An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


How to use Marriage: Unique for a Reason (7th of 7 in a series)

Posted Aug. 31, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Note: This post is seventh in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage.  This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Earlier posts:


PART TWO: Practical ways to promote and defend marriage

Post #7: How to use Marriage: Unique for a Reason

The audience that the bishops have in mind for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project is Catholic young adults. The bishops reasoned that young adults are most bombarded and most susceptible to faulty messages about marriage, but the materials could certainly be used for older audiences too. The materials do not assume much in the way of prior catechesis, but they are written for a Catholic audience, not a generic or secular one.

The end-goal of the resources is inculcating a renewed understanding and appreciation of what the Church teaches in regards to marriage, and a sense of its reasonableness. The hope is that learning the Church’s timeless teaching can build confidence to promote and defend it.

The videos themselves are meant as a kind of “artistic introduction” to the topic that can spark questions and comments from the viewers. The written guides that accompany the videos can help “train the trainers” to get the right content to be confident in facilitating and answering questions. For example, the comment in Made for Each Other – “It’s not just about biology…” could open the discussion to talking about sexual difference as greater than just anatomy, about the spousal meaning of the body, about the role of science, etc. Or the line in Made for Life – “My husband plays in a way I don’t” – could lead into talking about the unique gifts of fathers and mothers and how sexual difference is more than different “roles.”

There are many settings in which to implement the Marriage: Unique for a Reason resources. Here are a few:

  1. Host a small-group event where you show one or more of the videos and lead a discussion.
  2. The videos also work well in a classroom setting, and are something that high school teachers or college professors could use with the same aim in mind. They can be used in RCIA as well.
  3. In the marriage preparation or enrichment setting, the videos could be used to help the participants gain a better understanding of their own marriage and how sexual difference matters to them. The leader might guide the discussion in that direction.
  4. The videos could also be helpful when you are training volunteers, for marriage prep or NFP, etc., to help them become more confident in what the Church teaches so that they can best help others.

Fundamentally, the videos and their companion resources are meant to “break open” the questions that need to be asked in the marriage debate: what is marriage? Why does sexual difference matter? What does marriage bring to society? And they aim to do that in a non-confrontational, invitational way.

Other ways you could use the Marriage: Unique for a Reason materials is to include one FAQ from the website in your newsletters or other communications. Or compile several for a simple bulletin insert or handout, and direct people to the website for more information.

Collaborate…and pray!

The final “tip” we’d like to offer is something that we’ve learned over the past year in our work at the USCCB, and that is the importance of collaboration and the key importance of prayer. Specifically, we’ve helped to develop and promote the Bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty, which began in December 2012 and is ongoing. The bishops urge Catholics to pray and fast for the causes of building a culture of life and marriage, and gaining religious protections. In particular, they encourage praying a daily rosary, attending adoration monthly, fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, and there are special petitions that can be read at mass, in English and in Spanish. The second annual Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 – July 4, 2013) was the 5th component of the Call to Prayer.

We’ve collaborated with several offices in furthering the Call to Prayer, particularly the pro-life office and religious liberty office. This was important not just because it shared the workload, but because these issues are tied together. Marriage is the “sanctuary of life,” and a pro-life society is a strong marriage society and vice versa. And as we’ve already talked about, marriage and religious liberty are strongly linked together.

We encourage you to reach out to others in your diocese or region who are doing pro-life or religious liberty work and find ways to collaborate together. There is strength in numbers, and it’s so important, for example, to encourage pro-life folks to promote and defend marriage, and vice versa. (This would include your State Catholic Conference, particularly with regard to policy issues and aiding in communicating it to the faithful.)  One idea is to host a seminar with the relevant offices – marriage and family life, pro-life, State Catholic Conference, etc. – on how catechesis and policy/advocacy work together.

The Call to Prayer also witnesses to the fact that prayer is key. Fundamentally, the battle is spiritual, and it’s a battle for souls. Prayer and fasting are essential, not optional. That is the vision behind the Call to Prayer – that we do what we can, but it is God who changes hearts and minds. We encourage you to check out the Call to Prayer website: There you can read about the five ways to participate and can sign up to receive weekly reminders to fast on Fridays, along with a different intention and reflection each week. There are also web banners to put up on your own website.


What now? Practical ways to promote and defend marriage (6th of 7 in a series)

Posted Aug. 30, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 3 comments

Note: This post is sixth in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage.  This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Earlier posts:


PART TWO: Practical ways to promote and defend marriage

Post #6: Doing your ministry well, and Marriage: Unique for a Reason

The current challenges we face in regards to marriage, as evidenced by the June 2013 Supreme Court decisions on two marriage cases (regarding DOMA and Proposition 8), does not mean that you have to fundamentally shift gears in your ministry or – worse – start several new programs to address these issues! That’s not what we’re suggesting, although we are going to tell you about what resources the USCCB has to offer that you may find helpful.

Instead, we encourage you to think about how the ministry you are doing right now can more effectively combat the growing sense that gender is irrelevant to marriage, and all the faulty anthropology that goes with that.

