The New Hampshire House last week voted down a bill (HB 437) that would have repealed the state’s marriage equality law, and you can read about the vote and the debate which preceded it in this Concord Monitor news story.
Not mentioned in the news story–and actually not mentioned in most of the coverage of this debate–is that New Hampshire’s Catholic diocese of Manchester, which opposed marriage equality, has come out in support of civil unions as a way to forestall marriage. According to a PolicyMic.com article,
“Historically, Roman Catholic officials have opposed virtually every regulation, policy, and law proposed to protect LGBT people nationwide, including all proposals for civil unions. However, faced with the choice of either retaining New Hampshire’s full marriage law which was signed on 3 June 2009, or else repealing it and replacing it with civil unions instead, church officials decided – for the first time ever – to endorse civil unions for LGBT people.”
According to the statement on HB 437 found on the Diocese of Manchester’s website:
“The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions. However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching, but which nonetheless provide an “incremental improvement” in the current law and a “step toward full restoration of justice.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 32)”
To be clear, the Diocese does not see civil unions as an ideal to be achieved, but as a step toward making sure that full marriage rights are not granted to lesbian and gay couples. Still, it is an interesting development that shows that the Catholic hierarchy can, if they want to, take a different position on the question of rights for lesbian and gay couple other than outright and total opposition to everything.
The Manchester Diocese’s policy’ decision comes just two weeks after the neighboring Diocese of Portland, Maine, said they would not take an active political role in that state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality. For links to stories on that decision, check out Bondings 2.0′s blog posts here and here and here.
Can these decisions be a sign of things to come from other bishops? Is the hierarchy beginning to learn that opposition to marriage equality is not worth the time and investment? Stay tuned.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry