Archbishop Coakley: No Court Can Change What Marriage Is

The Future of Marriage Hangs in the Balance

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley:

The recent media fascination with the “transition” of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn has highlighted the tragic confusion about gender and sexual difference in society today. Rooted in both natural law and divine revelation, our Catholic teaching affirms that men and women are equal and different. Together they are created in the image and likeness of God. Man and woman are designed by God in relation to one another to form a conjugal union that brings forth children. The consequences of this affirmation are far-reaching.

Sexual difference is essential to marriage and child rearing. Our bodies matter. We don’t just have a body. We are a body. Without this basis in sexual difference and complementarity, there is no limit to what “marriage” could mean.

Perhaps by the time this issue of the Sooner Catholic is published, and certainly by the end of June, the Supreme Court will have issued its ruling on two crucial questions dealing with the very definition of marriage. The questions the court is addressing ask whether the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a “marriage” between two people of the same sex, and whether the same amendment requires a state to recognize same sex “marriages,” which were lawfully licensed and performed in another state.

No matter how the court rules, it cannot change what marriage really is. Marriage by its nature remains the union of one man and one woman. It is a natural institution that predates and precedes governments and government regulation.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

Every society has acknowledged that the sexual union of man and woman matters because it creates the next generation. While Jesus elevated Christian marriage to a sacrament, the complementarity of the sexes and the natural meaning of marriage can be known through reason even without appealing to Scripture.

Governments have long maintained an interest in protecting and preserving marriage. Society needs an institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, and marriage is the only institution that does this. Every child has a mother and father and deserves to be loved and raised by them. Certainly, there are many circumstances that can hinder and prevent this, but marriage has always been the primary way that society protects this right of children to be raised by both a mother and a father. Both matter. Both are irreplaceable. Only a man can be a father and only a woman can be a mother. A child should not be deliberately deprived of either one. There are certainly wonderful single parents and others who make great sacrifices to raise children. They deserve our respect and support. But, every society ought to affirm each child’s basic natural right to come from and be raised in a loving home formed by his or her own mother and father joined together in a stable marriage.

Law is a teacher. A redefinition of marriage in the law teaches that one sex is interchangeable with another, and that either mother or father is dispensable as a parent. This ignores the wisdom of millennia of lived experience. It teaches that marriage is whatever consenting adults say it is and that these adults have a “right” to children they did not conceive. This is not only false, but it fails to take into account what is good for the child. Affirming the tried and true definition of marriage denies no one their basic rights. Rather it affirms the equal dignity and complementarity of men and women, and safeguards the rights of children.

Advocates for so-called “marriage equality” claim that the traditional definition of marriage unjustly discriminates against homosexual persons. Unjust discrimination is always wrong. But treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination. Protecting marriage is a matter of justice.

In addition to the devastating effect that a redefinition of marriage would have on children, there also are far-reaching religious freedom issues at stake.

It would change literally thousands of laws all at once. Marriage redefinition would immediately set the Church’s teaching and witness concerning the meaning and sanctity of marriage in opposition to the law of the land. This would result in countless conflicts between the state and religious institutions and individuals who adhere to the teaching of their faith and the judgment of their consciences.

So much hangs in the balance. What can we do? We can pray and we can fast for the protection of marriage and religious liberty. We can become advocates for marriage by our own witness to its sanctity and goodness. We can talk about the truth of marriage with patience and kindness and understanding. Who could have imagined that such common sense wisdom would become so counter-cultural in our time?

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5 comments to Archbishop Coakley: No Court Can Change What Marriage Is

  • Joshua Michael

    Dear Mary,

    Peace be with you.

    The pity party you described is a bit unfair and unfounded. I am only testifying my truth. The Church is reaping what it has sowed. See Bishop Neinstadt.

    I hope you’re prayers are from the bottom of your heart and not out of spite. But I find many followers of Christ to be as superficial as the dogma they worship, rather the living God, who is constantly at work. Open your eyes to His abundant grace. His yoke is easy. Good luck.


  • In response to Joshua Michael: It is a tragic reality that many people who have been baptized Roman Catholic, baptized into the Most Holy Trinity and have become a child of God haven’t a clue what it means to be baptized. Even if we are cradle Catholics (and did not make the decision to be baptized) we still had grace poured into our souls, our very being and tragically people have forgotten what is said at that moment…Do you reject Satan and all his works?
    Catholics have lost even the knowledge of the ten commandments, including the 6th along with the 5th. St. Ambrose reminds those who have been baptized with these words – “After this, the holy of holies was opened up for you; you entered into the sacred place of regeneration. Recall what you were asked; remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world and its dissipation and sensuality. Your words are recorded, not on a monument to the dead but in the book of the living.” We have allowed the supreme court to make a law that is unconstitutional just like the one of killing the unborn. You blame the Church for who you are? Pity party it sounds like to me — No pity from me. I will pray for you. I respect your human dignity but I will not agree with your path of thinking.

  • Joshua Michael

    I will be so grateful when the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. It’s been a long time coming for many gay and lesbian Catholics who were raised beneath the heavy hand of the magisterium’s teaching that has done more harm to people’s spiritual lives, than ever offering true stewardship in helping people grow into more healthy relationships that show mutual respect for each other’s bodies, with sincere intimacy, and honesty.

    I wish I would have had marriage equality as a model growing up in a Catholic home, figuring I eat the body and blood of this person Jesus, every Sunday, I am surprised it’s not obvious what God’s plan is for me and others? Unfortunately, with lethal teachings I became confused over the legitimacy of my own feelings, inducing suicidal thoughts, and creating an “underground” sex life because my church created a culture of shame around me. Why is pedophila and stories of sex addicted priests such a surprise to the faithful? It’s own teachings created these sick minds, but even still, Christ gives us his body and blood, freely.

    I am grateful for my courageous priest, who’s taken me under his wing since I was 21, and has encouraged me to come out, and proclaim the truth that is written in my soul. It is with a humble heart five years later, I can accept the opinions of other Catholics who disagree with God’s plan for marriage equality, thanks to his guidance, but forgiving others has allowed room for greater joy, to slowly learn, and know that our God has great plans for his people, and that is to redefine marriage; so he can put this Body back together again, how it should fit by grace, not how it was in the beginning, but how it will be in the end, the world holding hands, two by two by two. Regadless of gender. Regardless of sex.

    “Marriage used to be for procreation, but now, it’s only purpose is the suppression of licentiousness and debuachery.” Chrysostom, on Virginity.

    1 Timothy 4


  • Stella

    For once I agree with you.

  • lisag

    To approve of same sex marriage is to deny the importance of who you are. You are saying that who or what you are does not matter. You are saying that sin does not matter. So many have been subjected to sin and participated in sins of sex that they have given up. Their bodies are worn out, their senses are worn out, and their conscience is worn out. The constant drum of media is tiring. We have to remember that this life is only temporary and there is eternal life after death.

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