For example, perhaps a marriage preparation program could more intentionally teach the engaged couples about the distinct gifts of men and women, mothers and fathers. It could help them see the uniqueness of their roles as husbands and wives. Or perhaps in programs for young adults or even high school students, you could integrate more teaching on chastity and Christian anthropology, especially the theology of the body.  We know many of you have been doing this yet so much more needs to be done.

We know you are abundantly aware that the people you serve are not coming to you as a “blank slate,” as it were, and have already been heavily influenced by the ideas we spoke about earlier, that the Supreme Court put so clearly for us. Being “neutral” toward marriage redefinition is no longer an option; being proactive is. Defending and promoting marriage go hand in hand, and while not everyone is called to engage in public policy advocacy work, all of us can intentionally promote and defend the uniqueness of marriage and help people see and articulate alternative responses to the dominant cultural messages on marriage.

Marriage: Unique for a Reason

One specific resource that may be of help to you in your ministry is the bishops’ initiative Marriage: Unique for a Reason. I imagine that many of you are somewhat familiar with this resource already, and may have already used it in your ministries.

Marriage: Unique for a Reason has four themes: sexual difference and complementarity, the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers, marriage and the common good, and marriage and religious liberty. The order is important. The series starts with sexual difference because that is the most fundamental component – and the one most often overlooked – of marriage’s meaning. Starting with sexual difference helps to get at the roots of the issue and address the often unspoken assumptions. It also provides a solid anthropological grounding for the other three themes.

The video about sexual difference is called “Made for Each Other.” Like all of the videos, it comes with a Viewer’s Guide and a Resource Booklet for priests, deacons, catechists, and leaders.

The second theme is about children and the need for fathers and mothers. This theme includes examining what fruitfulness is and why it’s at the heart of marriage. It considers the often overlooked justice issue in the marriage debate: justice for children, to have the best chance at having a mom and a dad. It also addresses the issues of infertility and single parents (see FAQs #3 and #5). The video for this theme is called “Made for Life.” It also comes with a Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet.

The third theme, marriage and the common good, relies heavily on Catholic Social Teaching about marriage and the family and their contribution to society (see FAQ #5). It also aims to reframe the debate about equality, rights, and so on, by reinforcing the inherent goodness of marriage for everyone in society (see FAQ #13). The video in this theme is forthcoming, but there are already FAQs available at Marriage Unique for a

The fourth and final theme, marriage and religious liberty, addresses the fact that redefining marriage in the law directly affects religious liberty (see FAQ #3). This video is also forthcoming, but FAQs are available.

And lastly, there is one video in Spanish – to be released later in 2013 – that incorporates all four themes in a longer, dramatic style. It’s called “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life). The final version will be subtitled in English, and the accompanying Study Guide will be bilingual, so these resources will be suitable for mixed-language audiences.

I already mentioned the website: Marriage: Unique for a On that site are many FAQs about marriage, a regularly updated blog, a library of Church teaching, and more. We are in the process of updating the website to be more user-friendly and easy to navigate.

Next: Post #7: How to use Marriage: Unique for a Reason (and the importance of prayer)


Friday Fast: Pray and fast for fair treatment for houses of worship damaged in natural disasters

Posted Aug. 29, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Click here for printable version.

Intention: For those who provide aid in times of tragedy – that they may help all those in need, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Reflection: The months of June to November are fraught with peril for those who fear the devastating effects of hurricanes. Just last year, Hurricane Sandy left in its wake damages totaling over $68 billion in 24 states.

Without reservation, we offer our hearts and prayers to those who suffer from natural disasters. Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes and lives. The storm damaged every type of building, regardless of the building’s purpose. Unfortunately, adding insult to injury, in Sandy’s aftermath, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which provides financial assistance to a wide array of nonprofit institutions, has excluded aid for houses of worship. This discrimination against religious institutions stems from a flawed interpretation of the separation of church and state.

Today, let us not only pray for the safety of all who are facing threats from natural disasters but also for those who provide aid in times of tragedy – that they may help all those in need, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Did you know? On July 29, Archbishop William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, and Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, hailed the introduction of a Senate bill, S. 1274, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013. This bill would ensure fair and equal treatment for houses of worship damaged in natural disasters by enabling them to receive aid from FEMA.



Is defending marriage just about injuring others? No. Marriage matters for everyone. (5th of 7 in a series)

Posted Aug. 29, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Note: This post is fifth in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage.  This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Earlier posts:


PART ONE: What we can learn from the Supreme Court

Post #5: Is defending marriage just about injuring others? No. Marriage is good for everyone.

In its ruling on DOMA, the Supreme Court said that laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman are inherently suspect because their only justification is a desire to “injure” a class of persons. Indeed, the Court does not mince words when it talks about the purpose of DOMA: “The principle purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage” (p. 25, emphasis added). DOMA gave a “stigma” to such persons (p. 21) and it instructed them that their marriage is “less worthy” than other marriages (p. 25).

Worse, the Court said that DOMA – and presumably any law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman – lacks a “legitimate purpose” (p. 25). In other words, no rational reason exists that would justify a law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. No reason, for example, such as the fact that only male-female relationships are capable of conceiving children, who have a vested interest in being raised by their married father and mother.

In his dissent, Justice Scalia rails against the Court’s dismissal of marriage proponents’ arguments as merely cloaks for irrational prejudice against those who desire to marry someone of the same sex. Scalia says that the Court thus made those who still argue for man-woman marriage “enemies of the human race” (p. 21, Scalia dissent). He writes, “In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement” (p. 21). In other words, the book is closed. There is no room for disagreement. Scalia also said, “In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us” (p. 25).

Clearly that attitude is a daunting obstacle for those of us who seek to promote marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Tip number four: Emphasize that promoting and defending marriage is good for everyone.

As stated already, one challenge we face is criticism that the Church is “obsessed” with marriage because she really only cares about married people; she is pro-married couples, but anti-everyone else. Of course we know this is false.

Catholic Social Teaching is a great help here, because it is very clear that marriage and the family matter to society. (And there is no question at all that “marriage” means what it always had for the Church: the union of one man and one woman). For example, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church [CSDC] describes the family (founded on marriage) as “the primary place of humanization” (no. 209), the “cradle of life and love” (no. 209), the “first and vital cell of society” (no. 2), the place where “one learns social responsibility and solidarity” (no. 213) and so on.

Marriage benefits society, first, by being what it is. The Compendium speaks beautifully of the “dynamism of love” that radiates out from the irrevocable vow that husband and wife give to each other (CSDC, no. 221). Their “yes” to each other lays the foundation for them to say “yes” to any children God gives them, and to say “yes” to all persons, seeing them as valuable for their own sake and not for what they can do and contribute.

And marriage of course benefits society by giving children the best possible chance to be born into a situation where their mother and father have already committed to each other and to any children born from their union. Not every married couple is blessed with children, but every child has a mom and a dad. As the quip goes, “When a child is born, chances are there’s a mother close by. The problem is: Who’s the father?” Marriage solves this cultural dilemma by bringing men and women together before children are conceived, to lay a solid foundation where they can be welcomed into a “sanctuary of life” (CSDC, no. 231ff).

Another way to show that marriage matters for everyone, and is not a mean-spirited jab at those who can’t or won’t get married, is to point out that all of us are sons or daughters. All of us have a father and a mother, and whether those two persons were and still are married to each other makes a great impact on our lives. This is a universal truth, and one that the Church argues should matter for public policy.

Finally, the fact that marriage matters for everyone gives us a way to connect promoting and defending marriage with the New Evangelization. Yes, the New Evangelization means reaching and re-catechizing those who have been baptized but not formed. Those who serve in various ministries can probably think of ways that they are doing this kind of evangelization. Our Catholic people certainly need instruction in the full meaning of marriage; one poll in March 2013 found that over half of Catholics support redefining marriage (although critics pointed out that only 36% of regular mass-goers said they were for redefining marriage).  And they need to be given encouragement to stand firm in these teachings, a difficult task in the face of the Supreme Court’s judgment that defending marriage means harming and demeaning others. We of course need to dig deep into the rich, life-giving teaching of the Church on marriage and give it generously to those within the Church.

But there is another connection between the New Evangelization and marriage. In the face of such severe challenges to marriage, it can be tempting to throw up our hands and retreat from the public square, shutting the Church doors tight and vowing to “protect the Sacrament” come what may, but effectively giving up on marriage outside the Church walls. This might seem like a fix – you have your marriage, we have ours – but it would mean giving up on our responsibility to evangelize and it would mean giving up on the fact that marriage matters for everyone.

Contrary to what the Supreme Court said, the bishops are very clear that “to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice.” (USCCB, Pastoral letter, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan [2009]: p. 23)

In sum, the challenge of marriage redefinition isn’t going away. On the legal front, we can expect more court battles over marriage’s meaning, more ballot initiatives to defend or redefine marriage, and more challenges to other aspects of marriage. For example, one polygamy activist group celebrated the Court’s ruling, saying, “I think [the court] has taken a step in correcting some inequality, and that’s certainly something that’s going to trickle down and impact us.”

Even more soberly, it seems reasonable to expect continuing clashes between the Church and the government over what marriage is and how much freedom the Church has to hold to the authentic meaning of marriage. Today these challenges are being felt by wedding businesses and government officials, among others. Tomorrow, could they be felt by marriage ministries such as marriage preparation and healing ministries? We say that not to speculate or be fear-mongers, but only to point out that the trend seems to be the government strong-arming people of faith to treat people in same-sex relationships as if they were married husbands and wives.

And on the pastoral front, we can expect more confusion about marriage’s meaning and purpose, evidenced by the quotes we’ve shared from the highest Court in the land. Unfortunately, that’s the situation we find ourselves in. As Justice Scalia stated in his dissent: “…we will have to live with the chaos created by this [decision]” (p. 8, Scalia dissent). But are we just going to live with this chaos? Not us. How about you?

Next: On to Part Two: Practical Ways to Promote and Defend Marriage


The flawed anthropology of "sexual orientation" & the need for a renewal of anthropology and chastity (4th of 7 in a series)

Posted Aug. 28, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 6 comments

Note: This post is fourth in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage.  This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Earlier posts:


In its decision on DOMA, the Court continued the trend of treating sexual orientation as a “class” marker.  In other words, people who define themselves as having a homosexual orientation are de facto part of a “class” that deserves special protections from the government. The term “continued the trend” was used because it is common now to see, for example, in anti-discrimination legislation the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” used as two discrete categories of persons that may not be discriminated against.

The Catechism states that “every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided” in regards to persons with same-sex attraction (no. 2358).

But the problem with treating “sexual orientation” as a description of a class of people is that it proposes a deeply flawed [understanding of] anthropology, or understanding of the human person. Christian anthropology teaches that each person is called to accept his or her sexual identity as a man or as a woman (Catechism, no. 2333). This is consistent with the understanding that man – male and female – is a unity of body and soul (Catechism, no. 362-368). Our identity as human persons is intimately connected with our identity as a man or as a woman. In short, the body matters.

What the language of “sexual orientation” does, anthropologically, is separate one’s identity from one’s bodily nature as a man or woman, placing a premium on one’s desires and inclinations. The body then becomes a “bottom layer” – essentially meaningless matter – over which one’s “real” identity – comprised of desires and inclinations – is super-imposed. [1]

Practically speaking, treating “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as classes of persons is problematic because courts and laws tend to treat these categories not only in terms of inclinations but also behaviors. This in turn leads to religious liberty conflicts, such as questions for Catholic institutions about non-discrimination in hiring those involved in same-sex “marriages”, since they could be (and have been) sued under non-discrimination laws for firing an employee who publicly entered a same-sex “marriage.”

Tip number three: Keep talking about Christian anthropology and chastity.

Even more than the question “what is marriage?” perhaps, the question “who is the human person?” goes unasked and thus unanswered (see FAQ #1). As Catholics, we have an immense treasury of insight into who the human person is – a study called anthropology, a treasury of truth about the human condition that applies to everyone, not only Catholics. As faulty anthropologies work themselves more deeply into our nation’s laws and policies, we must be tireless in present what Bl. John Paul II called an “adequate anthropology,” that is, an understanding of the human person that fits who man is as a unity of body and soul, created male and female and called to love (see Bl. John Paul II’s audiences of Jan. 16, 1980 and April 2, 1980).

Bringing it back to the human person also helps defend against the charge that the Church is being selective and only cares about married people. Not true. Christian anthropology, rightly understood, is a message of freedom for every person. In particular, Church teaching on the universal vocation to chastity is an avenue through which to approach questions of sexuality, gender, love, and marriage. Everyone – married and single, those who struggle with same-sex attraction and those who don’t – is called to chastity, because everyone is called to integrate their sexuality within themselves and to love authentically (see Catechism, nos. 2337-2347).

Next: Post #5: Is defending marriage only about injuring others?

[1] Important here is the distinction between person, inclination, and act employed in the Church’s moral teaching. Every person, male and female, is created in the image of God with full human dignity. Every person is a gift, created to be a child of God. This identity of the person goes deeper than any inclination. Further, the Church teaches that, while homosexual acts are always sinful and contrary to the true good of the person, the experience of same-sex attraction is not sinful in itself.  Because of free will, men and women can choose which inclinations or desires to act on. Actions – and the inclinations toward them – can be either objectively ordered toward the good, meaning toward the flourishing of the person, or not. But the person, regardless of the inclinations they experience, can never be described as fundamentally flawed or disordered. In other words, pointing out anthropological problems with the concept of “sexual orientation” does not mean that persons who describe themselves as having a particular orientation are problematic or flawed. Instead, it is questioning the underlying presuppositions about who the human person is (the philosophical field of study called anthropology) embedded within the concept of “sexual orientation” as it is generally used in law and culture.


What do you say that marriage is? The need for a comprehensive vision (3rd of 7 in a series)

Posted Aug. 27, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Note: This post is third in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage.  This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Earlier posts:


PART ONE: What we can learn from the Supreme Court

Post #3: What do you say that marriage is? The need for a comprehensive vision

The marriage debate consists of two competing, mutually exclusive visions of marriage. Justice Alito made this point in his dissent. He wrote, “By asking the Court to strike down DOMA…[the plaintiff is] really seeking to have the Court resolve a debate between two competing views of marriage” (p. 13, Alito dissent).

Often we hear that the marriage debate is not about redefining marriage; it’s about expanding marriage. But consider the way in which the Court describes marriage (although it doesn’t come right out with a clear, comprehensive definition; that is not its focus). Marriage is the “legal acknowledgement of the intimate relationship between two people” (p. 20). Marriage happens when two people “affirm their commitment to one another” (p. 14). It grants persons “a status of equality” (p. 14) and “a dignity and status of immense import” (p. 18), allowing them to “live with pride in themselves and their union” (p. 14).

Reading through the majority opinion, one could be excused for thinking that marriage’s purpose is to validate adults’ feelings for one another, and to make sure they feel that their relationship is “worthy” and not “second-class” (terms also used by the Court: pp. 25, 22). Indeed, the word “dignity” is used eight times in the majority opinion. Gender, of course, has no rational connection with this.

In contrast, the definition of marriage held by Catholics and many others has everything to do with gender and sexual difference because at its heart is the one-flesh bond of husband and wife, a union open to the gift of life (see FAQ #3).

These two views of marriage – which have been called by various names, such as “revisionist” or “genderless” versus “natural” or “conjugal” – are not compatible. Either marriage has at its heart a one-flesh communion made possible by the presence of a husband and a wife, or it doesn’t. To “expand” marriage is really to flatten it – to reduce it to the state’s recognition of adults’ romantic relationships.

Tip number two: present as comprehensive vision of marriage as possible.

It’s no secret that the push to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex is just the latest assault on marriage. Contraception, divorce, and cohabitation have each contributed to erode marriage’s meaning. We need to reclaim not just the truth that marriage takes a man and a woman – we need to reclaim all of the truths about marriage, that it is open to life, faithful, indissoluble, and at its heart a complete gift of one’s self, time, body, possessions, and so on, to one’s spouse.

Presenting the fullness of marriage provides a counter to the alternative view of marriage that has gained such traction. And it also provides a way for everyone, in whatever ministry or situation they are in, to help rebuild marriage. For example, NFP teachers can help people see the fruitfulness of marriage; those who help to heal struggling marriages can help people see marriage’s indissolubility; married persons can witness to marriage by living it faithfully, and so forth.

We must be clear that neutrality is not an option. We have been given by our Church such a beautiful, comprehensive vision of marriage, and we should look for every opportunity to proclaim it.

Next: Post #4: The flawed anthropology of sexual orientation, and the need for “adequate anthropology” and a renewed emphasis on chastity


Unspoken Assumptions & Reframing the Debate (2nd of 7 in a series)

Posted Aug. 26, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 13 comments

Note: This post is second in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage.  This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Earlier posts:

#1: Background to the Supreme Court cases


PART ONE: What we can learn from the Supreme Court

Post #2: Unspoken assumptions & reframing the debate

In the marriage debate, there are many, many unspoken assumptions. It’s often the case that the most important questions go unasked and thus unanswered, chief among them the most important question of all – What is marriage?

For example: the opening line of the majority opinion says, “Two women then resident in New York were married in a lawful ceremony in Ontario, Canada in 2007” (p. 1). It goes on to argue that it was wrong of the U.S. federal government not to recognize this marriage and grant the attendant federal benefits.

The assumption hidden here is huge: the Court has taken it as a given that if these two women were “lawfully wed” in Canada, then they’re married. End of discussion. A marriage is a marriage is a marriage because the government (or a governing body) says it is. But for those of us who believe that marriage’s meaning is rooted in the meaning of the human person, created male and female (see Catechism, nos. 1602 – 1605), the question is: “Is it even possible for two women to be married? Is marriage the kind of thing that can actually exist between two persons of the same sex?” But the Court elides those questions, taking for granted that these two women – Edith and Thea – were lawfully, actually married, no question.

We can dig down deeper and uncover other hidden assumptions: assumptions about the body, assumptions about children and procreation, assumptions about freedom and the meaning of rights, and so forth.

So here’s tip number one: We must bring to light what is hidden in the dark by uncovering hidden assumptions and offering alternative readings that do justice to the human person. In other words, we must reframe the arguments to get at the deeper questions, questions that go all the way to the root: Who is the human person?

As another example, the Court argues that the real issue at stake in the marriage debate is equality. The Court doesn’t mince words here. It says, “DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States code” and the “principal purpose” of DOMA is to “impose inequality” (p. 22). In contrast, allowing two persons of the same sex to marry gives them a “status of equality” (p. 14).

The looming, unasked question here is: are these two situations really identical, such that equality demands identical treatment? The Court assumes that the marriage of a husband and wife and the “marriage” of two persons of the same sex are exactly the same thing. (And “assumes” is the right word – the Court does not make an argument that this is the case but just presents it as such).

But we can only address the question of equality after first addressing the question of marriage, a question that is going both unasked and unanswered. In our conversations and communications, we must insist on bringing the debate back to the fundamental question: What is marriage? (see FAQ #3) A phrase we use in our work is: “Treating different things differently is not discrimination.” We can make a case for the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman by pointing out that only a man and a woman can form a one-flesh communion and can give themselves fully to each other, including on a bodily level (see FAQ #8). Only a man and a woman are capable of welcoming new life into the world, even though there are times, sadly, when this doesn’t happen for reasons beyond their control. And so forth.

Reframing means not accepting the terms of the debate as given, but digging deeper to get at the real issues, the real questions. So if someone asks you, “Are you for marriage equality?” an answer could be: “Well, what do you think marriage is?” or, less Socratically, “I’m for equality, sure – but I think marriage is unique and needs both a man and a woman; it’s not wrong to treat different things differently,” etc.

Next: Post #3: Mutually exclusive understandings of marriage, and the need for a comprehensive approach


Bishop of Honolulu to Parishioners: Contact your legislator and ask them to defend marriage

Posted Aug. 23, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

In a letter addressed to all Catholics in Hawaii, dated August 22, 2013, Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu writes, “The issue of same-sex marriage is in the limelight once again in our community, with a move for a special legislative session to vote on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaii.”

The bishop continues, “While the Catholic Church is clear in its insistence that true marriage can only be between one man and one woman, there are many people, even among Catholics, who perceive such insistence as unjust discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Therefore, it is urgent to clarify certain issues.”

In his letter to Hawaii Catholics, Bishop Silva touches on the issue of discrimination, on the long-term effects of redefining marriage, including threats to religious freedom, and on the importance of marriage for children, who will be the “greatest casualties” of marriage redefinition.

The bishop writes, “The issue goes far beyond simply the private relationship of this or that couple, and its implications will be far reaching and profound. The language of the proponents is meant to convince us that this is a civil rights issue and that anyone who does not agree is bigoted. Do not be led astray with such language, and do not allow yourself to be bullied by it.”

He encourages all Catholics in Hawaii to contact their state legislator and urge them to defend marriage, to pray for their legislators (“But do not let your prayer be mere words!” Bishop Silva says), and to be understanding toward those who do not agree with them – “even Catholic legislators who have committed to vote for same-sex marriage.”

Read Bishop Larry Silva’s entire letter here.


Friday Fast: for women who have been pressured to abort

Posted Aug. 23, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Click here for printable version.

Visit our Facebook page to see and share an image for this week’s Friday Fast.

Intention: For any woman who has been pressured to have an abortion – that she may know the Lord’s tender healing love.

Reflection: “I was pressured into the abortions by family members who told me that I was not emotionally stable and incapable of being able to care for a baby… I am in a state of total sadness and regret for what I have done. I want to cry but the tears will not come.” 


Although we may not always see the fruit, prayer and fasting are incredibly powerful ways that we can support women who are suffering. Let us pray that they may know the powerful love of God, who cares so deeply and tenderly for them and their children. Let us pray that they may know that they do not have to suffer alone.

Did you know? It’s normal to grieve a pregnancy loss, including the loss of a child by abortion. It can form a hole in one’s heart, a hole so deep that sometimes it seems nothing can fill the emptiness. Project Rachel is the Catholic Church’s healing ministry to those who have been involved in abortion. If you or someone you know is suffering after abortion, confidential non-judgmental help is available. Call Project Rachel’s national toll-free number, 888-456-HOPE (-4673), or visit or



New Series: Promoting and Defending Marriage – What We Can Learn from the Supreme Court Decisions

Posted Aug. 23, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 3 comments

Note: this series of posts is based on a talk given by staff of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at a conference for Catholic marriage and family life ministers in July 2013. It is broken into two parts, with seven posts total.


PART ONE: What we can learn from the Supreme Court

Post #1: Background: June 2013 Supreme Court decisions on marriage

Two major Supreme Court decisions on marriage were handed down at the end of June 2013: one on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA (United States v. Windsor), and the other on California’s Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry). While the decisions were not the “Roe v. Wade moment” for marriage as they could have been – marriage was not redefined throughout the entire country – they were very damaging, to say the least.

Proposition 8

The decision regarding Proposition 8 was that the defenders of Prop 8 had no standing in Court, meaning that the Court could not rule on the merits of the case – whether or not Prop 8 was unconstitutional – because the party defending Prop 8 didn’t have the legal ability (or right) to do so.

On the one hand, this was a relief. The Court could have said that Proposition 8 – which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the California state constitution – was unconstitutional, which would have called into question the over 30 state constitutional amendments and statutes saying the same thing.

But the Court in effect gave that question a “pass,” and legal experts are currently parsing out what exactly the ruling means for California. [Update: To date, the net effect of the ‘no standing’ decision has been the State of California applying statewide the August 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.  That ruling found Prop 8 unconstitutional, and applying it statewide means that same-sex ‘marriage’ licenses can be issued throughout the state.  We await whether a state official with ‘standing’ will challenge the statewide application of this earlier U.S. District Court decision.]


The ruling in the DOMA case was more substantial and thus more problematic. The Court ruled that section 3 of DOMA, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman for purposes of federal law, is unconstitutional. In effect, this means that any marriage recognized by a state – including a “marriage” between two persons of the same sex – will also be recognized by the federal government, such that the 1,000 or so federal laws which use the word marriage – affecting things like estate taxes, immigration, military benefits, and so on – will now define marriage not as the union of one man and one woman but as a state-recognized relationship of any two persons.

For our purposes here, we won’t get into the potential legal ramifications of the Prop 8 or DOMA decision – we’ll leave that to the lawyers and policy experts. Instead, we’re going to use four key themes from the Court’s DOMA decision as a window of sorts into what we’re up against in terms of the current marriage debate. After all, only when we accurately diagnose our culture’s malaise and distortions can we offer an appropriate antidote. For each of the challenges, we’ll offer a tip or tool as a suggestion of how to best promote and defend marriage in your sphere of influence.

(As an explanatory note, when we say “the Court,” we mean the majority opinion of the DOMA decision, delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by four other Justices. We’ll also share some counterpoints from Justice Alito and Justice Scalia, both of whom dissented to the Court’s majority opinion.)

Next: Post #2: Unspoken assumptions & reframing the debate



Cardinal Wuerl: "Truth is Never Discrimination"

Posted Aug. 21, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

On his blog Seek First the Kingdom, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington wrote on August 19, “Of the Catholic Church’s many teachings, perhaps some of the most challenging for people in today’s culture involve human sexuality, including homosexuality. As state after state considers changing its laws on the definition of marriage, all of us have had to think about the nature of love, the meaning of marriage and the teaching of the Gospel.”

The Cardinal goes on to describe the current cultural climate as one where describing marriage as “inherently something between a man and a woman only” is now considered discrimination, bigotry, or even hate speech.

For example, he says, “In the debate over the nature of marriage, even the White House chose to use words like ‘discrimination’ to describe the position of people of good faith who simply disagree with the President’s stance.” And in states where the legal definition of marriage has been challenged in the legislature and/or the courts, “words like ‘bigotry,’ ‘discrimination’ and ‘hatred’ have been bandied about with nothing more to support them than the actual fact that some people think that the definition of marriage really and truly is between a man and a woman.”

The proclivity to label those with whom one disagrees about marriage as “haters” or “bigots,” laments the Cardinal, stifles our ability to genuinely discuss an issue crucial to our society. “Too often the people who claim to be able to read the minds of other people and thus can denounce them as bigots are prepared to say in the next breath not only are your opinions not welcome, but neither are you any longer.”

Read the rest here: “Truth is Never Discrimination”



Friday Fast: for struggling marriages

Posted Aug. 15, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Click here for printable version.

Intention: For husbands and wives experiencing difficulties in their marriage – that the Lord would strengthen their love for each other as a sign of His love for the world.

Reflection: On their wedding day, a husband and wife promise to be true to each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health” (Rite of Marriage #25). Sure enough, the bad times come. Every married couple encounters times when loving their spouse isn’t so easy, or when outside difficulties put strain on the relationship.

As Pope Francis reminded the youth in Brazil, saying “yes” forever to one’s spouse is a revolutionary act! Not knowing what tomorrow will bring, husbands and wives can rely on the grace of the sacrament they received on their wedding day.

And married couples can take heart that their “yes” to each other, even when it is difficult to say, bears much fruit in the world. Pope Benedict XVI called marriage “a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today… The union of a man and a woman, their becoming ‘one flesh’ in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence.”

Did you know? The Church offers much assistance to husbands and wives who are experiencing marital difficulties. For example, the USCCB website For Your Marriage has advice and articles from experts about a number of obstacles that married couples face, including addictions, disillusionment, infidelity, and pornography. The website also has a list of organizations that provide support for troubled marriages. See also the pamphlet “Finding Help When Your Marriage Is In Trouble.”



New USCCB Video: "Saying I Do: What Happens at a Catholic Wedding"

Posted Aug. 10, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

USCCB News Release (August 8, 2013):

A new video, “Saying I Do: What Happens at a Catholic Wedding,” introduces viewers to the Rite of Marriage and answers frequently asked questions about Catholic marriage. The video is intended for engaged couples, their families and people involved in marriage preparation, and anyone with questions about Catholic weddings.

“This will be a valuable addition to marriage preparation programs. The Catholic Rite of Marriage is profound and beautiful and I hope that engaged couples and their families will take this opportunity to learn more about it,” said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The video includes a brief overview of the sacrament of marriage and an explanation of the three forms of the Rite of Marriage. It answers basic questions such as when and where Catholic weddings can be held and how non-Catholic clergy can participate in the ceremony. The video was produced by USCCB’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth in collaboration with the Secretariat of Divine Worship and the Department of Communications.

“The video is a great way to help people to visualize the Catholic way of celebrating weddings,” said Father Daniel Merz, USCCB’s associate director of Divine Worship.  “It’s good to get these images in our heads rather than more secular ones that really don’t reflect Christian marriage.”

The 22-minute video is available on the homepage of the For Your Marriage website: [or on YouTube].


Pope Francis to Knights of Columbus: Keep bearing witness to marriage and the family

Posted Aug. 9, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization of men, held their 131st Supreme Convention from August 6 to 8 in San Antonio, Texas.  In a letter written on behalf of Pope Francis, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote to the Knights, “His Holiness…asked me to convey his warm greetings to all in attendance, together with the assurance of his closeness in prayer.”

In the letter, Cardinal Bertone said, “Conscious of the specific responsibility which the lay faithful have for the Church’s mission, [Pope Francis] invites each Knight, and every Council, to bear witness to the authentic nature of marriage and the family, the sanctity and inviolable dignity of human life, and the beauty and truth of human sexuality. In this time of rapid social and cultural changes, the protection of God’s gifts cannot fail to include the affirmation and defense of the great patrimony of moral truths taught by the Gospel and confirmed by right reason, which serve as the bedrock of a just and well-ordered society” (emphasis added).



Friday Fast: for those facing religious persecution

Posted Aug. 8, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Click here for printable version.

Intention: For the intercession of the saints to fortify and encourage all those facing religious persecution.

