Justice Samuel Alito concurred: "I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers and schools."
With the Supreme Court's sweeping legalization of same-sex marriage June 26, the church is facing a difficult road ahead -- a truth spelled out in the pointed remarks by the four dissenting justices in the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.
Wrote Chief Justice John Roberts: "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." Justice Samuel Alito concurred: "I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers and schools."
These concerns are shared deeply by many Catholics whose understanding of and belief in traditional marriage was the uncontested law of the land and culture a scant 15 years ago. But by reframing the legalization of same-sex marriage as a civil rights battle rather than one that redefines a millennia-old institution serving as the fundamental building block of society, advocates advanced their cause in remarkably rapid fashion and now have declared victory.
So what happens now? We offer five suggestions.
We need to pray. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a prayer to St. Thomas More, patron of religious freedom, which includes: "Give us the strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened; give us courage in making our voices heard on behalf of the rights of your church and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith." We can also petition St. Joseph and our Blessed Mother, and we should ask particularly for God's guidance in our conversations on this challenging topic.
We need to educate. One of the primary tasks facing Catholics will be to educate both ourselves and each other in what the church teaches and why. As USCCB President Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz wrote: "We have perhaps not done enough to teach the beauty of marriage and the purpose and inherent design of family life." We have an opportunity now to renew our own understanding of church teaching on the sacrament of marriage and to recommit ourselves to engaging in a pastoral education campaign that relates the beauty of this sacrament to others.
We need to be merciful. When it comes to same-sex marriage, tensions and emotions are high on all fronts. As Archbishop Kurtz says, we must remain firm in our beliefs, but also "speak and act with love." An attitude of charity, especially to individuals who struggle to accept the church's teaching on marriage, will most effectively project the message of Jesus.
We need to be prepared. As the dissenting justices indicated, the fundamental right to religious freedom for those unable to accept the redefinition of marriage slowly will be eroded. Lawsuits seeking religious protections will be considered guises for discrimination and will be fought at every turn. Catholics must be prepared for a difficult road ahead.
We need to remember that all is not lost. We are a people of hope, and the church has faced more difficult times than these. While praying, educating and advocating for the truth of Christ, we also must remember to take the long view. We may have suffered a setback in the battle for marriage, but Christ has already won the war. Now is the time to live faithfully and work together to witness Christ to the world.