“Ask a Priest: Should Firms Cater to Gay Weddings?”

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Q: There have been a lot of articles in the news and on the Internet about businesses that provide services such as baking, flowers and photography that are being fined and or sued because they won’t provide their service for a gay wedding. The business owners say they refuse for religious reasons because they don’t believe in gay marriage as it is against God’s plan for marriage. As a practicing, devout Catholic, I agree that it is against God’s plan, but I wonder if just making a cake or arranging flowers is really being part of a wedding which we must avoid. I keep going back and forth in my thoughts on this. Could you enlighten me and explain if the Catholic Church has a position and what the teaching is? -M.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It would be tough to do justice to the complexities of this question in one e-mail, but perhaps a few observations would help.

First, part of your question touches on the notion of cooperation with evil. Cooperation can be formal (“I agree wholeheartedly with this”) or material (meaning that we somehow contribute to the circumstances that allow an evil to occur). Material cooperation can be remote or near (proximate).

In the real world it is almost impossible to avoid some kind of material cooperation with evil. Our taxes might go to support the local police, who protect people and property, including the pornographic bookstore across town. Our taxes remotely support security for an evil enterprise, but that support isn’t sinful so long as our intention is not to make pornography stores safe and accessible.

Second, your question also touches on the area of conscience. Now, no one should be forced to go against his conscience. Let me quote from three numbers in the Catechism to put this point in perspective:

1776 “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. … For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. … His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

1777 Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law …. [end quoted material]

Third, the Catechism also says, in No. 2358, regarding homosexuals, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

These three points – material cooperation with evil; respect for conscience; and avoidance of unjust discrimination against homosexuals – make for a complex moral question. The short answer is, there is no one-size-fits-all response.

Each businessperson would need to gauge various factors in deciding whether to get involved in a same-sex ceremony. Among the questions that could be asked: Will a business’s involvement cause scandal or send a mixed-message about the business owner’s moral convictions? Degrees of involvement could vary greatly. It is one thing to be supplying the food or the flowers, another to be taking photos that will be posted on a website, still another to be hauling away the trash from a catering hall or doing the electrical work at the facility.

The exhortation to avoid unjust discrimination raises other questions. Should a restaurant deny service to a homosexual couple? Should a car wash? Most people would say no – the restaurant and car wash should serve the homosexuals. The question then becomes, is a fast-food restaurant on the same moral level as a wedding caterer in this case? It doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer. Likewise, the scenario would be different if there were only one wedding caterer in the city. If there are multiple possible caterers, it’s hard to see how one denial could be interpreted as some kind of systemic discrimination.

Other complications could be: Should a caterer agree to serve a wedding for two divorced Catholics who don’t have an annulment and are ostensibly entering a canonically invalid marriage?

As you can sense, the moral scenarios can get tremendously complex.

Perhaps a solution – if we can call it that – is for the law to allow flexibility for conscientious objectors. Different situations make for different types of moral statements. A cashier at McDonald’s can serve up hamburgers and fries to a homosexual couple without appearing to support their lifestyle. In contrast, a caterer who routinely serves up $15,000 worth of food and drinks at homosexual “weddings” could be perceived as making a statement in favor of the institution.

Whenever people get involved in morally problematic situations, they run the risk of getting drawn deeper into the activity. This, too, is a factor that conscientious folks will want to consider. The caterer who serves the homosexual “weddings” might be sending a strong message to his employees as well as pushing them to make difficult moral decisions too. The caterer who serves such weddings might be hard-pressed someday explaining why he won’t allow his own son to spend the night at home with his “partner.”

The ideal, of course, is that the wider society should have had a morally healthy view of marriage to begin with. Alas, we find ourselves in ever rougher seas. We might know which direction the boat should be heading, but the danger of being swamped by the waves remains real.

This isn’t a black-and-white answer, but perhaps you will find some of it helpful. God bless.

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