Legislative Update

Redefining marriage: the cause continues

By Tom Venzor  

This week’s column will continue discussing legislation the Nebraska Catholic Conference actively lobbied, but which were not discussed in this column during the legislative session.

Last week, this column discussed LB726, which would have mandated insurance companies to provide coverage for in vitro fertilization procedures under certain circumstances. The NCC opposed this legislation as an attack on marriage, family, and life.

Another legislative bill that undermined marriage and family was LB785, which would have removed husband and wife terminology from the marriage solemnization requirements.

Background of LB785. LB785 was introduced by Senator Tony Vargas, who represents portions of downtown and South Omaha. Under current law, when a marriage is solemnized a certain “formula” is required for the marriage to be legally solemnized. State law requires “that the parties shall solemnly declare in the presence of the magistrate or minister and the attending witnesses, that they take each other as husband and wife[.]” This is the only particular form that is required and permitted for the marriage solemnization.
Sen. Vargas’ “statement of intent” indicated that “LB785 harmonizes state statutes with changes in federal law by including neutral references in terminology related to marriage.” In other words, LB785 was meant to “update” our laws on marriage to reflect the radical changes we have seen to marriage in previous years with the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court.

Obergefell v. Hodges Refresher. Just three years ago, the United States Supreme Court fabricated a constitutional right to so-called same-sex marriage. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court considered the question whether the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and whether a state must recognize the marriage between two people of the same sex that was legally licensed and performed in another state.

By a vote of 5-4, the Court held that the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantee the right to marriage as a fundamental liberty. This right to marriage applies to same-sex couples as it does to opposite-sex couples, and that the law could not treat such couples differently.

This case has had and will continue to have devastating effects on society and politics, as it lacks a basis in reality which demands that marriage be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, for life, and for the good of children.

Problems with LB785. A couple issues were raised by the Nebraska Catholic Conference during the public hearing for LB785.

First, the NCC raised fundamental problems with the shift in language. While the Supreme Court has (incorrectly) opined about the nature of marriage and what constitutes the “right” to marriage, the fact is that marriage is not subject to redefinition. Attempting to neutralize the terminology for marriage waters down the indispensable fact that the only marriage possible is one between a husband and wife.

Second, the NCC voiced religious liberty concerns. The solemnization of a marriage can be undertaken by a magistrate or a minister. As is customary, a man and woman who enter into the Sacrament of Marriage in a Catholic Church are also entering into a legal marriage with the priest as their public officiant. If state law neutralized the language for marriage solemnization there would be a valid legal question as to whether any other form for the solemnization for marriage would be acceptable. In other words, if the law were strictly read to require a couple to take each other as “spouses” this would create problems for a wedding ceremony where the couple takes each other as “husband and wife.”

Ultimately, the legislation surprisingly did not advance from the Judiciary Committee.

Rebuilding Marriage. As a Church living in our modern society, we have an obligation to be prophets about the truth, goodness, and beauty of marriage. Without this prophetic witness, our culture will continue to slide away from the values God desires for a flourishing culture. This requires of us to live out the truth, beauty, and goodness of marriage in our daily lives—this is not a small task, but a critical one.

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