The reaction of the Catholic hierarchy to the news yesterday that a federal court has declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional has been, predictably, negative. After all, the hierarchy, aided by over a million dollars from the Knights of Columbus, worked so furiously to get Proposition 8’s constitutional ban against marriage equality passed into law.
Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference, and auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles, issued a response yesterday which included the following:
“We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union. However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been—and always will be—the most basic building block of the family and of our society.”
But a reaction from an usher at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles may indicate better where Catholics in the pew stand on this issue–even those who initially voted for Proposition 8. Ruben Garcia is quoted on the public radio website, spcr.org:
” ‘As a parishioner and a Catholic and a married man, I do believe in the sanctity of marriage,’ Garcia said, ‘and I do believe that it should be between a man and a woman, but I’m torn because I also believe in the separation of church and state.’ “
Cathy Lynn Grossman, religion editor at USA Today, posted a story on their website that contains a variety of religious reactions to yesterday’s court decision, including that of Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called the ruling a “grave injustice.”
The possibility that this ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court would put the fate of marriage equality into the hands of Catholics, who currently make up a six-person majority on the Court (Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor). Though many of the news reports on the decision made it seem like a U.S. Supreme Court case on the matter is likely, Adam Nagourney’s article in The New York Times was more cautionary in outlook:
“Both sides in the case made clear that they intended to take the case before the Supreme Court in hopes of prompting it to settle once and for all an issue that has been fought out in courts, legislatures and ballot boxes since at least a 1971 case in Minnesota. That said, there is no guarantee the court will take it. The narrow parameters of the ruling’s reasoning — and the fact that it was written to apply only to California — may prompt the court to wait for a clearer dispute before weighing in.”
Though this case temporarily provides a victory for the marriage equality movement in California, there is still work of reconciliation work to be done in the Catholic Church there. In a post two weeks ago, I mentioned that a California friend told me that the hierarchy’s heavily funded campaign to pass Proposition 8 has had a harmful effect on the pastoral life of LGBT Catholics and their allies in California. Many have become alienated from the church and left it because of the vociferous anti-gay nature of the campaign and its rhetoric. While the hierarchy has been focused on the political nature of the marriage debate, it’s time that they started to look at the pastoral component of it, too, and begin the much needed work of reconciliation–for the good of the entire church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry