Conscience and the marriage amendment

Since the Minnesota marriage amendment was placed on the ballot last year, and even before that, the Catholic Church in Minnesota has been educating Catholics about what marriage is, why it is important and the challenges all of society will likely face if it is redefined.

In doing so, we have tried to help Catholics form their consciences on this matter so that they would pray, reflect and conclude that it was important for them join their bishops in voting “Yes” to pass the marriage amendment.

Getting it right

It is certainly important to note that when voting on this and other important matters, people should act in accordance with their conscience. Indeed, that has always been Church teaching. But in obeying one’s conscience, we must also emphasize that one can still act wrongly, because what is objectively true is not necessarily what one subjectively thinks or feels.

Additionally, conscience is not an infallible guide or a trump card that allows us to do whatever we please. When we Catholics do not fulfill our duty to form our conscience in accord with the teachings and guidance of the Church, history has shown we are prone to err.

As a result, although some Catholics, even priests, may claim that “conscience” requires them to do one thing or another, it does not mean their actions or strongly held convictions are consistent with either the Catholic faith which they profess or the universal moral law.

For example, if one were to vote against the marriage amendment because he believed that same-sex relationships were truly marriages and that the law should recognize them as such, or because he believed the sexual love between a man and a woman and homosexual acts were morally and socially equivalent, he would be acting in a manner inconsistent with both the Catholic faith and universal moral norms that can be known by all persons, even non-believers.

Only marriage between one man and one woman is consistent with the Gospel and the demands of justice.

Our Lord himself reminds us of the beauty of the gift of marriage in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 19, when he calls our attention away from the human corruptions of marriage and back to God’s original plan that man and woman would come together in a lifelong, fruitful, one-flesh communion of persons.

The reality of marriage founded on the union of one man and one woman is so important that Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, was born into a family with an earthly father and mother — an icon of the family to which Catholics have a special devotion. And, even though his mother was sinless, God saw it fit that he still had an earthly father for his own personal formation as a man. Once again, the truths of the faith support what we know by reason.

Numerous resources have been developed to explain why marriage is between a man and a woman, and not simply the romantic partnership of consenting adults. For a small collection of these resources, please visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s website ( and seek to become an advocate for the truth of marriage.

Love guided by truth

Whatever happens on Nov. 6, our task is still the same. We need to proclaim the beauty of marriage with love, civility and respect.

We also have a responsibility to work for the authentic rights and well-being of all people. Our brothers and sisters who wish to alter the legal definition of marriage do so in many instances out of concern for their family members, neighbors, friends and co-workers who experience same-sex attraction.

They believe — mistakenly, but genuinely — that society assaults the dignity of these persons when it does not acknowledge their relationships as marriages.

Love, however, must be guided by truth. Just because many who oppose the marriage amendment and seek to redefine marriage do so with good intentions, it does not mean that we must accede to their every demand. Some demands would perpetrate injustices, as redefining marriage would do, and must be resisted firmly.

Solidarity requires that we act not only with concern for those we love, but also for the rest of society and future generations.

Law should promote the common good, not just serve the interests of a few. People can live as they choose, but no one has the right to redefine marriage for everyone.

There is no doubt that the institution of marriage is facing a crisis and has been weakened in both law and culture.

But marriage needs to be strengthened, not redefined.

We all have a responsibility as stewards to ensure that our laws communicate the beauty of what God has given to us in marriage. Please join me in voting “Yes” on Nov. 6.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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