It has been 48 hours since the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision, and a million or so opinions have already been voiced. Uncomplicated expressions of joy or horror are easiest, and so we’ve seen those first. But there are other possibilities. I’m probably not alone in feeling that there is much to wrestle through. As a theologian who belongs to the Catholic Church, though, I’m convinced that there are several things worth saying now, to fellow Catholics. (Others are, of course, welcome to consider them insofar as they are relevant.)
1. We should stop describing “the Church” and “LGBT people” as if they were two discrete groups. LGBT people are not only, as the US bishops put it in 1997, “our children,” they are, in fact, us. They are lay people, priests, religious, and bishops–in a variety of situations with regard to their own experiences of sexual attraction and sense of identity.
2. We should be candid about the profound differences on these questions among the faithful–and even among the “most faithful,” insofar as that phrase describes Catholics whose identity and sense of vocation is firmly rooted in the Church.
3. We should begin, and continue, to attend to the testimonies of LGBT people, including, and perhaps especially, testimonies of those in the Church. It is still the case that many of us have no grasp of the isolation, sadness, and feelings of shame that are often involved. Many of us don’t see what causes the suicides. Note that such listening may produce concern across a range of issues. (If, e.g., anyone should be reaching out with a broad range of service for homeless LGBT teens, it should be the Catholic Church.)
4. We should be clear about the fact that there are many children in the U.S.–two million, by some estimates–being raised by gay or lesbian parents. As Pope Francis leads us to focus on the state of the family, we should consider together what our position is vis-a-vis these families.
5. We should attend again, with care and with openness, to the account of conjugal marriage given by the Church’s teaching office. This is the duty of every Catholic, on every issue, of course, and it is perhaps especially important here. Every day, I see flippant opinions in the media that make clear this account is not understood well, or at all. Every semester, I talk with college students, many of whom who have completed more than a dozen years of Catholic schooling, who have no idea what it involves. (“Well, that makes a lot more sense than I thought it did,” is what they often say, and some seem positively intrigued.) I’ll say here what I say to them: if the Catholic Church’s official position on marriage just seems silly to you, you haven’t understood it yet. On the other hand, if Catholics haven’t managed to convey this vision to our own children, can we really blame others who find it baffling?
6. Those living out this conjugal view of marriage have no task more important than embodying a Catholic vision of “fruitfulness.” This means openness to children, but it means more than that. A fruitful marriage is not only for the good of the spouses involved, but is a source of hospitality and grace to others, as well.
7. In engagements in the public square, Catholics should spend zero time or energy worrying about the preservation of the Church–or the Church’s influence. That is simply not our concern. Insofar as living out Catholic convictions costs us in more personal and painful ways, we should accept that with a minimum of melodrama.
8. We can never compromise our consciences, but everything else is up for grabs. Money, comfort, convenience: none of these matter.
9. We should be creative and do what we can. We should speak out, in public and the private spheres, against violence, or any other form of dehumanization, that we encounter. We should lean in, looking for any possibility to build and preserve relationship. We should imaginatively seek the good of the other, even and especially at our own expense. A business owner who cannot in good conscience cover benefits for same-sex spouses of employees can look for another way, and can make clear that the last thing she would want would be to see any household go without the coverage they need. Families should commit themselves to making sure that LGBT sons and daughters (and sisters and brothers and cousins…) know that they are cherished beyond measure.
10. We should refuse indifference and the anger that becomes despair. Beyond all these things, we should put on love.