Alaska’s Catholic bishops released a joint statement responding to the U.S. Supreme Court decision June 26 in which the judges ruled 5-4 that same sex marriage is a constitutional right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. The ruling effectively nullifies all state laws upholding marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage represents a profound legal turning point in the contemporary and cultural understanding of spouses and family,” stated Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Juneau Bishop Edward Burns and Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski in a statement issued by the Alaska Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Alaska.
The press release noted that Alaska’s bishops stand united with Catholic bishops across the nation in opposing the high court’s ruling to force the redefinition of legal marriage across the nation.
The Alaska bishops emphasized their agreement with a statement by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who said, “It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.”
Archbishop Kurtz added: “The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female.”
“Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children,” Archbishop Kurtz continued. “The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home. Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.”
The Alaska bishops noted that while marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, “every human person deserves respect and compassion.”
“The experience of same- sex attraction is a reality that calls for attention, sensitivity and pastoral care,” the Alaska bishops emphasized. “While every person is called to love and deserves to be loved, today’s momentous decision will not change the truth of the church’s teaching on marriage.”
But Alaska’s bishops noted that the court decision to redefine marriage will have “a significant ripple effect upon the first amendment right to religious liberty.”
Specifically they note that the court’s decision “sets the church’s teaching about marriage in opposition to the law and will create inestimable conflicts between the state and religious persons and institutions.”
Despite possible consequences in the weeks and months ahead, the Alaska bishops said they “will continue to preach the truth about marriage and will promote, in the public square” because the truth about marriage “is good for society and our world.”
In Alaska, same-sex couples have been able to legally marry since last October after a federal judge ruled that the state’s constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman violated the U.S. Constitution.
According to a report in the Alaska Dispatch News, securing same-sex “marriage” is just the beginning for gay rights advocates in the state.
The president of ACLU of Alaska, Joshua Decker, told the Dispatch that “the battle isn’t over” and that the next step is to implement non-discrimination laws that apply to workplaces, housing and all public accommodations.
Decker told the Dispatch that he hopes political leaders across Alaska would soon craft local nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
But defenders of marriage between a man and woman have raised concerns about religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty told EWTN News that the “free exercise of religion means that we have a right not only to debate it openly in the public square, but to operate our ministries and to live our lives in accordance to the truth about marriage without violence, or being penalized, or losing our tax exemption, or losing our ability to serve the common good through our social services and through education.”
“The Church and its religious organizations serve millions of people with love and attention,” the archbishop said, adding that “it would be a shame to see that jeopardized. It would be a shame to see free exercise swallowed up in this decision.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling effectively overturned a November decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld traditional marriage laws in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Alaska was appealing it’s traditional marriage law but has since dropped the case.
Religious liberty advocates have expressed concern that the court’s ruling will affect thousands of marriage laws on local, state and federal levels.
According to EWTN News, Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. bishops conference, expressed concern that the court ruling could create controversy regarding tax exemptions, employee benefits, employment, and school accreditation for institutions that uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“We’ve seen already many of these disputes emerge in states that have already recognized same-sex marriage. We’ve seen them in states that have aggressive sexual orientation, gender identity, and anti-discrimination laws,” he said.