July 2, 2013

Regarding the June 30 op-ed “The nature of marriage” by Catholic Archbishop Donald Wuerl:

How would the Supreme Court “settling the debate over the meaning of marriage” impact what believers, specifically Roman Catholics like me, hold to be the “nature of marriage”? Is the concern that Catholics will start changing their minds about the “nature of marriage” or that others, those who are not Catholic, should agree with Catholics, or both? What Cardinal Wuerl said about marriage, I believe, as a Catholic and someone married more than 40 years to the same person. But I do not understand all the concern that a state or the Supreme Court should define marriage in the same way that the Catholic hierarchy does. Why do the Catholic bishops need the state or the Supreme Court to confirm what they teach?

Cardinal Wuerl and all his episcopal colleagues certainly have the right and duty to proclaim the church’s understanding of marriage, and many people, Catholic or not, will likely agree with them. But to argue that the Supreme Court or states should understand the “nature of marriage” in the same way that Catholic bishops do — none of whom have had the personal experience of marriage — seems to be an extreme position and one that is not warranted. I think it is time for the bishops to back off. 

Robert Stewart, Chantilly

Cardinal Donald Wuerl correctly stated that we are in “a significant moment” in our public conversation about marriage. Catholics, and many men and women of good will, have consistently believed and taught that marriage is a permanent, faithful and fruitful union between one man and one woman. We have come to this clear understanding through our faith and reason itself.

Currently, 35 states have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. As a result of the recent Supreme Court decisions, it is now up to these states to continue to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Not unlike the principle of “subsidiarity” (one of the most constant and characteristic directives of the Catholic Church’s social teaching), decision making about the legal nature of marriage is best left to the states. It is the government closest to the people — an expression of subsidiarity. As the cardinal concluded, this means that the important debate about the real meaning of marriage will continue. As U.S. citizens, each one of us should be a part of that discussion and seek to protect the traditional definition of marriage.

Paul G. Scolese, Alexandria

The writer is president of the John Carroll Society.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s argument was constructed on the flawed premise that we honor marriage primarily as an institution to promote procreation. While attempting not to devalue the relationships of men and women who “are unable to have children for some reason,” tacitly forgiving heterosexual couples who marry with no intention of having children, Cardinal Wuerl insisted that the primary reason our society created and continues to endorse the institution of marriage is for “the generation and education of children.” Since same-sex couples are biologically incapable of producing children, he concluded that “most people” will continue to understand that marriage should be reserved for unions that have the “possibility” of generating children.

It has been my privilege to get to know many families with same-sex parents who have provided a stable and loving foundation for their children and who have contributed significantly to the fabric of our community. One can only wonder whether Cardinal Wuerl has yet shared this experience, because it would be incomprehensible that he could observe the contributions of such families while continuing to argue that they be denied our full blessing. Thankfully, it appears that “most people” have begun to recognize the inherent dissonance in this viewpoint.

Jeff Wilklow, Burke

The writer is president of the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s concern that procreative marriage is needed to continue the human race may or may not have been understandable 800 years ago in the wake of depopulation by the Black Death, but with 7 billion souls on the planet (and at least a few more since you started reading this letter), our species is hardly at risk of dying out from allowing a small fraction of the U.S. population to enter into committed loving relationships not based on having children. We don’t so much need an increase in the number of children, but an increase in loving support for them. Heterosexual marriages are neither guarantees of loving child rearing, nor a monopoly thereof. In a time of so much hate, why do so many people feel the need to hurt people who love one another?

Jim Mangi, Annandale

Although any two people can engage in a contractual relationship, the specific contract to foster a critical social commodity — the generation and protection of children — has always been called “marriage.” If the meaning of “marriage” is devalued, no doubt society will soon find a new name for the union of a woman and a man. A common, everyday occurrence but a great one, because it is the foundation of society. As Cardinal Donald Wuerl wrote, it’s not a question of equality, but of calling things by their name.

Joseph C. Masdeu, Washington