Washington State Bishops Issue Pastoral Letter Against Marriage Equality

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

Trying to Repeal Marriage Equality Laws in Maryland and Washington State

Maryland and Washington State both recently legalized marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples. In both states, the laws were signed by governors who are Catholics. However, both states now are experiencing campaigns to repeal these two laws through voter referendums.  In both states, the Catholic hierarchy is heavily involved in collecting signatures to put the repeal of these laws on the ballot.

According to a local television station (WJLA) report in Maryland:

“The [Maryland]Catholic Conference and the Maryland Family Alliance are leading the effort to get the 56,000 signatures needed to take same sex marriage to a ballot referendum.”

What makes this news even more disturbing is that meetings to train people to lead the campaign were not open to the public:

“At a Hyattsville [Maryland] Catholic Church, the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Catholic Conference are hosting what will be one of at least 25 training sessions for volunteers—most of which will be done behind closed doors.”

Why the secrecy?  If the Maryland Catholic Conference believes that what it is doing is right, why aren’t they allowing the public to be part of the process?  Why aren’t they allowing the press to witness their deliberations?

In Washington State, bishops allowing parishes to collect signatures after Sunday Masse for that state’s anti-marriage equality referendum.  In a letter to Catholics, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle stated:

“Because we believe that this issue is critically important, we support Referendum 74 and have approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months. Your pastors have received from us information regarding the signature drive, and we requested that they not collect signatures on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. After Easter, signatures may be gathered on Referendum 74.”

If the archbishop believes that this signature-collecting effort is the right thing to do, then why not allow it to happen on Palm Sunday and Easter?  If the effort is a good one, it should be proper to do on any Sunday.

According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post, Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Washington, is also allowing signatures to be collected at parishes.  The blog post quotes a letter from the bishop on the diocesan website:

“We will . . . provide every opportunity for parishes throughout our state to participate in gathering signatures for Referendum 74 in order to place it before voters in November.

“Should the referendum qualify for the ballot, parishes also may support the referendum to overturn the law.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference has made petitions to repeal the law available on their website.  The petitions are produced by an organization named “Preserve Marriage Washington” which is identified on the Catholic Conference website as “an entity created by the National Organization for Marriage.”

Referendum campaigns are won or lost depending on which side is more capable of turning out the vote.  These incidents illustrate how the Catholic hierarchy has a strong advantage because of the huge communications infrastructure they have with parishes.   Marriage equality supporters will have to find creative ways of getting their message of equality and justice to what we know is the overwhelming majority of Catholics who want to protect marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: January 24, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) In an announcement in all parish bulletins this past weekend, Seattle’s Archbishop Peter Satrain called on Catholics to contact their state legislators to oppose the marriage equality bill there.  Details can be found in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer  blog post,  “Archbishop Sartrain: ‘Protect Marriage.’ “

2) The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports “In Haugen casts key marriage equality vote” that Washington State’s marriage equality bill has received the 25 needed votes for passage in the Senate.  Passage in the state’s House is expected, and Catholic Governor Christine Gregoire has pledged to sign the bill.

3) Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Catholic, has introduced a marriage equality bill to the state legislature, reports the Baltimore Sun in “O’Malley introduces same-sex marriage bill.”  Strengthened exemptions for religious institutions distinguish it from last year’s bill, which was tabled.  The Sun also reports that “O’Malley will back transgender rights bill,”  too.

4) The first gay man nominated to the New Jersey Supreme Court was named by Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic.   In “Christie Names a Gay Man and an Asian for the Top Court,” the New York Times reports that Christie, who has opposed marriage equality in his state denied that this pro-gay appointment is any indication that he will support marriage equality in this legislative session.

5) The Catholic Catechism’s directive that lesbian/gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity’ is cited in a Malta Times article, “NGOs call for ‘hate crime’ to also cover anti-gay acts.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry