A radical redefinition of marriage

A radical redefinition of marriage

Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is inspired not by bigotry but the desire to preserve a cherished institution

By Edwin F. O'Brien

4:06 PM EST, March 1, 2012

The Baltimore Sun

God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.' (Gen. 1:27-28)

These words, the very beginning of the first book of the Bible, given to us in the first book of the Old Testament, have guided society's understanding of the human family in the world's civilizations for millennia. This early and revered reference was the first recognition of this unique human relationship — the only such one capable of bringing life into the world, the only one to offer this singular and necessary gift for the good of society.

Amazingly, those people of faith, as well as others of no faith at all, who recognize the value of preserving this special relationship and who simply want our society to continue to honor it, have been painted throughout a rancorous debate these past two years as "radicals." Yet, I would suggest that it is those who have dared to assume the right to change what God himself has joined who have chosen the radical path for our state and its families.

Fortunately, people of good will in Maryland, a state founded on the belief that everyone can practice his or her faith without government interference, still have this right. They should be able to vote their consciences in November without fear of being labeled "intolerant bigots." Sadly, that is but one of the ugly volleys lobbed by some at those who want simply to protect the institutions of marriage and the family, believing it is what is best for society — not out of some hostility toward our sisters and brothers who are attracted to others of the same sex.

Might we be experiencing, indeed, intolerance behind the mask of "tolerance?"

Ironically, it is the very people crying intolerance who are practicing it. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of theU.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, perhaps said it best in defending the Catholic Church against such baseless claims: "We reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person. Our profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman does not negate our concern for the well-being of all people but reinforces it."

This effort has proved ugly on many fronts. Extraordinary and probably unprecedented political pressures and legislative maneuvers by Gov. Martin O'Malleyand party leadership led the House of Delegates to pass the measure, but barely. And the Maryland Senate rushed through deliberations on the bill that will alter the fundamental meaning of a relationship thousands of years old in a mere 48 hours. By hastily passing this legislation, the Maryland General Assembly and our governor, who plans to sign the bill today, have left the people of Maryland no choice but to undo this draconian dictate. It is our firm belief that they will join voters in 31 other states where this issue has gone to a statewide ballot by emphatically voting in November to restore Maryland's law recognizing marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Many legislators are to be commended for having the courage to withstand those hard-fisted pressures, and deserve thanks and praise for standing strong in support of marriage as we have known it to be throughout history and across faiths and cultures.

Some may suggest that our society's traditional understanding of marriage has already unraveled and that redefining marriage won't harm it any further. But this radical redefinition of marriage will irreparably undermine the irreplaceable role that both a mother and father play in the life of a child and relegate their relationship to an arbitrary status among many other family arrangements.

As the Catholic Church joins with so many others its efforts to returning our law to a proper recognition of marriage, we commit ourselves to advocating for the truth in a manner that is respectful, compassionate and worthy of the love our God calls us to bring to all our brothers and sisters.

That truth, deeply embedded in our faith, cannot be dismissed as an imposition of a religious belief on others of differing faiths. It is a truth that both faith and reason have placed before us, and that encompasses a universal recognition about our human experience. To put it simply, from the very beginning of time until now, no human being has ever existed without the agency of a mother and a father.

Assigning the label of "marriage" to any relationship between two people forces all of society to forgo our most basic understanding of the natural origins of the family. No matter how sympathetic the claims of the proponents of redefining marriage may seem, they mask a fact that cannot be denied about the true nature of marriage.

It is my prayer that the people of Maryland will recognize this truth in their hearts when they go to the voting booth in November.

Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien is apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. His email is communications@archbalt.org.