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Proud, Relieved, and Heartened by the Rule of Justice

Proud, Relieved, and Heartened by the Rule of Justice

Mary Jo Iozzio



People who have been relegated to the periphery of concern as members of minority communities, and others who have advocated with them, will remember the week of June 21-27, 2015 in the US with pride and relief. The week began in anticipation of the potential repeal of President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act and rejection of a state’s recognition of same-sex marriages performed in and sanctioned by other states. The week ended with two decisions: 1) Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, affirming the Affordable Care Act (Syllabus, October Term 2014, No. 14-114. Argued March 4, 2015 –Decided June 25, 2015); and 2) Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, ordering that same-sex marriages be “deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex” (Syllabus, October Term 2014, No. 14-556. Argued April 28, 2015-Decided June 26, 2015).  


I am among those who have advocated for justice with people who live in poverty, who now have greater health security with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which mandates health insurance (revised through a tax), remains the law of the land. And I have advocated for justice with people whose commitment to fidelity is realized in non-heterosexist intimacy, who now have marriage equality before the law in all fifty states. I am relieved for greater access to healthcare for the previously uninsured 40+ million in the US, and I am proud for the legally binding nationwide protection against sodomy charges as well as the equal access to marriage licenses and wedding ceremonies now granted to same-sex couples. I am heartened by the triumph of justice in a nation founded on the principles of law, equality, and the common good.


Unfortunately, many in the US, including the USCCB, are grieving these decisions. I have heard complaints that Obamacare burdens taxpayers in the middle-income brackets, offers benefits to people receiving a lion’s share of benefits, and strong-arms institutions to provide their employees coverage that they deem objectionable. The media reports arguments on the intrusion of government in the private sector, while, for Catholics, private sector healthcare and education have been a mainstay of mission and ministry—especially to those who are most in need. Similarly, I have heard, even at this past Sunday’s liturgy, fears that same-sex marriages now allowed in civil law will jeopardize the religious/sacramental institution of marriage and have “adverse consequences” for all Catholic institutions and services to the most vulnerable. Neighboring dioceses in the US seem split in their response: some are following the lead of USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, taking the argument of Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion on the ruling, who calls the decision a tragic error; some are silent; a few others remark cautiously as they recognize the justice inherent to the questions of human dignity and equal protection under the law. I am disheartened by these grievances, which seem to eschew the justice of distributing what is due to others as the common good requires. I am disheartened more by the silence of so many.


Regardless of the position one holds in these matters, it is critically important to speak up and be counted. Rightly, the USCCB is neither complacent nor complicit in the face of arguments the conference finds immoral and unjust. The conference’s voice provides a necessary sounding board and alternate perspective—inspired by the resources of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience—for many decisions the nation and its courts ponder. What is at stake now is whether those prelates who have been silent will take a stand, especially for those whose silence does not imply consent, and if the silent faithful in the pews will raise their voices in assent to or dissent from the USCCB position. This moment calls for continued discussion and dialogue so as to appreciate divergent positions, as well as to engage debate that refuses to settle silently with complacence or to cower with complicity. If the Church has learned anything about its members in recent years it is surely that diversity –able, cultural, gender, political, racial, sexual, and social diversity—reveals robustly the Body of Christ, the Church, in ways ever faithful and ever new. And just as surely the Church can consider the insights gained from diverse and context-based theologies even as Pope Francis encourages us to listen then see-judge-act.


As a start for dialogue and debate I suggest that each of us, committed to the Catholic faith and holding to the tradition in transition, take this moment as an opportunity to use all the skills our education has provided and reflect again on these and other questions the US Courts and an informed public ponder. In fact, this moment, like last year’s attention to the Extraordinary Synod and this year’s General Synod on the Family, demands our talents for the careful work of distinguishing the moral goods and values at stake in these matters. The opportunity is ripe with a challenge to step out of the comfort of our libraries, offices, and classrooms. Consider the range of subjects in which our colleagues have stepped out and invite us and the interested public to engage; for example, see Lisa Fullam’s “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” (Bondings 2.0, 2014), Kristin Heyer’s “Synod on the Family, Transnational Families, and Women’s Labor” (Political Theology Today, 2014), Joseph Piccione’s “Tolerance as Moral Concept for Catholic Health Care Ministry in a Pluralist World” (Health Care Ethics USA, 2015), Dawn Nothwehr’s “Laudato Si and Me” (Catholics on Call, 2015), and Alex Mikulich’s “Legacy of Lynching Endures in ‘Death Belt’” (National Catholic Reporter, 2015). In solidarity with those who heed the call, let us go and do the same.