Obergefell v. Hodges

28 Jun

Supreme Court Preview

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges–redefining “marriage” as a union between two people, regardless of gender–is one more step in the natural progression of our culture. We’ve been on the decline for a while now. But what was so unnerving about the Obergefell decision was the majority’s willingness to abandon any pretense of constitutional analysis in favor of reaching the end they desired and saw as inevitable. What is more, the majority does not even apologize  for their failure to provide a single, cogent reason for their decision. Perhaps they didn’t care. Or, perhaps, they have become so blinded to the Constitution as a result of the incessant call for “equality” and “justice.” As Chief Justice Roberts so accurately stated:

If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Whatever the majority’s motivation for issuing the “opinion” they did, it is now the settled law of our land that every state must recognize a same-sex union as a “marriage.” No more debate; no more votes. Maybe. We have no choice but to accept the decision for what it is, but we do not need to accept–indeed, cannot accept–the flawed underlying premises. Justice Kennedy’s attempt to make “liberty” a license to do anything collapses under the weight he asks it to bear. Justice Kennedy’s liberty knows no bounds, as he made clear decades ago in the “sweet mystery of life” passage in Casey:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). With this foundation, liberty can mean anything you want. And to the unthinking observer, arguing against such a lofty concept as liberty seems indefensible.

But as Justice Thomas noted in dissent, the original concept of “liberty” was a negative one: the freedom from government intervention. Once “liberty” becomes the basis for positive rights (or governmental benefits and privileges), it risks becoming a concept so broad that it is rendered meaningless. Justice Scalia had criticized Justice Kennedy’s inchoate use of “liberty” in the 2003 decision, Lawrence v. Texas:

 I have never heard of a law that attempted to restrict one’s “right to define” certain concepts; and if the passage calls into question the government’s power to regulate actions based onone’s self-defined “concept of existence, etc.,” it is the passage that ate the rule of law.

A mere twelve years later, Justice Kennedy is at it again, exalting liberty as one’s right “to define and express their identity.” From that unprincipled starting point, Kennedy goes on to overlook two millennia of precedent for traditional marriage and to find four new principles that, in the majority’s mind, justifies the expansion of “marriage” to same-sex unions.

I’ll spare you the details of Justice Kennedy’s explanation, which reads like a high-school sophomore’s extemporaneous essay. What I want to point you to is Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent. Although all four dissents highlight different errors in the majority’s reasoning (yes, it pains me to dignify it that way), Chief Justice Roberts offers a chilling prediction for the future of believers in America (emphasis mine):

Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights. They have constitutional power only to resolve concrete cases or controversies; they do not have the flexibility of legislatures to address concerns of parties not before the court or to anticipate problems that may arise from the exercise of a new right. Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. Amdt. 1.

Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage.  Ante, at 27. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 36–38. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same-sex marriage.  Ante, at 19. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n] or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples.  Ante, at 19.  The majority reiterates such characterizations over and over. By the majority’s account, Americans who did nothing more than follow the understanding of marriage that has existed for our entire history—in particular, the tens of millions of people who voted to reaffirm their States’ enduring definition of marriage—have acted to “lock . . . out,” “disparage,” “disrespect and subordinate,” and inflict “[d]ignitary wounds” upon their gay and lesbian neighbors.  Ante, at 17, 19, 22, 25. These apparent assaults on the character of fairminded people will have an effect, in society and in court. See post, at 6–7 (Alito, J., dissenting). Moreover, they are entirely gratuitous. It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.

Time will tell just how correct Chief Justice Roberts is in his prediction. But it is only a matter of time. The persecution of those who do not kowtow to the new social order can expect to face some consequences.

But that does not mean that we are to shut our doors and hide behind some protective barrier, assuming we could even find one. It is not time to be a huddled remnant. It is, however, time to come together as a community of believers, to deepen our commitment to the faith and its moral order, and to resolve here and now to be saints. This is the time we have been given and we should all be hearing the call to use the gifts God gave us to help transform the society in which we live.

Tweeting with God (Fr. Michel Remery)

14 May image

Fr. Remery’s book, Tweeting with God, was a pleasantly surprising addition to the already vast offering of catechetical works we have in the Church. Father’s approach–short answers to common questions regarding the faith and its relation to modern life. I did not expect much from the book. I thought it was going to be a superficial explanation of important questions. It was, however, an intelligent and engaging discussion of important issues.

Father addresses head on difficult questions such as euthanasia, abortion, and other life and morality issues. At the same time, he delves into a variety of interesting biblical (“What is the structure of the Old Testament?”), doctrinal (“Is Jesus really present in the Eucharist?”), and historical questions (“Why was the Church so cruel to Native Americans?”). This wide-ranging approach does not come across as a scattershot approach to catechetics, but as an attempt at a comprehensive discussion of the burning questions that today’s faithful have about the Church and its teaching.