Reflection: Today we celebrate the feast of St. Edith Stein, who was born into a Jewish family in 1891 in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. During her studies in philosophy, she encountered the writings of the great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, who inspired her conversion to Catholicism in 1922. In 1933, she joined the Carmelite Order, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Edith faced significant adversity during her early years in religious life. Recognizing the risk she presented to her fellow sisters during World War II because of her Jewish background, Edith left for Holland and entered the Carmel of Echt. Edith, however, was captured by Nazis and later taken to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.

St. Edith Stein stands as a profound witness for all who seek to live for the truth. Let us recall her words spoken just a few days before her death: “If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.” We pray ardently for the grace to stand courageously in the face of religious persecution.

Did you know? Last year, Pope Benedict XVI told the diplomatic corps that even in today’s time, “In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights…; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life.”  Read more about current threats to international religious freedom.



Five Great Pope Francis Quotes about Marriage and the Family from World Youth Day

Posted Aug. 2, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 14 comments

World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro just concluded this past Sunday, July 28. Below are five great quotes from Pope Francis about marriage and the family, all given during World Youth Day. Enjoy!

Number 1: Thursday, July 25, Address to Community of Varginha (Manguinhos): “Dear friends, it is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry – this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy, the hunger for dignity. There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for the purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.”

Number 2: Friday, July 26, Angelus:How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith! Speaking about family life, I would like to say one thing: today, as Brazil and the Church around the world celebrate this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, Grandparents Day is also being celebrated. How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogues, especially within the context of the family.”

Number 3: Saturday, July 27, Interview on Radio Catedral (radio broadcasting station of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro): “Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.

Number 4: Sunday, July 28, Address to the World Youth Day Volunteers: “God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move forward toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.”

Number 5: Sunday, July 28, Address to the Bishops of Brazil: “In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and who are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it.”




Friday Fast: Pray for greater friendship with Jesus

Posted Aug. 1, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Click here for printable version.

Intention: That we may become better friends with Jesus, and that our friendship with Him would help us to reflect His love for everyone.

Reflection: When we look at our society, we see a great deal of suffering, injustice, and heartache. We see people of inestimable worth who are looked down on or rejected because of their disabilities. We see women facing unexpected pregnancies who feel trapped and as though there is no life-affirming support for both them and their children. We see elderly men and women who fear that they are a burden.

Yet we know that “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps 34:19). And we know that He invites us to help Him show all people His love. We might feel intimidated and overwhelmed because we don’t know how to respond to the great need we see, but He will show us.

Let us draw close to Jesus, spending time with Him and listening to His voice. Let us ask for help seeing Him in those around us and loving them with His heart: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

Did you know? Today is the feast day of St. Peter Julian Eymard (called the “Apostle of the Eucharist”): “Belong entirely to God through love, entirely to your neighbor through a gracious charity, entirely to the divine Eucharist by the offering and sacrifice of your whole self. Bear with yourself in the patience of our Lord.” (See also: “A Holy Hour for Life: Prayers Before the Blessed Sacrament for the Gospel of Life”).



From Across the Pond: English Bishop Reacts to Passage of Marriage Redefinition Bill

Posted Aug. 1, 2013 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 3 comments

A bill to redefine marriage – the “Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act” – was approved in England earlier in July.

On July 29, Bishop Philip Egan of the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, England, released a message about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. In it, he spoke of marriage redefinition as “the inevitable outcome of a process that has been gathering pace since the sexual revolutions of the 1960s.”

He goes on: “Until then, the traditional (that is, the natural and the Christian) understanding of marriage, sexual intercourse and family life prevailed. Sexual intercourse was seen as located exclusively within married family life and having a double end or purpose: the expression of love and the procreation of children. Since the 1960s, however, artificial contraceptives have been widely available, which split these two ends of sexual intercourse, separating the unitive and suppressing the procreative aspect. Lifted from its natural context within married love and commitment, and coupled to pleasure without responsibility, sexual intercourse could now be experienced outside marriage, and thus, in time, take on a new meaning in human relationships.”

It is built upon this “revised understanding of sexual intercourse and family life” that “powerful lobby groups” now advocate for the social acceptability of homosexual activity, including the redefinition of marriage to include persons of the same sex.

Bishop Egan writes, “As Catholics, like Israel in Egypt, we now find ourselves in an alien land that speaks a foreign language with unfamiliar customs. For what we mean by the matrimony, sexual intercourse and family life is no longer what today’s world, the government…and policy-makers understand by marriage, sex and the family.” He identifies the pastoral and potential legal challenges inherent in a disconnect between the State’s new gender-neutral definition of marriage and the Church’s (and others’) long-held belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

“It goes without saying,” the Bishop writes, “that special support needs to be offered to those of same-sex attraction to help them find that inner freedom, chastity and perfection which Christ offers (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2359).” He adds, “Pastors have always been ready and willing, in Christ’s name, to offer mercy, forgiveness and support to those who are struggling and striving to live up to the ideals Christ calls us to. They are, after all, ideals written deep in the human heart, and which in heaven will find their eternal fulfilment, resolution and true flowering.”

Bishop Egan concludes, “It remains my hope and prayer that in time, by God’s grace and by our gentle love and witness, we will recall society to the path of authentic humanism and thus help everyone hear the call of the Spirit within their hearts to true happiness.”

Read Bishop Egan’s entire message.