Same-sex marriage: Why it should not be considered a ‘civil right’ Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Apr. 10, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

In 2006, citizens in Wisconsin approved a “Marriage Protection Amendment” to the state Constitution by a “yes” vote of 59.4 percent of the voters.

Wisconsin voters upheld the definition of marriage as “one man and one woman.” The state’s Catholic bishops had encouraged citizens to protect this definition of marriage.  John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, commented in 2006, “In their votes . . . the people of Wisconsin reaffirmed their intention to preserve the one man, one woman institution of marriage in our state.”

Same-sex couples bring lawsuits

Now, over seven years later, there are four same-sex couples suing our governor and other public officials in an attempt to overturn Wisconsin’s amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has pledged to fight the lawsuit, which also attempts to block the state law which makes it a crime for couples to get married in another state if the marriage would not be recognized in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin litigation is among 40 pending lawsuits in 22 states throughout the country seeking marriage rights for gay couples.

Opinion polls show increasing support for same-sex marriage, with people often saying that same-sex couples should have a “right” to marry. There are those who equate the demand for same-sex marriage to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Considering civil rights

Notwithstanding the very strong Catholic teaching on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, I think it is helpful to examine the issue of whether marriage between anyone but one man and one woman is a “civil right.”

In researching this issue, I found an article by James W. Skillen called “Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Is Not a Civil Right” published by the Center for Public Justice ( The center is an independent, nonpartisan organization devoted to policy research and civic education.

In his article, Skillen says, “Marriage law has long been a state matter, and in the United States that has meant, literally, a state rather than a federal matter. In any case, the law has until now taken for granted that marriage is an institutional bond between a man and a woman.”

Marriage is about natural law

Skillen goes on to say, “Moreover, marriage is something people of all faiths and no faith engage in. Churches, synagogues, and mosques may bless marriages but they do not create the institution. In that sense the question of marriage is not first of all a religious matter in the sense in which most people use the word ‘religion.’”

As Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison has often said, marriage is about natural law. “There can’t be a right to go against the nature of a person,” Bishop Morlino told staff members of the diocesan offices at a staff catechesis in February. “Homosexual behavior is not unitive or procreative,” he said, pointing to the two ends or purposes of marriage.

Skillen says that those who argue that same-sex couples should be included, as a matter of civil right, within the legal definition of marriage are appealing to the constitutional principles of equal protection and equal treatment. “But this is entirely inappropriate for making the case for same-sex ‘marriage,’” he says.

“To argue that the Constitution guarantees equal treatment to all citizens, both men and women, does not say anything about what constitutes marriage, or a family, or a business enterprise, or a university, or a friendship. An appeal for equal treatment would certainly not lead a court to require that a small business enterprise be called a marriage just because two business partners prefer to think of their business that way.”

Skillen agrees with what Bishop Morlino said: that marriage as we have long defined it is a heterosexual relationship between one man and one woman. He says, “To recognize in law the distinct character of a marriage relationship, which entails sexual intercourse, involves no discrimination of a civil rights kind against those whose bonds do not include sexual intercourse.

“Those who choose to live together in life-long homosexual relationships; or brothers and sisters who live together and take care of one another; or two friends of the same sex who are not sexually involved but share life together in the same home — all of these may be free to live as they do, and they suffer no civil rights discrimination by not being identified as marriages.”

Discuss this issue

Bishop Morlino has encouraged  Catholics in the Diocese of Madison to discuss Catholic teaching on marriage with other Catholics, especially those who support same-sex marriage. There are many aspects of this issue to consider.

If we don’t let our views supporting the traditional definition of marriage be known, there’s the danger that the courts and our legislators will impose a change in the definition of marriage on all of us. We can’t stand by and let that happen.