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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 03
Washington's Catholic bishops nix marriage equality
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Washington's Catholic bishops nix marriage equality

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Washington state's four Roman Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter against marriage equality on January 14.

Titled 'Marriage and the Common Good,' the letter was signed by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, his auxiliary bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Spokane bishop Blase Cupich, and Yakima bishop Joseph J. Tyson.

While the Catholic Church's opposition to marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples is so well known that it probably doesn't require restatement, the bishops specifically instructed Catholics to lobby their legislators against the marriage equality bill.

'We urge you to contact your own state senator and your two state representatives to request that they defend the current legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman,' the bishops said.

SGN tried to contact the Seattle Archdiocese both by phone and by email for clarification on the bishops' intentions.

'Does the archdiocese intend to work to defeat legislators who vote for the bill?' SGN asked.

'And should Catholic legislators who vote for the bill be denied sacraments?'

Many Catholic bishops have said that Catholic lawmakers who vote for reproductive choice should not receive sacraments such as Holy Communion in church. If the bishops believe that marriage equality is as offensive to church doctrine as abortion, that would indicate a very serious level of opposition.

At press time, the Archdiocese had not responded to SGN's questions.

In their letter, the bishops say that nothing less than the future of human civilization is at risk if Gay and Lesbian couples are allowed to marry.

'Marriage is certainly about the public recognition of a relationship between a man and a woman,' they say in their letter. 'But it is much more. Marriage in faith and societal traditions is acknowledged as the foundation of civilization.'

'It has long been recognized that the stability of society depends on the stability of family life in which a man and a woman conceive and nurture new life.'

Like the Washington Supreme Court majority in the case of Andersen v. King County, the bishops attempt to ground their opposition to marriage equality in the potential for procreation.

The bishops say that 'civil recognition of marriage' has sought to bestow 'on countless generations of children the incomparable benefits of a loving mother and father committed to one another in lifelong union.

'Were the definition of marriage to change, there would be no special laws to support and recognize the irreplaceable contribution that these married couples make to society, and to the common good by bringing to life the next generation.

'Upholding the present definition of marriage does not depend on anyone's religious beliefs,' the bishops argue. 'Washington state's present law defining marriage as a 'civil contract between a male and a female' is grounded not in faith, but in reason and the experience of society.

'It recognizes the value of marriage as a bond of personal relationships but also in terms of the unique and irreplaceable potential of a man and woman to conceive and nurture new life, thus contributing to the continuation of the human race.'

While the bishops certainly have influence among the state's Catholics, they represent a minority view among American Catholics. Several recent polls have shown that a majority of Catholics support marriage equality, with one poll suggesting that as many as 63% of Catholics do so.

Among supporters of the marriage equality bill are a number of Catholics - notably Governor Christine Gregoire and Senator Ed Murray (D-43).

'This was all about my personal faith,' Gregoire said in introducing the bill. 'I came to understand my religion is one thing, but as governor of the state and as a human being, I believe in equality. And I don't respect a state that discriminates.'

'My first reaction [to the bishops' letter], as a practicing Catholic, is that this is very hurtful,' Murray told reporters.

According to Mary Murphy of the Rainbow Sash Movement, an organization of LGBT Catholics, the bishops have no authority to speak for the church on marriage.

'There are three pillars of authority in the Church,' Murphy writes in a blog post. 'Each is of equal importance and authority: the Teaching Magisterium, of which the four bishops of Washington state are a part; the 'sense of the faithful' of which Gov. Chris Gregoire is part; and our theological community. When unity is lacking between these three pillars of authority you do not have unity, and without unity there is no authority to speak for Jesus Christ.'

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