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So now is it 'hate speech' to deplore the Obergefell decision?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 29, 2015

The ink was barely dry on last week’s Supreme Court ruling when Father James Martin, SJ, began scolding Catholics who were, from his decorous perspective, too strident in denouncing the decision.

”No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality,” Father Martin told his Facebook followers. He repeated the same message several times throughout the day, warning commenters that they must not indulge in “homophobia” and suggesting that someone who questioned whether we were all expected to sing “Kumbaya” was illustrating his point. So is sarcasm now prima facie evidence of hatred?

In my own surfing through the internet, reading scores of posts on the Obergefell decision, I can honestly say that I did not see a single message, a single comment, that struck me as hate-filled. Perhaps Father Martin’s email traffic is qualitatively different from mine. Or perhaps—far more likely, I’m afraid—he sees “hatred” where I see only vehement disagreement.

Is it possible to be angry about the Obergefell decision, to consider it a travesty of justice and a betrayal of the Constitution, without being viewed as a hater? Wait; let’s turn that question upside-down. Is it possible to see all serious disagreement with the decision as hate-speech, without celebrating the outcome of the Obergefell case?

I ask the latter question, you see, because if Father Martin was upset by the Supreme Court ruling, his dismay did not show through on his Twitter feed. He recommended three columns reacting to the decision: one by a fellow Jesuit, recounting how his grandmother could not marry her lesbian partner; another by the gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, celebrating the decision; the third by the gay activist/blogger Andrew Sullivan, also celebrating.

The recommendation for Andrew Sullivan’s piece was particularly striking because of the title: “It Is Accomplished”—an explicit reference to the words of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Father Martin, who was horrified by so much of what he read on Friday afternoon, let that blasphemous headline pass without comment. His demand for the use of temperate language, and for avoiding comments that others would find offensive, was applied to only one side of the post-Obergefell debate.

And that’s likely to be the party line for politically-correct Catholics in the wake of this momentous decision. We are allowed to disagree with the Supreme Court, politely, but not too forcefully. Any strident denunciation of the ruling or its logic might be interpreted as hate-speech, which of course is unacceptable. As the secular left clamps down on religious expression—and we’ve already been served notice that the crackdown is coming-- the Catholic left will worry aloud that, yes, some strong public expressions of religious beliefs are distasteful.

The influence of this approach, with its keen anxiety to avoid provocation, has already been evident in the statements released by some American bishops in response to the ruling. Archbishop Gregory says that he disagrees with the Court, but if you don’t know why he disagrees before you read his statement, you’re not likely to be any better informed when you’re finished. Cardinal Wuerl reminds us that we must hate the sin but love the sinner; he neglects to mention what the sin is. And Archbishop Cupich gives no indication at all that he disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling.

We have a long uphill struggle facing us as we seek to restore a proper understanding of marriage, to revive appreciation for the natural law, and to undo this wretched judicial decision. We cannot expect success if we go into the battle unarmed. If we begin the debate by saying that we must not offend our adversaries—even after our adversaries have declared our most fundamental beliefs to be offensive—we are doomed to failure.

We already know how the battle will unfold, because the campaign to crush resistance to same-sex marriage is already underway. The militant left will choose vulnerable targets—a pizza-parlor here, a baker there—and vilify them as “haters.” People who been trained to see “hatred” in any firm disagreement will nod in solemn approval as the alleged offenses are harshly punished. And so juggernaut will keep rolling, gaining momentum, until it reaches us.

There is an alternative. We can speak the truth. Yes, certainly we should avoid making unduly provocative statements. But since we are trying to provoke reactions, we cannot pull all our punches.

More to the point, if we’re going into battle—and we are—we need to know who’s on our side, and who’s working against us.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Sed contra - Jul. 02, 2015 8:52 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Phil. Your observations are astute. Robert George's remarks about Abp. Cupich's statement are apropos: "There is no explanation or defense of marriage as the Church understands it (marriage not only as a sacramental reality, but as a natural good and form of community--one whose flourishing is indispensable to the common good ...), and no account of why the Church cannot accept--and why the faithful must oppose--even as a matter of civil law a non-conjugal conception of marriage."

  • Posted by: Erusmas - Jun. 30, 2015 7:57 PM ET USA

    "We have a long uphill struggle facing us as we seek . . . to revive appreciation for the natural law". That's the key. The term "malum in se" has disappeared from our jurisprudence.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 30, 2015 4:07 PM ET USA

    Thanks for the link to Bishop Strickland's statement ("speak the truth"). I wish all Bishops were as clear, truthful and pastoral.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jun. 30, 2015 1:39 AM ET USA

    Who is speaking up for the silent victims of the Supreme Court decision, the innocent children who will be consigned to a life in the midst of sexual deviancy? They are surely in no position to help themselves, and even in less of a position to expect the State to come to their aid. Where is the Church? Where are the social justice warriors? Where are those whose hearts are broken for the dismay the children may one day experience should they ever realize the lie they were forced to tolerate?

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Jun. 29, 2015 6:01 PM ET USA

    To me the thing is, the Church is about the salvation of souls. Homosexual activity is an impediment to salvation, and government support of something that impedes salvation is evil. That said, as a Christian, the issue to me is more, how can I evangelize people I may interact with who are gay? I ask the same question about my unmarried, cohabiting heterosexual neighbors. Our culture is shot, very post-Christian, and we're not very effective at evangelizing in this environment.

  • Posted by: alexanderh167577 - Jun. 29, 2015 3:55 PM ET USA

    Be careful about contributing too much to the internet culture of sarcasm and outrage Mr. Lawler. A true saint would be more sad about the decision than angry.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jun. 29, 2015 3:00 PM ET USA

    OK, no punches pulled: I am unaware of any bishop or priest denouncing the gay persecution of the christians in their dioceses and posting pictures of the persecuted Christians as lovers of truth in the diocesan newspapers. Let's name names, of the perps and their victims. Do the prayers of the faithful honor the bravery of the persecuted brethren? Are most bishops simply hired hands, who abandon their sheep to be devoured by the gay wolves? Has Francis called any bakers lately?

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Jun. 29, 2015 2:36 PM ET USA

    One recommendation I would make is that for the time being catholic and christian bakeries should no longer make cakes or cupcakes things for weddings. They'll take a financial loss but standing up for truth and freedom is more important.