The bishops of Washington State have issued a pastoral letter urging the defeat of Referendum 74, the ballot initiative on whether the state’s marriage equality law should take effect. Entitled Marriage and the Good of Society, the two-page letter reviews the bishops’ arguments that marriage is the basic unit of society, that procreation of children is integral to marriage, and that religious liberty will be threatened if marriage equality becomes law.
A blog post on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s website offers the following opinion on the letter:
“In the most controversial passage of their pastoral statement, the Catholic bishops argue that passage of Referendum 74 would make THEM [the bishops] the objects of discrimination. [The letter states]:
” ‘The legal separation of marriage from procreation would have a chilling effect on religious liberty and the right of conscience,’ the bishops claim. ’Once marriage is redefined as a genderless contract, it will become legally discriminatory for public and private institutions such as schools to promote the unique value of children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers.
‘No institution or individual could propose that married mothers and fathers provide a singular benefit to children without being accused of discrimination. Recent attacks on churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations that express their conscientious objection to the redefinition of marriage underscore the danger.’ ”
Clearly, this type of argument is fear-mongering. Marriage equality laws will have no effect on religious liberty, other than to strengthen religious liberty by protecting religious institutions’ freedom to decide who they will and will not marry.
The bishops’ hypothetical instances have no relation at all to the marriage law. The marriage law has nothing to do with what will be taught in school or the legalities of how businesses conduct themselves. The recent case of a New York lesbian couple suing a Vermont resort that refused to host their wedding is a case in point. Marriage equality is the law of the land in both New York and Vermont, yet the marriage equality law had no role in the legal proceedings of the suit. The couple’s case was based on a non-discrimination law, not a marriage equality law. It is illegal in Vermont for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post goes on to comment on the fact, which we have noted many times in the past: Catholics in the pews are not in line with the bishops’ thinking on this matter:
“The bishops are self-described ‘shepherds’ of a ‘flock’ of more than 800,000 Catholics in the state.
“But Washington Catholics have refused to act like sheep. Gov. Chris Gregoire, a practicing Catholic, pushed the Legislature to adopt marriage equality. Its chief sponsor, State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is a devout Catholic.
“Murray, reacting to the bishops’ statement, said: ’Ultimately this language only leads to marginalizing a group of people, often with tragic consequences . . . hardly reflecting the core Christian message of love.’
“When Archbishop Sartain asked parishes to serve as collection signatures for Referendum 74 — to put the state’s new marriage equality law on the ballot — several large Seattle and Tacoma parishes, including St. James Cathedral, refused to participate in the signature gathering drive.
“Major Jewish and Protestant denominations have endorsed marriage equality, with a notable statement coming from Episcopal Bishop Greg Rickel. A group called Catholics for Marriage Equality marched in last June’s Seattle Pride Parade.”
New Ways Ministry experienced the strength of Washington State Catholic support for marriage equality at two recent presentations we made in that state. And their passion for justice and equality is infectious.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry