This week, Illinois became the 15th state to pass marriage equality legislation, and it’s becoming clear from news reports that this was done in no small way because of Catholics in the state, and Pope Francis, too.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comments from July seemed to persuade some Catholic lawmakers to vote in favor of marriage equality. The news story stated:
“The comments sparked a wave of soul-searching by several Catholic lawmakers who had battled to reconcile their religious beliefs with their sworn duty to represent their constituents who were increasingly supportive of gay rights even as Cardinal Francis George remained opposed.”
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan
As evidence, they offered a quote from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Catholic, who echoed the pope’s famous line as he adapted it to the marriage equality debate:
“For those that just happen to be gay — living in a very harmonious, productive relationship but illegal — who am I to judge that they should be illegal?”
The Chicago Sun-Times was more expansive in citing Madigan’s remarks:
“House Speaker Michael J. Madigan was one of the final speakers in the debate, giving the bill his blessing, pledging to vote yes and quoting Pope Francis.
“ ‘My thoughts regarding this legislation were formulated before the quote I’m going to offer to all of us,’ Madigan told colleagues, as the packed House chamber fell silent. ‘And the quote that I offer is a quote from Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic church, who is quoted as saying, “If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord, and he has good will, who am I to judge?”
“ ‘Pope Francis has spoken, and he has articulated the basis of my thinking on this issue,’ said Madigan, who later acknowledged having personally lobbied between five and 10 House Democrats to support Harris’ bill.”
Another Catholic lawmaker who was obviously influenced by Pope Francis is Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (who we quoted yesterday) who explicitly referenced the pope in her explanation of how her faith motivated her to vote for marriage equality:
“As a Catholic follower of Jesus and the pope, Pope Francis, I am clear that our Catholic religious doctrine has at its core love, compassion and justice for all people.”
Representative Linda Chapa LaVia
The Tribune noted that Chapa LaVia had been undecided about her vote, even as late as this past summer.
The Beacon News interviewed Chapa LaVia for an article about how she came to her decision. The news story stated:
“Over the past two years, Chapa LaVia met with her priest, made visits to area churches and fielded constituent calls. Chapa LaVia faced competing protests at her district office this summer after declaring she was ’50/50′ on the gay marriage issue.”
In addition to her Catholic faith, Chapa La Via also cited her constitutional oath to uphold the law:
“Besides her husband, developer Vernon LaVia, no one knew exactly which way she would vote until she took to the House floor Tuesday. In her speech, Chapa LaVia said she raised her right hand twice on oath to the Constitution of Illinois and to the Constitution of the United States.
“ ‘Both times it was a promise to promote justice for all, not just some people,’ she said.”
LaVia mentioned that”it’s going to be difficult to walk into church,” but she was not the only Catholic who supported the bill:
“Chapa LaVia noted that many other ‘high-ranking Catholics,’ such as Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan and state Rep. Ed Sullivan, one of three GOP House members to vote ‘yes,’ also supported the bill Tuesday. All Latino state House lawmakers and 16 of the 24 Black Caucus members voted in favor of the bill, too, her office said Wednesday.”
Governor Quinn, who signed civil union legislation a few years ago, is ready to sign the marriage equality bill, too.
These high-ranking leaders joined the thousands of ordinary Catholics in the state who supported marriage equality, many of whom were members of the Catholics for Marriage Equality Illinois coalition. The Illinois Observer reported on a recent state poll which showed that “Illinois voters who identified as Catholic favor gay marriage by a 2-to-1 margin.”
Some Catholic leaders, of course, were vocal opponents of the bill, and were disappointed with the outcome. RRStar.com reported:
“. . . the Catholic Conference of Illinois issued a statement that said the vote went ‘against the common consensus of the human race’ and undermines the institution of marriage.
” ‘The Catholic Conference of Illinois is deeply disappointed that members of the General Assembly chose to redefine what is outside of its authority — a natural institution like marriage,’ the statement said. ‘We remain concerned about the very real threats to religious liberty that are at stake with the passage of this bill.’ “
Cardinal Francis George
Similarly, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who spoke out numerous times against the bill had this reaction, reported by the Sun-Times:
“It’s no enormous surprise. There was a lot of effort placed into passage of this legislation. I think it’s bad legislation, but we’ve lived with bad laws before. It’ll make some people happy … but it will also, I think, change the nature of our society over a period of time.”
The cardinal also indicated that gay and lesbian couples who marry legally would not be eligible to receive communion:
“If someone is living in a lifestyle that is publicly against the Gospel as interpreted in the church, whether heterosexual or they’re gay, no, they don’t take communion. But that’s the discipline of the sacrament that applies to everybody, not just to gays.”
Yet, it seems that Catholics in the state are paying more attention to Pope Francis than to the local hierarchy when it comes to LGBT issues. In fact, the bishops’ opposition seems to be having a somewhat counter-productive effect for their position. The poll mentioned above also had results that showed that when Catholics were told that bishops opposed marriage equality, this information actually increased support for the legislation. The Illinois Observer reported:
“Catholic voters actually offered more support for marriage equality legislation when told that some public figures, including Cardinal George and Catholic bishops, oppose marriage between same-sex couples, according to a new poll by Fako & Associates of Lisle, IL, a national public opinion research firm. . . .
“Catholics supported marriage fairness 61 percent to 32 percent; Catholic support increased to 63 percent, 31 percent opposed, when read the balanced statement that included the bishops’ opposition.”
For more information on Catholics who support marriage equality, visit the Catholics for Marriage Equality website and ”like” them on Facebook.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry