While arguing as an expert witness in a recent Supreme Court hearing on whether or not there is a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, despite prohibitions passed by a number of individual states, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Beaton Verrilli Jr. not only emphatically argued that same-sex couples do indeed have that right, but also suggested that religious institutions that support traditional marriage may lose their tax-exempt status.
Justice Samuel Alito, in questioning Verrilli, brought up the case of Bob Jones University. The Christian institution had had a policy against interracial marriage and interracial dating. When that policy was challenged in the Supreme Court, it was decided such opposition to interracial marriage or interracial dating would result in a loss of its tax exempt status. Alito asked, “So, would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?” In response, Verrilli conceded, “It's certainly going to be an issue…I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is…going to be an issue.”
Father Tom Bartolomeo of Spero News responded to the prospect of the loss of tax-exempt status for religious institutions such as the Catholic Church. He referred to the contention that same-sex couples have a right to marriage because it is purportedly “integral to their human dignity.” Going to the etymology of the word, Father Tom said that in the original Latin ‘dignitas’ means: worthy. “Worthiness,” said Father Tom, “often has to deal with the conduct of individuals. In a court of law, said Father Tom, if an individual is found innocent of a crime he has therefore retained his dignity. If found guilty, that person has lost his dignity.
“Dignity is attached to the actions we do, and it is not integral to any one person aside from his activities,” said Father Tom. Verrilli argued that the case now before the high court is about the "dignity" of homosexuals and the "dignity" of their children. Some have interpreted the remark as being directed specifically at Justice Anthony Kennedy. In Windsor v The United States, the Supreme Court held that restricting U.S. federal interpretation of "marriage" and "spouse" to apply only to heterosexual unions as defined by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the federal Constitution. In 2013, Kennedy wrote: "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity."
As for the conflict between church and state over the issue of same-sex marriage, he referred to the Council of Nicea in the 4th century AD when Byzantine Emperor Constantine intervened on one side in an internal Church debate over the identity of Jesus Christ. The emperor banished Athanasius – who advocated for the joint divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ – while favoring the followers of the heretic Arius. It was only until his son, Constantine II, that Athansius was readmitted to Constantinople.
Father Tom likened the emperor’s interference with the question now facing the Supreme Court. “Here we face the danger of the State interfering with our beliefs.” He said that he believes the issue arises from the approval of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). “All Americans, including the Catholic Church, were asked to cede all authority concerning their healthcare to the government, including what is called reproductive rights.” Obamacare, he said, mandated that all employers provide for abortion and contraceptive services for their employees. Even while the Catholic Church vociferously denounced the mandate, said Father Tom, it lost an opportunity to proclaim the sanctity of life.
In the current debate over same-sex marriage, Catholics are called upon to defend the sanctity of marriage, said Father Tom. At risk in the debate is the Church's tax-exempt status and the $2 billion that Catholic charities receive from the federal government from its Faith-Based Initiatives office. He asked, “what obligations are entailed with that?” But whatever the State decides on the issue of same-sex marriage, Catholics should strengthen their church and emphasize that is sole mission is the salvation of souls.
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