love, that they have any chance in changing the hearts and minds of others.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the Pharisee Gamaliel offered the following counsel concerning the nascent movement growing around the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead:
"...in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God." (Acts 5:38-39).I accept that, whether we like it or not as a faith community, a new path has been opened up to citizens of our nation. My prayer is that marriage will continue to be the glue that holds the fundamental unit of our society together: the family. Whether same-sex couples can contribute to the common good in and through their witness of socially sanction and legally protected fidelity, we must wait and see. We must, all of us, keep our hearts and eyes and ears open so that if we begin to see the movement of God's Spirit, we can respond with joy and gratitude. Should the trace of God's life not be found, should only greater disharmony and rancor reign, we will find confirmation of our received Tradition's wisdom.