Here’s an interesting exercise. In light of the recent California Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, let’s take a look at what God tells us through Holy Scripture about the sacrament of marriage and its purpose in His plan for us.
One Old Testament source from Genesis 2:18,21-22,24:
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.". . . So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. . . For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
And one New Testament source from Matthew 19:4-6:
"Haven't you read," [Jesus] replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Now, let’s do a “Compare & Contrast” between the reaction of Roman Catholic clergy and the reaction of some California bishops of the Episcopal Church (I would have liked to include an Anglican response as well, but so far I have not seen one) [all boldface is mine].
First, we have a Reuters report on Pope Benedict XVI’s restatement of the RC’s understanding of marriage:
Pope Benedict, speaking a day after a California court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage, firmly restated on Friday the Roman Catholic Church's position that only unions between a man and a woman are moral. . .
"The union of love, based on matrimony between a man and a woman, which makes up the family, represents a good for all society that can not be substituted by, confused with, or compared to other types of unions," he said.
The pope also spoke of the inalienable rights of the traditional family, "founded on matrimony between a man and a woman, to be the natural cradle of human life".
But I don’t think Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles would agree with him:
Today's Supreme Court decision on same-gender relationships is important because it reflects our baptismal vow to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being" and our commitment to justice and mercy for all people.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has been a leader in working for the rights of all people in the State of California, and that work is honored in today's ruling. The canons of our church, under "Rights of the Laity" (Canon 1:17.5), forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age. We affirm equal rights for all.
We will continue to advocate for equality in the future and will do so at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which will meet in Anaheim in 2009.
I celebrate and give thanks for this decision of the court and look forward with joy and excitement to a future of justice and mercy for all people in the State of California and the Episcopal Church.
To paraphrase St. Paul, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, gay nor straight in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Very different understandings in play here.
Let’s move on to another statement, this one by the California Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops:
The California Catholic Conference of Bishops must express its disappointment in the California Supreme Court decision to declare Proposition 22 unconstitutional.
Proposition 22, which states, ‘Only marriage between one man and one woman is valid and recognized in California,’ passed eight years ago by a vote of 61.2 to 38.8 percent. That statute reflected the wisdom of the voters of California in retaining the traditional definition of marriage as a biological reality and a societal good. Unfortunately, today, the Court saw fit to disregard the will of the majority of people of California.
Catholic teaching maintains that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love—a union instituted by God for the mutual fulfillment of the husband and wife as well as for the procreation and education of children. . .
Today’s decision of California’s high court opens the door for policymakers to deconstruct traditional marriage and create another institution under the guise of equal protection.
Of course, Bishop Marc Handley of the Episcopal Diocese of California disagrees:
I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry and establish a family. All children of God should be afforded the same rights under the law, and this decision recognizes that all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation, have equal access to one of our fundamental human institutions. This decision gives our church another opportunity to partner with our state to ensure that all families have the support they need to build relationships that strengthen our communities, state and country. Jesus tried to free his disciples from a narrow definition of what it means to be his follower. In Matthew 10:42, Jesus says “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” God affirms the good in the world outside the boundaries of religious creeds and dogmas. In this spirit, we also affirm and rejoice in this decision by the California Supreme Court precisely because we are Christians. Clearly, this momentous decision will have ecclesial implications for the Episcopal Diocese of California. I intend to be in prayerful consultation with the people of our diocese to see how we can use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, and our witness to God’s inclusive love. The Diocese of California will issue an appropriate statement in due course.
But the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer continues to hold to the biblical definition of marriage:
In regard to this decision of the court, the Catholic Bishops of California have said that "Catholic teaching maintains that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love-a union instituted by God for the mutual fulfillment of the husband and wife as well as for the procreation and education of children."
This teaching of the Church follows forth from the teaching of Jesus Christ: "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?" (Matthew 19: 4-5)
At a moment in our society when we need to reinforce the strength of marriage and family this decision of the Supreme Court takes California in the opposite direction. This action challenges those in society who believe in the importance of the traditional understanding of marriage to deepen their witness to the unique and essential role that marriage between a man and a woman has in the life of society.
Bishop James Mathes of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, now that the secular court has passed judgment, has the confidence to say:
I support the Supreme Court's decision and oppose the likely effort to amend the constitution. . . While supporting the rights of gays and lesbians, I am mindful that our church has not yet made the decision to bless same-sex unions. We are in the midst of a challenging but vital conversation about holy relationships in this diocese and indeed across the communion. . . Let us be good stewards of these solidarities and teach each other, and the wider community, how to listen and learn from each other as we accept the Court's decision to allow equal access to the institution of marriage.
So, which statements more closely try to reflect how God describes the act and purpose of marriage? Which statements seem to reflect the spirit of the age? Which statements hold up Holy Scripture?