Of the Catholic Church’s many teachings, perhaps some of the most challenging for people in today’s culture involve human sexuality, including homosexuality. As state after state considers changing its laws on the definition of marriage, all of us have had to think about the nature of love, the meaning of marriage and the teaching of the Gospel. The Church, in fulfilling her mission to preach the Good News of God’s faithful love, has an obligation to teach the truth, especially in the face of a culture and governmental actions which undermine the truth. This gives rise to many misconceptions about the Church, as well as confusion about what it actually is that the Church proposes to the world.
If someone describes marriage as inherently something between a man and a woman only, is this somehow discrimination, bigotry or even hate speech? Until just a few years ago, this question would be looked upon as absurd. But today it is a real inquiry and an open challenge to the truth about human sexuality, the complementarity of man and woman, and the nature of marriage. The assertion is made that for the Church to profess that some activities are immoral is in itself wrongful and, therefore, Catholics should not be free to publicly proclaim the Church’s revealed and received tradition.
In the debate over the nature of marriage, even the White House chose to use words like “discrimination” to describe the position of people in good faith who simply disagree with the President’s stance. It is not possible for anyone to read the hearts, minds and souls of others and to come to a conclusion concerning their motives. Is everyone who votes against public funding of parochial schools simply an anti-Catholic bigot?
In states where traditional marriage has been challenged in the legislative process and/or the courts, words like “bigotry,” “discrimination” and “hatred” have been bandied about with nothing more to support them than the actual fact that some people think that the definition of marriage really and truly is between a man and a woman.
Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of the current trend of gratuitously defaming people based on the suspected rationale for their positions is the majority opinion in the recent Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Here we find justices of the Supreme Court asserting that they are able to read the minds, hearts and souls of people, including Congress and the President of the United States, and have determined that the supporters of DOMA acted with malice, with the “purpose…to disparage and to injure” same-sex couples. The same majority opinion goes on to claim some sort of superhuman power to read men’s and women’s hearts, allowing the court now to announce that the motivation for DOMA was “to demean,” to brand as unworthy and to humiliate. The invocation of these angelic powers to penetrate the souls of people might be amusing if it were not for the raw injustice done to anyone who accepts Jesus’ declaration, “Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two should become one flesh’? …Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matthew 19:3-6).
What is particularly alarming about the new tactic of branding one’s political opponents as intolerant, discriminatory or bigoted is that what follows easily is the declaration that we who have been declared extremists are told what we say is now “hate speech.” Almost everything Jesus says in Saint Matthew’s Gospel chapters 5 through 7 could be condemned today by someone as “hate speech.”
Too often the people who claim to be able to read the minds of other people and thus can denounce them as bigots are prepared to say in the next breath not only are your opinions not welcome, but neither are you any longer.
For example, earlier this year, we heard demands that Father Greg Shaffer, Catholic Chaplain working with Catholic students and faculty at the Newman Center at George Washington University, be subjected to a disciplinary investigation at the University for having given voice to the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and marriage in the course of providing spiritual direction to Catholic students at the Newman Center. In 2010, Professor Kenneth Howell was actually fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne for pointing out that in the long-standing Judeo Christian tradition rooted in the Scriptures held sacred by that tradition, marriage was considered to be something between a man and a woman. Action was taken against him on the grounds that this was “hate speech.”
Different people may bring various points of view to an issue, and therefore, discussion is the forum for collecting information, sharing opinions, weighing opposing positions and then rationally and reasonably coming to some judgment for the common good. When discussions occur within the secular community, the assumed context is called civil discourse and it should not be stifled by gratuitous charges of discrimination against those who hold differing positions on an issue.
This is the fourth in a series.