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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Voters Approve Same Sex Marriage in Three States

With a 52 percent to 48 percent decision Nov. 6, voters upheld a law permitting same-sex marriage in the state of Washington, a law Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle said “is not in the best interest of children or society.”

In the balloting Nov. 6, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first three states in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote rather than legislative or court action.

Voters in Washington and Maryland upheld laws favoring same-sex marriage approved earlier this year, but subsequently brought by voters to the ballot box.

In Maine, on the other hand, this fall’s referendum reversed a 2009 ballot-box decision to ban same-sex marriage.

Voters in a fourth state, Minnesota, rejected a proposed constitutional amendment Nov. 6 to define marriage as the union only of one man and one woman. The amendment’s outcome did not legalize same-sex marriage there, since a state law bans it. But commentators thought voters may have eased the way to a future decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco noted after the voting that “the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage.” He chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The archbishop thanked “all those who dedicated and sacrificed time, energy and resources to protect marriage.” He urged everyone “to pray and build a renewed culture of marriage and the family.”

This, he said, “is a fundamental task on which the future good and stability of our society, and particularly that of our children, rests.”

A society “marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation” needs to strengthen, promote and defend marriage, not redefine it, said Archbishop Cordileone.

Starting Point of Long-Term Effort

In Washington, Archbishop Sartain expressed disappointment “that so many voters failed to recognize marriage between a man and a woman as the natural institution for the permanent, faithful covenant of love for a couple, for bringing children into the world, and for nurturing and educating those children.”

Still, “despite the election results,” the archbishop said the campaign “to preserve marriage as a union between a man and a woman” was “an opportunity for the church to reaffirm its consistent teaching on marriage.” The campaign stands as “a starting point for a long-term effort to educate Catholics” about the “meaning and purpose” of marriage, he said.

The church’s vision for marriage and family life “enriches our communities and society,” Archbishop Sartain stressed.

In a September column for Seattle’s archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Northwest Progress, Archbishop Sartain judged it “important to state that the Catholic Church’s stance [on the referendum] is not ‘against’ anything and especially not ‘against’ anyone. To the contrary, it is our stance ‘for’ the gift of marriage, ‘for’ God’s plan for human society, ‘for’ husbands and wives, ‘for’ children.”

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis explained in a statement posted to its web site Nov. 7 that its public advocacy for the Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment “has always been rooted in our commitment to advance the common good for human society.”

This is the “same spirit” that “guides the church’s unwavering pursuit of economic justice, health care and immigration reform, and the defense of human life and dignity from conception to natural death,” the archdiocese said.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori called Maryland’s vote a “wake-up call” for Catholics. He said in an interview with The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper, that the vote demonstrates the “need to redouble our efforts to defend marriage, to preach about what marriage is and to help people understand it as a unique relationship that does not discriminate against anyone, but is for the good of children and for the good of our society.”

In strengthening their marriages, Catholic couples work to uphold traditional marriage, Archbishop Lori suggested. He said, “When husbands and wives exemplify the love of God in their own marriages, that is as powerful as anything.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y, who is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, said he was “deeply disappointed that a majority of Maine voters have redefined marriage” from what it was understood to be “for millennia by civilizations and religions around the world.”

“I trust,” he wrote, “that those who voted for such a radical change did so out of concern for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction.” He commented that “respect and acceptance of all people regardless of sexual orientation is not a point of controversy. It is a teaching of the church, but so is the authentic meaning and definition of marriage.”

High Court Action

When their same-sex marriage laws take effect, Washington, Maine and Maryland will join the District of Columbia and six other states where same-sex marriage is legal: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

Naturally, that means same-sex marriage remains illegal in most states. In May 2012, North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Catholic News Service reports that 30 states have such constitutional amendments.

Some voices commenting on the Nov. 6 balloting noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to announce soon that it has accepted one or more of numerous cases appealed to it involving same-sex marriage.

In addition, it is unlikely the high court will refuse to hear an appeal involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines “marriage” as the “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. This year, two U.S. appeals courts ruled that the law, known as DOMA, is discriminatory.

It is possible, then, that the high court will rule by next June on at least some aspects of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, influencing the direction of public policy in important, but as yet unknown, ways.

About the author 
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.