On opposite coasts of our nation, two Catholic governors both named “Chris” are taking opposite approaches to marriage equality legislation in their respective states.
Governor Chris(tine) Gregoire in Washington State has just signed her state’s legislation into law, while Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey has vowed to veto the legislation in his state.
Governor Gregoire has generously offered to discuss her decision, including her faith journey on this issue, with Governor Christie, but so far, he has not responded to her offer. You can read the text of her letter in a blog post by Michael O’Loughlin on America magazine’s In All Things blog. O’Loughlin observes that Catholic governors have been tremendously supportive of marriage equality legislation. He observes that four of the five legislative initiatives
“were signed by Catholic governors: John Baldacci in Maine; John Lynch in New Hampshire; Andrew Cuomo in New York; and now Gregoire in Washington.”
These numbers increase when you add Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois who signed a civil unions bill into law in his state against the strong public appeals by Illinois’ Catholic hierarchy.
The Catholic governors who support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples are following sound ethical principles of another great Catholic governor: Mario Cuomo from New York. In a landmark 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame entitled “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective,” the elder Cuomo laid out some important principles to guide Catholic government leaders.
One principle was pragmatic: “The Catholic public official lives the political truth most Catholics through most of American history have accepted and insisted on: the truth that to assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom.”
Another principle was a realistic observation: “. . . on divorce and birth control, without changing its moral teaching, the Church abides the civil law as it now stands, thereby accepting-without making much of a point of it-that in our pluralistic society we are not required to insist that all our religious values be the law of the land.”
A third principle was that of prudence and conscience: “While we always owe our bishops’ words respectful attention and careful consideration, the question whether to engage the political system in a struggle to have it adopt certain articles of our belief as part of public morality is not a matter of doctrine: it is a matter of prudential political judgment. . . .My church does not order me-under pain of sin or expulsion-to pursue my salvific mission according to a precisely defined political plan.”
Whether consciously or not, this new generation of Catholic governors have imbibed Cuomo’s wisdom and are exercising sound religious and political judgment.
An analysis of Cuomo’s comments can be found in chapter 10 of New Ways Ministry’s publication Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach. The chapter’s title is “What is the moral responsibility of a Catholic legislator?” You can order free hard copies of the book or download a free PDF of it by clicking here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry