WASHINGTON — In recent legal briefs filed with the Supreme Court, the U.S. bishops warned that a redefinition of marriage would create an “engine of conflict” that threatens freedom of religion, speech and other liberties.
“Marriage, understood as the union of one man and one woman, is not a historical relic, but a vital and foundational institution of civil society today,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Jan. 29 amicus brief supporting the California ballot initiative Proposition 8.
“The government interests in continuing to encourage and support it are not merely legitimate, but compelling,” the brief explained.
California voters passed Prop. 8 in 2008, reversing a court decision that imposed same-sex "marriage" on the state.
However, that effort was overturned by a California federal judge in August 2010, claiming that there is a “fundamental right to marry.” His decision was upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2012.
That decision is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The bishops’ brief for the case observed that the ballot measure “encourages and supports the union of one man and one woman.”
This is a legitimate state interest because these unions are the only ones capable of creating new life, the document argued, adding that it is reasonable to believe that a home with a mother and a father is “the optimal environment for raising children.”
The brief said the Ninth Circuit’s definition of marriage as simply “a committed lifelong relationship” is “incoherent,” “wildly overinclusive” and “leads to absurd results” because it would not exclude parent-child relationships, unions between two lifelong friends or relationships between more than two people.
In addition, the bishops’ conference warned, the redefinition of marriage would adversely affect constitutional rights like the freedoms of religion, conscience, speech and association.
It pointed to instances where businesses were forced to host “gay weddings,” as well as cases where public officials such as town clerks were forced to give up their positions over their objections to same-sex relationships. It also referenced religiously affiliated nonprofits that are facing the prospect of lawsuits for following their beliefs and declining to recognize same-sex “spouses” in benefits policies.
Another brief from the bishops’ conference supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for purposes of federal law. The act was passed in 1996, with overwhelming bipartisan support, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
That law — which the Supreme Court will also rule on this summer — is being challenged by a New York woman who contracted a same-sex “marriage” in Canada. She argues that she was unconstitutionally required to pay more than $350,000 in federal estate taxes upon the death of her partner, while a spouse in a federally recognized marriage would have been exempt.
The bishops’ brief rejected the notion of a “fundamental right to marry a person of the same sex.”
Civil recognition of same-sex relationships is “not deeply rooted” in U.S. history, it said, and previous court decisions about the right to marry “plainly contemplate the union of one man and one woman.”
The brief also rejected the claim that the plaintiff is part of “a politically powerless group needing protection against majoritarian impulses.”
“To the contrary, the last two decades have witnessed far-reaching changes in how the law treats persons in same-sex relationships, changes that belie any claim of political powerlessness,” it explained.