After SCOTUS, Shifts to State Level Struggles Begin

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC

Catholic responses to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions around marriage equality continue from politicians, pundits, and parishioners alike. Celebrations remain fervent, but much of the commentary now speculates about the future of the marriage equality struggle focused at the state level.

Fr. Gary Meier, who recently ‘came out’ as an openly gay Catholic priest, has called on Catholics to celebrate these decisions (and more so, to celebrate the couples behind them) in The Huffington Post:

“Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has already begun to soften their position on same-sex unions…for hope’s sake, let’s celebrate. As Catholics, we can and ought to celebrate committed relationships of love between persons. We can and ought to celebrate life-giving relationships of love, physically, emotionally and spiritually between two people. And in the words of Cardinal Christopher Schonborn, we ought to ‘respect long-term, committed relationships between people of the same gender.’ “

U.S. bishops condemned rather than celebrated on Wednesday. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who heads up the US bishops’ committee on marriage legislation, and other diocesan officials released statements. Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported on the response of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These reactions wer expected, but the Supreme Court’s rulings are causing a rethink about why and how the Catholic hierarchy’s involvement will shift on marriage equality.

Scott Alessi at U.S. Catholic questions the bishops’ objections over the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 rulings as nonsensical given what was really at issue in the legal cases. When the bishops claim ‘the Court got it wrong,’ Alessi asks where exactly they erred:

“Though it is the bishops’ right, and even their duty, to proclaim the church’s teachings on marriage, religious beliefs cannot be the basis on which the Supreme Court makes a decision. In fact, the ‘truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman’ was not the question placed before the court at all.

“[United States v. Windsor] was a question of how the Constitution applies in a complex situation where the state and federal governments differ in their laws…that decision was reached without any consideration given to religious beliefs regarding marriage—just as the First Amendment’s establishment clause intended.”

Thomas Reese at the National Catholic Reporter predicts a de-centralizing effect will take place as emphasis shifts from a national campaign headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the USCCB to state-level efforts directed by local bishops. Reese breaks down three paths he sees as possible for these leaders:

“Bishops in states that have legalized gay marriage may conclude that it is politically impossible to reverse the decision in their states and therefore admit defeat and move on.

“Bishops in red states where gay marriage is not legal may judge the fight worth making because with other allies, they have a good chance of maintaining the status quo.

“The tough call will be for bishops in blue states, where polls show growing support for gay marriage. Here they must choose between fighting gay marriage or negotiating exemptions for the church as a price for their silence. No bishop wants to talk publicly about this on the national level, but in the back rooms of state legislatures, this may be the best deal that the bishops can get.”

Notably, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Catholic, cited the rulings as evidence his state must pursue equal marriage rights again after a failed attempt this spring, as reported at

” ‘Today the Supreme Court took a historic step by providing equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples. Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois…’

” ‘The opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens — under both state and federal law — is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay. Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen.’ “

The Supreme Court’s decisions are victories rightfully celebrated, but the state level struggles are just beginning as only 13 US states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out for Catholics, and Bondings 2.0 will update our readers with all the latest in these ongoing campaigns for legal LGBT equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

4 replies
  1. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    The bishops can proclaim the church teaching on marriage. That is all well and good. However, Catholics have had years of being Catholic in a secular world, where good people have complex lives. I have a devout Catholic aunt who was divorced (a good call) in the 60’s. Some Catholics persecuted her, some embraced her in loving support. I have a 85 year old aunt who is a nun. She taught calculus and physics in a Catholic high school for over 50 years for almost no pay. Recently, she was called a “radical feminist” (what?!) by Pope Benedict and many bishops. She has been condescended to by many in the church hierarchy. Yet she lives a devout life of service to the church and to her students. She knows that it is her obligation as a Catholic to serve, and she does this with good cheer and love. Most American Catholics know in their hearts that our gay brothers and sisters deserve full equality and full participation in all sacraments, including matrimony. We know that it is our obligation as Catholics to embrace gay couples just as we do straight couples, and to include them in our faith community. The Holy Spirit has made most of the faithful 100% sure that we must extend our hands in love to all Catholics, gay and straight. We know this is what we are called to do. And no bishop, no Pope, no one, can ask us to embrace prejudice or injustice as a tenet of faith. We must follow our consciences, and we shall. In this spirit of inclusion and love, I celebrate the recent supreme court decisions.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    Annette, I believe you meant “tenet of faith”, rather than “tenant of faith” — unless you’re paying monthly rent to the Landlord of the Church in order to remain a practicing Catholic! See here: . Perhaps our weekly cash contributions qualify us as “tenants” of our faith? Apart from that , I heartily agree with virtually everything you wrote in your post.


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