The ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts allowing same-sex civil marriage is a beneficial step along the path of human understanding and human rights.
We say that with every understanding of how strongly some oppose such a notion, often out of deeply held religious conviction. And we say it understanding that civil marriage--whether between heterosexuals or homosexuals--has no effect on sacramental marriage or other religious traditions and their understandings of marriage.
Our own Catholic tradition, drawing on natural law and scripture, holds that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Official Catholic teaching says all homosexual acts are gravely sinful. Other major world religions hold similar views.
It should be noted here that advocating for civil marriage for gays and lesbians is not meant to seem a cavalier defiance of church teaching. The two, for purposes of the current debate, should be separate. That is not to suggest that church teaching should never inform legislative activity, and that can happen in a number of ways. But there also are any number of areas where church teaching and state law or policies diverge--divorce and contraception come to mind, as do the continuing proliferation of nuclear weapons and the state's insistence on maintaining the death penalty--without harm to the church's teachings or religious practice.
The church maintains strict rules regarding divorce, for example, but does little officially to interfere with the states' rather relaxed approach to granting divorce. And though a divorced and remarried Catholic might be prohibited from receiving Communion, the church does not seek to deny that person civil benefits because his or her sexual practices might violate the church's understanding of God's law and natural law.
It should also be noted that the official church teaching on homosexuality, relying on ancient understandings of human nature and sexuality, has benefited little, as far as we can see, from new and accumulating insights in the study of such areas as sexuality, psychiatry and medicine.
In terms of scripture, too, we should not lose sight of the fact that slavery was once not only accepted but taught from our sacred texts. Our understanding of that bit of natural law and God's order has certainly changed dramatically during the past century. …