Obergefell v. Hodges

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.

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters – the 30-day challenge (Meg Meeker)

When Dr. Meeker’s original book came out, I was elated. Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters is a gem. Dr. Meeker’s 30-day challenge is the practical component that helps fathers apply the principles she outlines in her original work. Until you read the 30-day challenge, you didn’t know you needed it. But on reading, you are so thankful that Dr. Meeker wrote the 30-day challenge to implement her original principles.

This book provides important reminders of the overall principles and enhances your understanding of them at the same time. Through her practical suggestions, Dr. Meeker gives fathers countless ideas of things to do to build their relationships with their daughters. Whether it is suggesting you make time for a date, or explaining how your daughter understands your comments about her appearance or intellect. Each of Dr. Meeker’s suggestions give you practical food for thought in building your relationship with your daughter.

Dr. Meeker’s consistent suggestion is to “Put it on your calendar.” So often our best plans get lost in the shuffle of daily life. Daughters do not need “quality time,” they simply need time with their fathers. And whether you are cooking together (Day 14) or praying with your daughter (Day 24), you need to make space in your life and your mind to devote to your daughter. So put it on your calendar.

This book makes the perfect Father’s Day present, along with Dr. Meeker’s first volume. Combining the theoretical with the practical is essential to understanding your daughter and improving your relationship with her. Even if you have a wonderful relationship, Dr. Meeker’s practical tips will give you ways to keep your relationship strong. Whatever your relationship, and whatever your daughter’s age, this book is a treasury of good tips and timeless wisdom.

Spiritual Fathers: A Workbook for Priests and Dads

This book is ideally meant for a men’s group at a parish or a group of priests who may want to meet and discuss. But although I didn’t read the book in a group setting, I can attest that it is a powerful, insightful, and useful book.

Deacon James Keating edited a wonderful series of reflections on what it means to be a spiritual father. I had the privilege of studying moral theology with Deacon Keating during my undergraduate days. His work on conscience and the moral life is a must-read for anyone struggling to understand the subject.

And Deacon Keating’s current work is similarly necessary for men struggling to find the way to live out their vocations as husbands and fathers. The clear message of the book is that whatever a man’s vocation is, he can fulfill it only by uniting himself more closely with Christ and imitating His virtues. Fathers–both natural and spiritual–can learn important lessons from each other and in a certain sense need the example of the other. “[I]n the depths of the call to be a priest and the call to be a father, two men meet at the cross of Christ. Here, their differences are united in the one call of Christ to allow Him to enter the soul and live His generous, self-donating love over again in the priest and in the husband and father.” (42)

Natural and spiritual fathers teach each other how to love. Priests and the Church, and married men and their wives, both model a fidelity that is helpful to the other. These complementary loves help priests and fathers to see the unique aspects of their own love and to deepen their own commitments. Priests teach fathers to have a deep relationship with God in prayer, and to dedicate themselves to service. Married men show priests the fruitful love brought about through a dedicated spousal love.

The priest and the married man show the world two dimensions of being a man in the world. Throughout the workbook, priests offer reflections on their own fathers, speaking to how their own vocations were influenced by the example of a faithful father. These fathers were men, certainly, but they ran their houses in a masculine way. They were spiritual leaders in the family, calling the family to prayer. They challenged their families to live more faithful Christian lives. They provided for their families and sacrificed to give their wives and children what they needed. Above all, they loved their children and developed strong bonds with them. As the priests’ stories show, solid relationships with their prayerful and faithful fathers taught them first how to be a man, and then to see the priesthood as a way to fulfill that manhood. Priests do not sacrifice their masculinity when they forgo marriage and family life. Rather, priests show other men in the parish and the world how a man can be radically conformed to Christ. And as Jesus was the fullest expression of manhood during his earthly life, so priests are called to become an alter Christus in their daily lives even away from the altar. Priests and fathers are men first, although they express that in markedly different ways. This book helps them find common ground and build each other up.

Although I did not use the book in the context of a group meeting or reflection, there is a great benefit to individual study as well. The short book–only 42 pages–is at the very least a pep talk to fathers who may not know how to lead their families or develop a basic spiritual life. The book will make you appreciate your parish priests more, and help you encourage them in their own vocations. We all need each others help, and this book is a good way to start a discussion about what men in the Church need from each other.

This review was written as part of the Catholic Company‘s Book Reviewer program. For a complimentary copy of the book, I was asked to write an unbiased review. For more information about Spiritual Fathers or the Catholic Company, please see the website.