Now What?

A British poster from World War II shows Winston Churchill pointing a stern finger at the viewer, with the caption, “DESERVE VICTORY!”

Even in wartime, it's not enough to win battles; the nation's moral character must be strengthened as well. On Nov. 2, American voters showed they understand this. According to CNN, voters were more likely to cite “moral values,” not the economy or terrorism, as the reason for their choice. These “values voters” likely handed George W. Bush his second term. But voting is easy. If we want America to emerge from the next four years not only safer, but better, we have hard work to do. For instance:

Life issues. The way Bush attained re-election should hearten pro-life Democrats. Catholic Democrats should point out that the party will continue losing if it keeps its abortion-rights litmus test. Many Americans who disagreed with Bush on the Iraq war, economic policy or other issues found themselves simply unable to vote for John Kerry because of his stance on this basic social justice issue.

But pro-lifers can't relax just because President Bush proclaims his pro-life beliefs. Chief Justice William Rehnquist's recent diagnosis with thyroid cancer brought the issue of the courts home in the days before the election. We need judicial nominees who, whatever their personal beliefs, do not think the abortion license is written into the Constitution. We need these nominees especially for the Supreme Court, where President Bush may make as many as three new appointments. But we also need to watch the lower courts.

Marriage. Unsurprisingly, all 11 state constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman passed. Unsurprisingly, these states will now face a flurry of litigation as gay-rights organizations try to overturn the amendments through the courts. One of these cases will eventually make it to the U.S. Supreme Court — unless some variant on the Federal Marriage Amendment passes.

Meanwhile, the president has declared his support for civil unions. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are less damaging to the institution of marriage than the falsehood of “gay marriage.” Such “marriage-lite” options — like cohabitation — at least leave us a language in which to uphold marriage and exhort couples to marry.

Marriage-education programs would still be able to teach about marriage, rather than treating marriage as interchangeable with a homosexual union. And many contractual rights should not be reserved for married couples, such as the right to designate someone who can visit you in the hospital and make medical decisions when you're incapacitated.

However, we don't need more alternatives to marriage. We don't need more encouragement to view marriage as a benefits package rather than a deeply rooted, organic human need. And we don't need legal innovations that would likely be viewed as stepping stones on the road to same-sex “marriage.”

What we do need is to make marriage credible. Many Americans who grew up in our divorce culture support same-sex “marriage” because they haven't seen the marriage ideal in their families and communities. If we don't strengthen struggling marriages, discourage cohabitation and promote abstinence until marriage, our opposition to same-sex “marriage” starts to look like hypocrisy: scapegoating homosexuals for the problems of heterosexual couples. We need to support groups like Retrouvaille and Marriage Savers, and promote morally sound and intellectually stimulating marriage education in our schools.

Jus in bello. since 9/11, much attention has focused on the Catholic understanding of just wars. Most of that attention focused on jus ad bellum: just reasons to go to war. Just conduct within war is equally important. It's tempting to forget justice when we're up against terrorists who attack without warning and deliberately target innocents. Catholics need to do all we can to ensure that our nation does not become the lesser of two evils.

An upcoming issue here is House Resolution 10, the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004.” Sections of this bill, which passed the House of Representatives in October, would make it legal to turn suspected terrorists over to foreign countries known to use torture — essentially, outsourcing torture. The version passed by the Senate does not contain this provision; the two versions must be reconciled before the law can be implemented. Torture is directly contrary to our faith, as discussed in section 2297 of the Catechism.

If Bush adheres to Catholic values on these issues, he will have gone a long way toward deserving his own electoral victory.

Read former Register staff writer Eve Tushnet at