Same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and Notre Dame

Last week, I and the other Bishops of Indiana expressed our disappointment with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on October 6th not to review Indiana’s appeal of the court ruling that the prohibition of so-called “same-sex marriage” is unconstitutional.

The Church continues to oppose the redefinition of marriage to include two persons of the same sex since such redefinition denies the truth and reality of what marriage is: the lifelong partnership between one man and one woman ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. In God’s plan, sexual difference is essential to marriage. Marriage is a unique form of love and commitment, a “communion” in which “the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

The Church believes that homosexual persons are certainly equal in dignity to heterosexual persons. The Church teaches that “every sign of unjust discrimination in regard to homosexual persons should be avoided” (CCC 2358). Not allowing two persons of the same sex to marry is not unjust discrimination. The “right to marry” is the right to enter into a relationship that is unique and rooted in a nature that includes sexual difference.

I and many others have been worried about the many possible threats to our religious freedom as a result of the redefinition of marriage. Changing the legal definition of marriage may threaten the liberty of the Church and our institutions in numerous ways. One example could be the government forcing religious institutions to extend any special spousal benefits they afford to actual marriage to “same-sex marriage” as well. This past week, the University of Notre Dame decided “to extend benefits to all legally married persons, including same-sex spouses,” since “the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages” (quotes from public statement issued by Notre Dame).

Many have asked for my opinion on this decision of the University of Notre Dame. I must admit my uncertainty at this time about the legal implications of Indiana’s law for our Catholic institutions. Notre Dame believes that the law requires the university to extend the legal benefits of marriage to “same-sex married couples” in its employ. I would like to see further study of what the law requires as well as what religious liberty protections Notre Dame and our other Catholics institutions have so as not to be compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage. Our Indiana Catholic Conference is studying these issues.

In announcing its decision to extend benefits to “same-sex spouses,” I am glad that Notre Dame affirmed that as a Catholic university, it “endorses a Catholic view of marriage,” though I would say that Catholic teaching on the heterosexual nature of marriage is more than “a view.” The heterosexual nature of marriage is an objective truth known by (right) reason and revelation. As a Catholic university, it is important that Notre Dame continues to affirm its fidelity to Catholic teaching on the true nature of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. I have communicated to Notre Dame my conviction that this affirmation should also include efforts to defend the religious liberty of our religious institutions that is threatened in potentially numerous ways by the legal redefinition of marriage, including the government forcing our Catholic institutions to extend any special benefits we afford to actual marriage to same-sex “marriage” as well. I have asked the Notre Dame administration to work together with the Indiana Catholic Conference on these efforts.

Living in conformity with our Catholic teaching that marriage by its nature is between one man and one woman needs religious liberty protection so we are not forced to treat same-sex unions as equivalent to marriage. Just as it is not unjust to limit the bond of marriage to the union of one man and one woman, the Church teaches that “it is not unjust to oppose granting to homosexual couples benefits that in justice belong to (true) marriage alone” (USCCB, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination”). It is important that this not be interpreted as an attitude of intolerance or bigotry against homosexual persons. The Church strongly upholds the human dignity of homosexual persons while also strongly upholding the truth about marriage. The Church affirms that “persons with a homosexual inclination have the same basic rights as all people” (ibid). The Bishops of the United States, in the Pastoral letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” stated the following:

Basic human rights must be afforded to all people. This can and should be done without sacrificing the bedrock of society that is (true) marriage and the family, and without violating the religious liberty of persons and institutions.

I wish to extend my own commitment as bishop to all persons in the Church with a homosexual inclination, especially to your pastoral care and growth in holiness. Our Courage groups in Fort Wayne and South Bend exist to help you in this growth. All of us have the vocation to love. This vocation is lived not only through the vocation of marriage, but also through chaste friendships. I hope you know the Church’s love for you. You are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I encourage you to persevere in your faith within the Catholic community as together we strive to be faithful disciples of Jesus.

I hope and pray that all will work together, in a spirit of love and respect for all people, in the face of so many problems that arise from the redefinition of marriage. I recommend to all the excellent website (an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops): Marriage: Unique for a Reason. The internet address is www.marriageuniqueforareason.org.

Posted on October 14, 2014, to: