Recently, in a chat with a friend, we reminisced about great memories of summers past. You know the type – simple and innocent moments that were formative of who we are. We recalled Little League, Boy Scout camp and swimming at his family’s cottage up north. It was a small house that had been in his family for generations on a pristine, beautiful lake with quiet inlets and lots of great fishing.

As I spoke of jumping off the pier, I recalled that his grandfather lost the house 20 years ago when the town determined that it occupied space needed for a public access boat ramp. To this day, there is great sadness and anger about what was taken from them – joyous, simple times, childhood memories for the next generations and the closeness of his extended family gathering together.  

The legal term for what happened is “eminent domain.” It is the notion that government can take what is yours, if deemed necessary for public use, or even if it can say that giving it to someone else would be for the “common good.”

Everyone knows there is need to find places for roads or boat ramps. But great risk lay in the power. In the original Latin, the legal theory of eminent domain literally meant that the government retained “supreme lordship” over all you have and hold.

This little law lesson came to mind after the Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage.

I’m sad even thinking it, but I have concluded that the decision seems to represent an act of eminent domain.
Five members of the Court determined that something held dear, nurtured, and protected by the church (and by almost all churches and religious communities, as well as all the great philosophers) for more than two millennia should be taken and put to some other use. Or, that it should be taken and given away in some misconception of the common good.  

Many find it difficult to talk about what has happened. Any expression of the sense of loss is deemed an attack on people. But all of us firmly hold to the church’s teaching about the dignity of every human person, and even hold to America’s historic notions of each person’s freedom to love and live in peace.

What makes this circumstance difficult, what makes me sad and angry, is that what one side thinks it has won, is very different from what I know we have lost. I feel like my friend whose family lost far more than a small cottage on a lake.

Not long ago, I visited that lake where they had their cottage. The boat ramp has been expanded.

The day I drove by, there were too many speedboats and water skiers, and too much litter washing up on the beach.

At a small restaurant in town, an old-timer said that the fishing had been terrible in recent years.

Clearly, I don’t equate those seeking same-sex relationships with boats, skiers or litter. Not at all. But I know that those things are far different from family reunions, tire swings or an old-timer fishing in a quiet inlet.
Today we ask ourselves: What motivation was at work for the justices or the proponents of this decision?

Look at history. For most of modern times, much of what the church has held, nurtured and done well was eventually envied by civil authorities and the secular-minded. When the envy, or jealousy, reached a certain point, some tried to emulate the church’s work, but in a God-free way. (Think of universities, nursing homes, or even how the great universal Councils foreshadowed the United Nations).

Others work to rip the envied institutions away from the church — elementary schools, hospitals, social service agencies and now, marriage. What might be next? Keeping large cemeteries? Defining Holy Orders?

This column is intended to be about hope. So, where is the hope? A lawyer will tell you that one of the best defenses against eminent domain is to show that you have a better, more active use for something. By extension, it adds strength if you show that the “common good” is actually better served by our continued use, nurturing and protection.

So our strongest defense of marriage will be to bring revitalized vigor and fullness of its proper meaning in our parishes and in our families, as well as the gifts that the church offers the world. Our schools, hospitals, charities and sacrament of marriage have always been among the greatest ways in which we pay forward to the world the gift of faith and the value of redemption in Christ.

They are proof that Supreme Lordship resides only in God. We must work to make our efforts in these institutions more successful and stronger than ever.

I can never go back to that same quiet pier at a little cottage on a lake up north. But I know that the world will be better if I work to ensure that people are not deprived of that experience.

In anger or frustration, we might withdraw from the world and look only inward.  We could become diarists of doom. I prefer, in faith and with trust in God, that we become, all the more, heralds of hope!