A priest friend of mine sent this letter to me and others who are interested in the question of Same Sex Marriage and the Catholic Church.
This afternoon a couple came to the rectory and asked about getting married. I turned them down. It would have been a violation of my conscience to marry them. No they weren’t a same sex couple—it was a man and a woman. No, neither of them had been married before and divorced. Yes, both of them were free to marry. Yes both of them are baptized Catholics and, I fact, the man is a lector at Sunday Mass and the woman is at Mass more Sundays than not. But I told them I could not marry them.
We talked first, of course. They are lovely people. I invited them in to the rectory dining room and we had coffee and cookies—I always offer some refreshments to visitors when they come to the rectory; my mother taught me it is rude to have some one in your home and not offer them something to eat and something to drink. And our housekeeper makes wonderful little petit-fours. We talked about why they want to marry, how they met, their family backgrounds. But in the course of the conversation they mentioned that they were not going to have children. No, there is no problem conceiving. No, there is no issue of hereditary diseases or congenital birth defects. No, there are no health problems that either of them is facing. It is simply a matter of careers. Janet is a physician—a surgeon actually—and has a very successful practice. She does not want to alter her career path to be a mother. Robert is a tenured professor and can’t see himself being a stay-at-home dad. In what vacation time they have, they are used to travelling. They both like Opera and usually take a week in Milan for the La Scala season. They ski Aspen in the winter. They have some river cruises in Europe they would like to do. They said that they have nieces and nephews to take to Disney World and to bring to the circus and even to pay their way through college. They don’t want kids of their own.
I am not going to say that they are selfish—they really don’t seem to be—but they are self-centered. They have a vision for marriage but it is not the Church’s vision for marriage. And so I won’t marry them.
And guess what. No one is going to make me marry them. No one is saying that I don’t have the freedom, as a priest, to decide which marriages I will celebrate and which ones I won’t. It is not a matter of “discrimination.” No one is to say that I am anti-DINK (Double Income No Kids). Yes, they will get married. I am sure some judge somewhere will do the honors. Or maybe my friend, Celia, the local Methodist pastor across the road. I wish them luck. I really don’t care if Janet rents the local K of C hall for her bridal shower. I don’t see that as betraying the Church. I will not be upset if Bill Rogers—the guy who runs the bakery in town—does the wedding cake. I will still give Bill communion if he bakes the cake. And I will still hire Mike—our parish web-designer—if he does the photography for their wedding. In fact, I hope Janet and Robert keep coming to Mass. I won’t stop them from coming to communion. I hope Robert returns to his lectoring at Mass once the fuss is over and people get used to it. I won’t go to the wedding, of course, but if their parents have any qualms about it I will assure them that they should go.
What I am saying here is that I don’t get the religious freedom tocsin that some people are sounding. Civil Marriage and Christian Matrimony are two separate things—though they often coincide. I am not interested in Civil Marriage. When Gladys and Dan came last year and asked if I would celebrate their Marriage without them having to have civil recognition of their marriage (it was an estate issue that would have seriously hurt them financially), I agreed without hesitation. My job is to witness Christian matrimony. If the State of Virginia wants to recognize that marriage it is fine with me, but I really don’t give a rat’s behind. On the other hand, let the State of Virginia recognize which marriages it chooses; I only bless those that are in line with the Catholic Church. And you know, nobody is giving me any grief about that. My religious freedom isn’t being threatened one iota.
I certainly think we need to be vigilant about our liberties—all our liberties—as well as about the common good in our society. But I also think that the screaming about Religious Freedom is simply a mask for the most gross and unacceptable bigotry. There was a day when in Virginia—and many other “southern” States, a clergyman had to post a bond (usually about 500.00 in 1960 money—or about 2500.00 in today’s money) in order to be licensed to perform marriages. Why? He would lose the bond if he performed a marriage in Commonwealth of Virginia between a “person of the white race” and a “person of color.” Where were the Catholic voices then when the Civil Law contradicted the teaching of the Church? We need to be mighty careful not to be on the wrong side of history—by which I mean the wrong side of what is right and just—on the issues of who should be able and who should not be able to contract a civil marriage.