By Donald Conroy
Our country has taken another step in the separation of church and state. We are reminded that marriage has a civic and a religious dimension, and the two are to be understood as separate. All citizens who qualify by age and citizenship have the civil right to the advantages of marriage. If there are any conditions that disqualify a person of this right, they must be addressed in this context.
The churches are now to emphasize and practice the choice to marry as a religious act, and not just a civic right. Catholics believe that marriage is a sacrament, a sacred symbol of their union in the Spirit of Christ. It is not only in itself a union of two persons, but also a sacred symbol of the Union of Christ and the People of God, the Church. With this decision of the court, each institution is prompted to focus on its own responsibility to its people. This is a good day.
The sacred symbol of marriage is the personal commitment of two people that is consummated in sexual intimacy. The stated purpose of marriage that is found in the encyclical "Casti Connubii" and repeated in "Humani Generis" is children and personal love. The experience of many Catholics in a same-sex committed union has been revealed over many years as sacred. We have been told over and over of the religious, sacred dimension of their relationship.
Today these couples have the civil right to marriage and all the corresponding advantages: visitation, inheritance, emergency admittance, joint real estate, etc. What is it that is missing from acceptance from religious institutions? Is it propagation? The sacred symbol is the personal commitment and union not the outcome. For many centuries our attention in marriage has been its place in our legal and political system. We have been very concerned with legitimacy and inheritance as well as property rights. One main reason for celibacy for clerics has been that any children born of clerics could not have a legitimate claim to property, church property in particular. That condition has no religious content.
The Supreme Court has confirmed the view of most citizens about the definition of the civil right to marry for all citizens. The next institution to hear from is the religious. Some have expressed their views that are inclusive of LGBT marriage and some have not. Those who have rejected same sex marriage are now called on to explain how it is that these committed relationships lack the dimension of the sacred.
See also the previous PCV post:
Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops' Response to the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling