Friday’s Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage across the country presents an interesting moment for Catholics in the U.S. The church opposes gay marriage, and this likely won’t change even under Pope Francis the Troublemaker. But we also must acknowledge that this moment is a great joy for many Catholics—gay and straight. In recent history, many upstanding and faithful Catholics have said that they have heard the voice of Jesus say to them that the love between two persons of the same-sex isn’t sinful, but holy, sanctified, and blessed.
I myself struggle with this conundrum. There’s nothing more important in my life than being Catholic and a part of the universal Church of Jesus Christ. For me, it’s not just membership in a fraternal organization or civic group, but in a family that gives me my identity, my roots, and my wings. I take my faith’s teaching on every issue—including gay marriage—seriously, but I, too, can’t help but feel joy for my LGBT friends who celebrated Friday’s decision.
Many Catholics who experience these complex and conflicting feelings are wondering what the way forward could be. I think there are three important ways Catholics are called to respond to Friday’s ruling.
1. We must acknowledge God’s particular love for the LGBT community. Our faith tradition teaches that God has a preferential option for the poor and a bias for the excluded. We can’t be blind to the fact that many LGBT individuals and families have faced a culture of exclusion, hatred, and even death in our nation, around the world, and, yes, in the Church.
Jesuit Father James Martin said he thinks we have a long way to go to communicate God’s love for this community. “No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality,” Martin wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “The Catholic church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism says: that we should treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’ But God wants more. God wants us to love.”
2. We must be a Church that listens before it speaks. Last year, Pope Francis said that “we must lend our ears to the beat of this era and detect the scent of people today, so as to be permeated by their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress.” As Franciscan priest Daniel Horan noted Friday, we do this so that the “joys and hopes” and the “sadness and distress” of others becomes our own.
When we listen to each other with big hearts, we can begin to overcome the unfair stereotypes that divide us. We can put to rest the great lie that everyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot and that everyone who supports it is a bad Catholic. We can begin to understand and form ourselves again around the fundamental truths of our faith: that God loves us, that the Church welcomes us, and that Jesus walks with us.
3. We must work together to strengthen family life. As the Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory said so beautifully Friday, “The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.”
One area where we all can work together on is building strong families, which is the fundamental cell of human society. There are many threats to family life here in the U.S. and around the globe. No matter what one thinks about gay marriage, we all can remain committed to strengthening family life against some of its greatest threats: an economy that kills, environmental exploitation, dictatorships of relativism, consumerism, superficiality, and indifference.
LGBT Catholics are a crucial part of this effort. Last year, the college of bishops gathered in Rome for the Synod on the Family and said that LGBT Catholic individuals and families have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” We’ve experienced this reality for ourselves. LGBT Catholics teach our children the faith of Jesus Christ. They serve the poor in our soup kitchens and social service agencies. They minister to the sick in our hospitals. More than anything, they’re children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. As Catholics, we must be willing to work with everyone to give every child what God desires for them: a dignified life, a family, and a future.