Can government change definition of marriage? Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 -- 12:00 AM
Under the Gospel Book by Bishop Robert C. Morlino
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

For this week’s column, allow me to pose the question, “Does any civil government have the authority to change the definition of marriage, either directly or indirectly?”

To change the definition of marriage directly would mean to call “marriage” any union apart from: one-man, one-woman, one-lifetime, with openness to children. It would mean to call “marriage” any other sort of union than the historical, traditional definition, articulated above.

Indirectly to change the definition of marriage would mean to establish by law certain institutions, civil-unions or otherwise, attempting to give them the same value as marriage, while never addressing the true meaning of marriage.

More and more, this indirect change is being proposed by clever politicians who say, “Well, I believe in marriage between a man and a woman myself, but society, at large, is leaning toward the acceptability of civil unions, so maybe this is a compromise?”

This indirect approach to redefining marriage seems very comfortable for the Catholic who deceives him or herself into thinking that he or she has one conscience for personal matters and another conscience for matters pertaining to the state. But, the Lord has given each human being, Catholic and otherwise, one conscience only.

The origins of marriage

What are the origins of marriage? Marriage was created by God at the very beginning, with the gift of Eve to Adam, and their natural marital bond, from which issued forth Cain and Abel.

Thus, the first societal grouping present in the world, long prior to the establishment of any civil government whatsoever, was marriage. Marriage as the basic unit of society was to be the place of mutual love, as well as the procreation and education of children, so that the other developments of societal structure would have marriage to build on, and as a necessary condition of their existence.

The principle of subsidiarity reminds us that problems of civil importance should be resolved at the lowest possible societal level. Thus, national governments should yield to the state where possible, the state should yield to local municipalities where possible, and local municipalities should yield to the natural family where possible. For example, it is clear that natural parents are the first and primary educators of their own children, a role never to be usurped unjustly by the state.

Changing the definition of marriage, family

Of course, changing the definition of marriage necessitates changing the definition of family, which simply exacerbates an already very-serious problem. But, very simply, marriage and the family existed prior to the appearance on the scene of any civil governmental structure whatsoever. And, the various civil governmental structures that exist rely on the natural family as their natural foundation.

Therefore, marriage and the family supersede, in dignity and in importance for human civilization, any other structure which might be concocted by the state. Thus, civil governments have no authority whatsoever to change the meaning of the words “marriage” or “family,” nor is there any authority in the civil government to change the meaning of “mother,” or “father,” or “sister,” or “brother,” etc. The natural structure of the family is the clear Will of the Creator, from the beginning, and it is not subject to any manipulation whatsoever, by civil governments, as to its definition.

Matter of human reason

This response to the question posed at the beginning can be seen as a matter of human reason, and not emanating from revealed faith and doctrine. Thus, all human beings of good will are accountable to this definition, and it is not simply a denominational conviction of the Catholic Church.

Please, dear sisters and brothers of the Diocese of Madison, understand these matters and explain them calmly, lovingly, but always with conviction, to those who are in doubt or in dissent.

Echoing statements made by many other bishops, the future of our civilization in the United States of America depends on our success in protecting traditional, natural marriage — always and only with the grace of God.

Thank you for reading this. God bless each one of you and your loved ones. Praised be Jesus Christ!