This past Friday Bishop Michael Jarrell with the Diocese of Lafayette was very quick to issue a statement following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. In the bishop’s statement, he explains that “civil disobedience may be a proper response.”
Surely, the bishop is not implying that government officials should ignore the ruling in Obergefell. It is one thing to not recognize same-gender marriages in the Catholic Church, a right protected by the First Amendment. It is a completely different situation when the government denies marriage equality to an entire class of persons.
That is, churches can discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in their view of marriage. The ruling in Obergefell simply says that our government cannot discriminate in its recognition of a couple’s marriage when that discrimination is based on a person’s sexual orientation.
It was only just over a week ago that Bishop Jarrell issued a statement showing his support of the Pope’s position on global warming, a very political topic these days.
In a span of eight days, we have seen the bishop comment on two highly political topics, suggesting in one instance that it is acceptable for public officials to exercise “civil disobedience.” I respectfully submit that the bishop’s recent statements were likely very genuine and not intended to cause civil unrest, but I take this time to point out how crucial it is to remind everyone why we have the principal of separation of church and state in our country.
The ruling in Obergefell has not infringed on anyone’s religious liberties. I submit that marriage, in a legal context, is a civil contract between two people that is recognized by the government. The Supreme Court, the branch of government rarely discussed in the news for good reason, is tasked with interpreting our federal Constitution. The high court has made it clear that the protections contained in the Fourteenth Amendment prevent the government at any level from denying recognition of a marriage because the marriage is between two people of the same gender. Gender is no longer an element in the government’s definition of marriage.
It is not the church that guarantees civil rights in this country. It is not the church that automatically guarantees certain succession and inheritance rights to a spouse. It is not the church that provides certain health benefits to a legally recognized spouse. It is not the church that allows a lawfully married spouse to more easily obtain parental rights to a child that he/she has raised since birth. No, it is not the church that provides any of these legal rights. It is the laws of the land that allow for these rights and benefits to be obtained. In order to have access to these rights, one’s marriage must be lawfully recognized by the government, not the church.
Bottom line — the ruling in Obergefell does not attempt to change the church’s doctrine. The church is afforded the religious liberty to do so. The respect between church and state should be mutual.
The bishop’s statement urging civil disobedience is disheartening, and I urge any elected official to review his or her oath of office, especially the part involving one’s obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Joshua Guillory is a Lafayette attorney and recently argued in support of marriage equality issues before the Louisiana Supreme Court.