“Ask a Priest: Should I attend my niece’s same-sex marriage reception?”

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Q: My niece and godchild is going to another state to get “married to her female partner.” Her mother, my sister and best friend, is having a reception in our city. She and my other siblings have said they are against gay marriage, but they are all attending this reception. I feel it is hypocritical to attend. Am I being judgmental? I will be categorized as such. Any ideas? – P.O.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about your niece. It must be very painful to see someone you love get involved in such a relationship.

I applaud your delicacy of conscience, in that you believe it would be hypocritical to attend the reception. After all, receptions are for celebrating, and morally this isn’t much to celebrate in this case.

In fact, by not attending you would be living in accord with the promises you made when you became godmother to your niece. You are giving witness to your faith. And a tenet of our Catholic faith is that marriage is between a man and a woman. The advent of so-called same-sex marriage contradicts the very nature and purpose of sexuality.

In 2013 in Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas Tobin published a letter to Catholics on the approach of legalized same-sex marriage.

He wrote: “[I]t is important to affirm the teaching of the Church, based on God’s word, that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357) and always sinful. And because ‘same-sex marriages’ are clearly contrary to God’s plan for the human family, and therefore objectively sinful, Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others.”

Notice his strong warning: Catholics could harm their relationship with God and cause scandal by attending same-sex marriage ceremonies. I think the bishop’s point could be extended to receptions as well.

In short, I don’t think you are being judgmental. You are simply making a decision based on your Catholic beliefs and, I would guess, a desire not to give scandal by appearing to support the same-sex relationship in any way. You have a right and duty to follow your conscience. The Catechism in 1782 says, “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.’”

That said, you might consider taking your niece out for coffee or lunch sometime before the “wedding,” just to explain, very simply and honestly, why you won’t be attending the wedding and reception. You could remind her of your love for her, but share your conviction that a lesbian relationship will not lead your niece to true happiness, since it is against God’s design for human sexuality and for families.

You might share some of the points mentioned in the Catechism, including No. 2358 that says, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. […] These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

No. 2359 adds, “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” Let your niece know that you will be praying precisely for her embrace of virtue.

In the meantime be prepared for opposition within the family. You might want to start preparing some answers in advance for those who challenge you. (For some background information check out this video and FAQs from the USCCB.)

I hope this helps. Count on my prayers for you and your family. God bless.

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