The Catholic Spirit: Marriage: Speaking the Truth With Love

By Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

In two months, the people of the state of Minnesota will have an opportunity to exercise their right as citizens of this great state in voting for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

As you know, this issue has become a great source of controversy since the intended purpose for this amendment is so often misconstrued. Therefore, it is crucial for us to understand what sets marriage apart as a unique relationship and to appreciate the important difference that it makes for society.

Marriage is a universal social institution that serves as the cornerstone of society. It is a reality that unites a man and a woman and any children born from their union. As Catholics, we recognize this reality as God’s revelation to us, something we can see clearly in nature and throughout thousands of years of human history.

What God has revealed to us for all time cannot be changed unilaterally by human beings. This is the heart of the matter for us as Catholics. Our effort to support God’s unchanging plan for marriage is not a campaign against anyone, but rather a positive effort to promote the truth about marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Timeless truths

In the coming months, the discussion about marriage may become increasingly difficult. While there are differing points of view on this issue, I believe that we must act with integrity in order to find the courage to speak the truth in love.

As we grow closer to the day when we each will have a voice and vote on this matter, I offer the following perspective for the Catholic faithful. As archbishop, it is my solemn responsibility and duty to teach the truths of the faith. It is, as they say, my job. In fact, I cannot do anything other than pass on to the faithful these timeless truths — truths that have been revealed to us by Christ in Sacred Scripture, sacred tradition, and teachings of the Church for two millennia.

As hard as these truths may be for some to hear, as surely as they occasionally stand in opposition to the ebb and flow of public opinion, they must be taught. I must continue to do so, and I promise to teach with love for one and all. My sincere longing is for the salvation of souls, as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has exhorted us to seek for ourselves and for our entire human family.

So I urge all Catholic faithful to think, pray and reflect seriously on this most important issue. What we do and say in the coming months will matter greatly. I urge us all to stand up for the truth, always with love. I ask that you consider and pray about the following:

First, some ask, “Why is a constitutional amendment necessary?” Well, the fact of the matter is that politicians and activists are working right now in Minnesota to redefine the institution of marriage from one that bonds a man and a woman to any children born from their sexual union into another that licenses the romantic preferences of same-sex adults.

These same activists have promised to change the one understanding of marriage that applies to all Minnesotans at the earliest possible opportunity. In fact, a lawsuit is currently pending in Hennepin County, and legislators who have introduced legislation to redefine or eliminate marriage altogether have promised to do so again next year.

But the reality is that marriage is not ours to redefine, just as another human life is not ours to take. God is both the author of life and the author of marriage. It is this most fundamental understanding of the natural order that animates who we are as Catholics. It is why we fight so ardently to defend every human life, from conception to natural death. It is why we fight for the dignity of the human person and vigorously seek preferential options for the poor and disadvantaged. It is also why we fight to defend God’s plan for marriage, because his providence is as clear for what marriage is as it is for the dignity of each human life.

When society says that the unborn, the weak and poor don’t matter, we as Catholics stand up for the truth. We cannot do any different for God’s timeless plan for marriage.

Following God’s plan

Second, uniting men and women in stable relationships is an important social good, as documented by abundant social science research. As Catholics, we believe in the pursuit of the common good for all of humanity. This means we actively seek what benefits all according to what brings us closer to God’s plan for our lives.

The common good is truly achieved when defined by God’s laws and precepts, not by one’s personal desires. We know all too well that human desires, untethered from God’s moral law, often lead to great harm to ourselves and society, even if unintended. Many times, this harm is not clear in the moment and only comes into focus after the damage has been done. Catholics are called to love as Jesus loved, not by acquiescing to what public opinion proposes as permissible, but by living out the truth that God has written on the human heart for the common good.

Third, gender matters. Kids do need a mom and a dad. The well-being of children lies in the balance of a man-made social experiment. At the core of this latter concept is the belief that gender doesn’t really matter.

On the other hand, as Catholics, we support and defend God’s design for the complementarity of men and women. For each there is a beautiful and unique purpose. We know that men and women parent differently. We know that children benefit greatly from the unique gifts that mothers and fathers brings to their child. Gender does matter, and kids do need us as a society to do everything possible to unite them to both their mom and dad. When kids do better, the whole community does better. (See page 11 for the most recent research on this topic).

Fourth, the effort to respect God’s plan for marriage is about promoting true love, not preventing it. As God’s creatures, we are so much more than our sexual desires, and we should never let them define who we are. God is love, and Jesus Christ is love incarnate.

With the example of Christ, we are called to love deeply, to love unselfishly — it is our highest calling. But we do need to understand love and sexuality through God’s lens and his perfect plan for us. He asks us to temper our passions, not to temper our love and to find the true path to its selfless growth. As Catholics, we see that God’s plan for marriage is the holy family — the triune model of father, mother and child — a model that creates and fosters a love that goes beyond mere sexuality.

Defending dignity of all

Finally, and importantly, while no one has the right to redefine marriage for all of society, as Catholics we are committed to defending the dignity of all people, including those with same-sex attraction.

We know that some who are seeking to redefine marriage experience same-sex attractions. Our brothers and sisters living with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God who must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.

Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard must be avoided. People with same-sex attractions, like others in society, are productive citizens, community servants, good friends and our beloved family members.

At the same time, however, it is important to know that the effort to ensure that the definition of marriage remains as between one man and one woman does not take away anyone’s existing rights or legal protections. As Catholics, we believe that all people should be able to visit loved ones in the hospital, pass on their property to whomever they choose, and have access to employment, housing and the basic necessities of life.  Saying “yes” to God’s plan for marriage will not change any of this.

Since the marriage amendment was placed on the ballot, we have been working to educate Catholics about what marriage is, why it is important, and what the consequences of redefining marriage will be.

We are not alone in these efforts. Tens of thousands of Minnesotans of various backgrounds and faiths have come together to form Minnesota for Marriage ­(, which is the official campaign created to promote passage of the marriage amendment. It is encouraging to see so many people across Minnesota joining together to proclaim the truth and the beauty of marriage.

Help needed

Now, Minnesota for Marriage needs your help to get the message out. We must ensure that Minnesotans know what is at stake and have the correct information about why they should vote “Yes” for the marriage amendment. (Remember that if you leave the ballot box blank, the government votes “No” for you!).

I urge all Catholic faithful to stand up for the truth —always with love — especially when it may be difficult.  Let us pray that our actions are guided by both the virtues of courage and charity.

The Catholic bishops of Minnesota are united in their efforts to keep marriage defined as between one man and one woman, and we have been joined by many of our ecumenical brothers and sisters of other faiths. That is why I encourage you to join us in voting “YES” on Nov. 6 to keep our state strong in its defense of marriage.

God bless you!

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