The book is divided into several topical sections:

Part One: The nature of God
Part Two: The Church
Part Three: Prayer and Sacraments
Part Four: Faith and Ethics

These four sections logically divide the various discussions and often mirror the Catechism’s structure as well. The structure of Father’s presentation results in a readable and engaging discussion of the many topics in the book.

Tweeting with God is a modern approach to difficult and complex catechetical questions and, in that way, is an ideal gift for a young person seeking to know more about the Faith. Although the content is appropriate for all ages, Fr. Remery’s approach would appeal specifically to high-school and college students seeking to learn more about core Catholic teachings. Indeed, it could be used as a textbook for youth groups and as a supplement to parish religious education classes.

The best aspect of Tweeting with God, for me, is its wealth of citations in each section. Not only does each section provide cross-references to other relevant sections, the book references the Catechism, the YouCat, and other works for readers who seek a fuller explanation of the topics discussed. Readers can explore the book’s topics in as much depth as their time and interest allows.

I highly recommend this book, particularly for youth groups or those looking for gift ideas this Confirmation season.

This review provides an honest discussion of the book. In return for this review, the author received a complimentary review copy of the book. 

First Comes Love (Scott Hahn)

2 May

If, as Aristotle says, the family is the basic unit of society and the primary association of human beings, the Trinity is the basic relationship underlying all of creation. It is the relationship between the human family and the Trinity that Scott Hahn explores in this important work, First Comes Love. Hahn uses relationships we know well–those of parents and children, brothers and sisters, extended family relationships–to explore the nature of the Trinity in a way that makes this very enigmatic doctrine accessible to everyone. At its heart, Hahn’s book explores John Paul II’s statement: “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”

Roughly the first half of Hahn’s book discusses family relationships and how those relationships mirror the perfect relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Beginning with Genesis and moving through the Old Testament covenants, Hahn first describes the divine sonship bestowed upon Adam during creation. Then, tracking a cycle of disobedience, rejection, reconciliation, and covenant, Hahn outlines the many covenants God has offered to man. Each covenant, though different in its manifestation, is a manifestation of God’s total, self-giving love. That is the nature of a covenant: a giving of one’s person to another. These covenants are the signposts of creation, directing man to more intimate union with his creator. In Adam, “[t]he price for securing divine glory was set ‘in the beginning,’ and it was no less than total, life-giving love.” In the last covenant, where God offers His own Son, “Man, in Jesus Christ, would offer himself completely to God in life-giving love, in sacrifice.”

For us, the self-giving love of the covenant is exemplified in our quotidian tasks and responsibilities in family life. These are the opportunities we’ve been given to live out our vocations in service to one another. They are both the most obvious opportunities–coming to us each day in our own homes–but they are the most important as well–solidifying and deepening our most important human relationships. Using these opportunities to sanctify ourselves and our family life is to embrace our vocation of service to our families more fully. As one saint recently said:

For a Christian marriage is not just a social institution, much less a mere remedy for human weakness. It is a real supernatural calling. A great sacrament, in Christ and in the Church, says St Paul. At the same time, it is a permanent contract between a man and a woman. Whether we like it or not, the sacrament of matrimony, instituted by Christ, cannot be dissolved. It is a permanent contract that sanctifies in cooperation with Jesus Christ. He fills the souls of husband and wife and invites them to follow him. He transforms their whole married life into an occasion for God’s presence on earth.

Husband and wife are called to sanctify their married life and to sanctify themselves in it. It would be a serious mistake if they were to exclude family life from their spiritual development. The marriage union, the care and education of children, the effort to provide for the needs of the family as well as for its security and development, the relationships with other persons who make up the community, all these are among the ordinary human situations that christian couples are called upon to sanctify.
St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 23.

Hahn discusses various forms of families that have existed throughout human history, and how we can make our own family lives reflect the Trinity and the love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what I found more compelling is Hahn’s discussion of our individual responses to God’s call to divine filiation and entering the very life of God.

Hahn describes the process of vocation, probation, and oblation, corresponding to God’s call, our response, and our offering of ourselves. In other words, Hahn describes the need for self-identification first, to understand who we are in the midst of God’s creation. Then, further knowledge and development in virtue leads to self-mastery in imitation of Christ (“we cannot offer to God what we have not first conquered. We cannot give away what we do not first possess.”). Once we can control ourselves, we are then able to give ourselves away in acts of self-sacrifice (“This is when we become what we were made to become, when we fulfill our created purpose, when we shine forth the divine image.”). It is there that we become who we truly are. Just as Christ’s mission and very being were caught up in self-sacrifice, so too are we called to sacrificial love for the sake of another. Once we reach that point–after knowing ourselves and conquering our passions–we can truly enter the life of God by acting as He acts.

As Hahn notes, we could not have a better model for this than Mary, whose sacrificial love made the Incarnation possible. Mary’s response to God’s call, and her constant giving of herself throughout her life, made her not only the preeminent disciple, but an enduring model of faithfulness to God’s call. May we, like Mary, enter into the very life of the Trinity by saying “Yes,” by giving of ourselves in service to others and in the hope of God’s Kingdom.


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