How One Catholic Could Redefine Marriage in America


A gushing profile of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the aggressively pro-“gay marriage” Huffington Post begins with this:

“The Irish-Catholic boy who came of age in Sacramento after World War II is an unlikely candidate to be the author of the Supreme Court’s major gay-rights rulings. But those who have known Justice Anthony Kennedy for decades and scholars who have studied his work say he has long stressed the importance of valuing people as individuals.”

Note the formulation: Because Kennedy values people as individuals, the Irish-Catholic boy thus will (or at least should) support redefining marriage.

Well, as a fellow Catholic, I likewise value all people as individuals — as does my Church and Pope Francis. But why must we, therefore, reject our faith’s millennia-old, traditional-natural-biblical teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman?

Here’s a news flash for The Huffington Post: Millions of Catholics and other Christians believe we have no right to do that. That is a uniquely extraordinary power reserved exclusively to nature and nature’s God. Marriage isn’t ours to redefine. I already have enough to answer to God for.

We see here the progressive left’s very sloppy, simplistic and emotional mode of thinking: Because one thinks that people who are same-sex attracted, like all people, should be respected for their dignity, one must also accept the entirety of the current gay agenda, even on redefining marriage, and even when certain aspects of the agenda unequivocally violate the ancient, sacred and literally sacramental teachings of one’s faith.

Oh, and if you don’t support repudiating those teachings? Well, that’s even simpler: It means, according to those with this progressive agenda, you think homosexual persons are not to be valued, and you obviously hate them.

It’s quite incredible thinking, but it’s pervasive to the culture. Why not reverse the terms? Consider: If we value people as individuals, and this means automatically accepting the beliefs of these individuals, then why not value the beliefs of Christians on Christian marriage? Sorry, but the modern progressive mind will not operate that way.

But let’s get back to the Anthony Kennedy-Catholic situation, which is indeed not only intriguing, but potentially hugely important.

For Catholics faithful to their Church’s teachings, the Justice Kennedy scenario is increasingly maddening. We’re looking at the prospect of marriage being redefined in America based on the swing vote of this lifelong Catholic. We’re not optimistic, especially given Kennedy’s shockingly relativistic views expressed in previous major court decisions.

The most notorious was Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which enshrined Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. There, Kennedy led the majority with this breathtaking proclamation: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

That line was crafted by a Supreme Court majority that included three Reagan-Bush (first Bush) appointees, all of them Christians: Anthony Kennedy (Catholic), Sandra Day O’Connor (Episcopalian) and David Souter (Episcopalian). The authorship is usually attributed to Kennedy. Joining his 5-4 majority were John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun, who authored the original Roe decision.

Of course, in truth, this is plainly not the Christian/Catholic understanding of liberty. What Kennedy and allies expressed is a totally non-Christian (arguably anti-Christian) and completely individualistic understanding. If you’re looking for a slogan for the dictatorship of relativism, that statement is it. Kennedy’s formulation of liberty is a radical secular progressive’s understanding; a progressive would argue that definitions of liberty and everything else are always changing and evolving and always up to the person or the culture of the moment.

If Anthony Kennedy persists in this damaging misunderstanding of liberty, next using it to justify legalized “gay marriage” on top of legalized abortion, then he could serve as a poster boy for the Church’s colossal failure in catechizing the laity. We shall see.

On the plus side for faithful Catholics, the four likely votes against same-sex “marriage” are all Catholic: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and (perhaps) John Roberts. Tellingly, the four most probable “Yes” votes for redefining marriage will come from Sonia Sotomayor — a secular, non-practicing Catholic — and Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan — all of which, to my knowledge, are non-practicing, non-orthodox Jews.

Who says religion doesn’t matter?

The presence or lack thereof, or level of devoutness, is at the heart of where America — from everyday citizens to justices on the high court — stands on this unprecedented cultural novelty called “gay marriage.”

Finally, an added insight into Kennedy’s role at this crucial historical stage in the life of America: As noted, Kennedy was a Reagan appointee. Also nearly a Reagan appointee was Bill Clark, to whom Reagan quietly offered the Supreme Court vacancy that instead went to Sandra Day O’Connor in July 1981. Clark and Reagan were extremely close.

As governor of California, Reagan appointed Clark (his chief of staff in Sacramento) all the way through the California court system in the 1970s, including to the state’s supreme court. While in Sacramento, Clark had a close relationship with a fellow Irish Catholic, Anthony Kennedy, who served there on the federal bench. The two had a regular one-on-one lunch together.

As Clark’s biographer, I was privy to Clark’s deep concerns over Kennedy’s decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court. He said that Kennedy was a man “unusually influenced” by his immediate surroundings. Clark was very humble, but he believed that if he would have accepted Reagan’s offer for the seat that went to O’Connor he could have kept Kennedy on a path of judicial restraint and constitutionalism that (among other things) would have had Kennedy voting for the side of Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey Sr. (a pro-life Democrat) in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Clark himself likely would have authored that majority decision, which could have been a 6-3 decision.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Clark instead became Reagan’s national security adviser, where, as head of the National Security Council, he and his president laid out a remarkably bold and successful plan to defeat Soviet communism and win the Cold War. No small achievement.

For Clark, it was a great regret that he wasn’t there on the court to reverse Roe v. Wade in 1992, but, ultimately, he understood that he could only do so much. Clark’s calling — what he and Reagan called “The DP” or “The Divine Plan” — was to win the Cold War, not to take on this element of the culture war. The culture war, unfortunately, was left to the likes of Anthony Kennedy.

Bill Clark died in August 2013. His old friend Anthony Kennedy is very much alive and active. For Clark, his solid Catholic education, both Augustinian and Franciscan, was central to all of his thinking. He would never have been so bold as to redefine liberty as the “right” to define one’s own meanings of human life and existence, and Clark certainly would not have rendered unto himself the right to redefine marriage.

Will Justice Kennedy do so? Hey, if he has already averred that one has a right to define one’s own meanings of human life and existence, then why can’t one devise one’s own meanings of marriage?

All of America watches in anxious anticipation to see how this Irish-Catholic boy from Sacramento decides. In many ways, tragically, the future of marriage resides in the hands of this one man. It should not be. And it certainly should not be that a lifelong Catholic could potentially be so misguided with such drastic consequences for the culture and country.

Paul Kengor’s forthcoming book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage. His other books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).