Ruling highlights separation of civil law from morality

Complete the circle
By George Evans
Like many of you, as a Catholic, I have been trying for the last days and weeks to get my arms around the impact of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Regardless of whether we think the decision is correct or not, or whether we like it or not, there is no question that it is now the law of the land. What then does that portend for us as Catholics in our religious practice? After considerable struggle and thought my conclusion is NOTHING. The Supreme Court does not make moral law.
Civil law and Catholic morality are two different things. Both have an enormous impact on the way we live. Frequently the law changes the way people act. Think of the way the Civil Rights statutes in the 60’s changed voting, housing, accommodations, employment and myriad other parts of our lives. The blockbuster changes in public education effected by the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education has been monumental. Every Southerner who lived through what was a true social revolution based to a great extent on changes in law experienced the practical impact of law on life.
As a Catholic, I have always thought the Brown decision and laws of the Civil Rights Era were in lock step with Catholic morality. They moved this country much closer to its own destiny set forth in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and to the Old and New Testaments.
Genesis tells us that God created us in His image and likeness and the Gospels tell us His Son, Jesus, proved our worth by dying and rising for us and our salvation. Although legal, it was not moral to have segregated schools, churches, movie theaters, water fountains, bathrooms, etc. Segregation was legal in the south but not moral. Neither was slavery in its day. We now acknowledge the sin of legal segregation as well as slavery. We did not for a long time. I think the Civil Rights decisions and statutes are a great example of how law influenced behavior to be more in keeping with gospel values than did much of the preaching of the time.
On the other hand, Roe v Wade, another monumental Supreme Court decision more than 40 years ago, has had the opposite practical impact. By legalizing abortion it has conveyed the message to many that abortion is okay whether that was the intent of the decision or not. The result has been millions of innocent babies cast onto the trash heap.
Nothing could be further from Catholic morality. The law has not changed the clear teaching of Catholic morality condemning abortion. Those who claim otherwise are, at least objectively, deluding themselves. The sin of abortion is still with us. Roe v Wade has had the opposite effect from the Civil Rights decisions and statutes but also is evidence of how law can affect behavior one way or the other.
There are many areas which may not be quite as clear as Jim Crow and abortion. In my mind the failure in Mississippi of the legislature and governor to expand Medicaid is an affront to Catholic morality which stresses the duty to work for the common good and to care for our vulnerable brothers and sisters. I appreciate that financial arguments to the contrary are made.
I submit that they are hollow and trumped by the financial benefits of new jobs, critical support for hospitals and the moral imperative of healthcare for several hundred thousand people now doing without to the detriment of us all. If we accept Mt. 25 as being at least one standard for our personal salvation, perhaps we need to cure this absence of law to conform with Catholic morality.
Obviously there are many areas where law and morality relate – education funding, euthanasia, death penalty, mental health, immigration, etc. Too many to go into here. But what the Supreme Court has done in the case of same sex marriage highlights the difference between the two. Catholic morality teaches that same sex marriage is unacceptable and violates the consistent teaching of Scripture and the church.
As such we have no duty to accept it in our church practice while still recognizing it as the law of the land until such time as it may be changed. Our moral duty to love and respect all people remains our task including those who enter same sex marriage. Our moral duty to support and promote traditional marriage between a man and a woman continues and even increases as we work to uphold marriage as a special relationship between one man and one woman.
Pope Francis’s Synod in October in Rome will address the family which starts with a man and a woman in marriage. Let us pray for its success, for the success of future propagation, and for a change to the recent decision on same sex marriage.
Let us act in such ways that God’s kingdom comes now as well as later. Let us treat all people in such ways that our witness to the Jesus of the gospels will be irresistible to all who come into contact with us in our daily lives. Then we will have fulfilled our duty as citizens to law and as Catholics to Catholic morality.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)