Four Catholic bishops are among almost 40 American religious leaders who have signed an open letter entitled “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together.” David Gibson writes in The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog that the signatories are “predominantly from conservative Christian churches and Orthodox Judaism.” Indeed it is remarkable how few mainstream churches are represented and that only 40 leaders signed the document.
You can read the full text of the letter on the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops’ (USCCB) website.
To highlight the “threat” to religious liberty, the letter cites several examples:
“For example, in New Jersey, the state cancelled the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run boardwalk pavilion used for religious services because the religious organization would not host a same-sex ‘wedding’ there.San Francisco dropped its $3.5 million in social service contracts with the Salvation Army because it refused to recognize same-sex ‘domestic partnerships’ in its employee benefits policies.Similarly, Portland, Maine, required Catholic Charities to extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex ‘domestic partners’ as a condition of receiving city housing and community development funds.”
This line of argument makes it seem like church institutions and Catholic individuals only recognize marriages that are valid under the laws of their faith. In Catholicism, however, no one objects to church institutions or Catholic-run businesses from dealing with civil marriages between a couple where one or both partners are divorced, but not annulled. Catholic institutions and businesses seem able to negotiate their religious beliefs when it comes to these heterosexual couples, so why can’t it do the same with homosexual couples?
The letter also claims that religious institutions “face other government sanctions—the targeted withdrawal of government co-operation, grants, or other benefits,” if they don’t recognize same-sex couples. This type of argument assumes that religious institutions have a “right” to receive government money. They don’t. Separation of church and state protects the principles of churches, but it also protects the principles of the state. The state does have the right–indeed the responsibility–to make sure that those to whom it grants funds will respect the law of the land.
The four Catholic bishops who signed the letter are Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of
New York, President of the USCCB; Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport,
Chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Ft. Wayne – South Bend, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry