Religious leaders see bigotry in marriage equality

A group of nearly 40 conservative religious leaders released an open letter this month (January 12) that seeks to reframe the battle over same-sex civil marriage as a threat to their freedom of religion.

And in a new tactical twist, the signatories, say their concern is not that their ministers will be forced to preside at same-sex weddings. Rather, they say, allowing gays to wed would end up “forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations — throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies — to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalence of marital sexual conduct.”

The signatories include New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. It also includes the Bishop of Oakland, California,  the Most Rev. Salvatore  J. Cordileone.

“There is no doubt that many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law and church and state conflicts will result,” the leaders caution, in the letter, entitled “Marriage and Religious Freedom:  Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together.”

The signatories say that faith-based adoption agencies would be required to place children with civilly married same-sex couples and that religious employers would be required to extend medical health care benefits same-sex spouses.

The letter, posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, holds out marriage between heterosexual couples as the “true definition” that “must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society.”

The religious leaders also assert that, in opposing same-sex marriage, they and their followers have been “marked” as “bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists.”

Nationwide, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been at the forefront advocating against equal civil-marriage rights for gay couples. One leading opponent is Archbishop Dolan, whom the pope will elevate to cardinal next month.

Days before conservative religious leaders released their letter, Pope Benedict said same-sex marriage posed a threat to “humanity” adding, “Pride of place goes the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman.”

“This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society,” he said. “Consequently, the policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

Catholic advocates for LGBT equality reacted swiftly to the Pope’s harsh words and the open letter.

“The pope has it wrong, but this time he has it diametrically wrong,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Mount Rainier, Md.-based New Ways Ministry, a gay positive ministry of outreach with LGBT Catholics, their families, and friends.

“The threat to ‘human dignity and the future of humanity’ comes not from marriage equality but in opposition to it,” he added in a New Ways Ministry blog posting.

In e-mail correspondence, DeBernardo said, the open letters’ threat of “compulsion is a fantasy that exists in the conservative religious leaders’ heads.”

“No one is going to be compelled to do anything,” he said. “If religious organizations do not follow government regulations, they will simply not receive government funding,” he said.

“We are not going to see bishops going to jail over this,” DeBernardo said.

Interestingly, DeBernardo said, “At least for the Catholic bishops who signed this statement, there was never any uproar over providing benefits to divorced, remarried, but not annulled people. The same Catholic principles of marriage apply in that case. Why is there only an uproar when gay and lesbian people are involved?”

Phil Attey, executive of Catholics for Equality, said the Catholic bishops are recasting themselves from “bullies” to “victims.”

“Politically, it’s imperative for the bishops to change the narrative, he said. “And the best way to do this is to fabricate injustices against them. Ergo, we have their new ‘religious liberties’ campaign.”

Catholics for Equality is a national LGBT advocacy organization.

The use of public funds by faith-based organizations is a key, say advocates and legal experts, not religious freedom. Privately funded, religious-based, charitable and social services programs are exempt from non-discrimination laws. But such taxpayer-funded faith-based programs are required to comply with state non-discrimination laws.

“Religious freedom does not include a right to special exemptions from the laws that bind all citizens,” said professor Tobias Wolff at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “Neither does religious freedom include a right to avoid criticism for one’s beliefs. Adherents to religions that preach discrimination against LGBT people have a right to explore their beliefs. They do not have a right to turn those beliefs into law, and they do not have a right to pursue their beliefs free from the disapproval of their fellow citizens.”

11 Responses to Religious leaders see bigotry in marriage equality

  1. Bill says:

    Religious leaders have also be known to see the baby jesus on a piece of toast, so consider the source.

  2. ChuckGG says:

    Being just somewhat cynical by nature when it comes to churches, I take the old Tom Cruise line: “Show me the money!”

    And, sure enough, it does not take long before you see the claim that the churches, now playing the “victim,” are dragging out that old war-horse that they would be “forced” to provide spousal benefits to their gay employees and they would be “forced” to provide adoption services to gay couples.

    Of course, in DC, the City Council called the bluff of Catholic Charities, INCORPORATED, (apparently, a separate business entity much like the Magdalene Laundry Services of Ireland). In that case, the City Council was prepared to go out for competitive bidding on the annual $22M contract to provide a variety of social services. It was a standoff. The Council didn’t blink and CCI folded and agreed to carve out the adoption services from their package. Those services later were provided by a more enlightened group. CCI had threatened to pull out of DC if the Council approved same-sex marriage.

    Amazing how attitudes change when $22M is on the line.

    Of course, out of spite, CCI then revoked all spousal benefits for its employees, straight or gay, rather than risk paying spousal benefits to a same-sex spouse. How very Christian of them.

    This seems simple enough to me: If the churches want to play in the secular sandbox and get paid by secular dollars, they have to follow the secular rules. Where is the fault in this logic?

    Knowing what I know about the RCC, I cannot believe they actually care about this on an ideological basis. Perhaps, they have done a cost-benefit analysis and discovered there is more money in promoting controversy than accepting gay marriage. There must be more short-term money in this approach than in the long-term. Ultimately, they are on the wrong side of history and will appear as out-of-touch with their flock as they did with inter-racial marriage and as they do with birth control.

    We must remain vigilant. The RCC and others are putting forth straw-men as they realize their religious arguments against same-sex marriage are losing credibility. These straw-men include statements from organizations (backed by the church) that same-sex marriage will harm society, the economy, promotes pedophilia (well, they are experts in that area), and damages society. These claims are backed up by questionable facts from dubious organizations.

  3. Ducks says:

    I think the Catholic Church needs to take care of the own issues …
    Molesting children is a sin, loving another human being is not..

  4. Jason Jenkins says:

    ‘Rather, they say, allowing gays to wed would end up “forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations — throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies — to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalence of marital sexual conduct.”’ No, they are being required to treat same-sex marriage as the LEGAL equivalent. They are free to continue to have their own opinions about the MORAL nature of same-sex sexual conduct, just as they are free to think that miscegenation is wrong, as long as they don’t discriminate against interracial married couples.

  5. Joseph R Yungk says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that one can actually see logic in the fear of being labeled a bigot for treating human beings as less than human. Do they ever wonder about others who don’t want to be labeled as having a “grave disorder toward an intrinsic moral evil”? While the they worry about the definition of marriage they ignore the definition of humanity. That’s what being a bigot is after all.
    Just as they have a right to claim another’s human need for love and family is includes language such as “disordered” and evil others have the same freedom to retort. Repeatedly there is a complete disregard for others beliefs freedoms and humanity. Even in the face of every respected human science and other legitimate religions which do not hold such beliefs.
    All US citizens have a right to free speech and religion-not just heterosexual catholics. Until this is recognized it is neither American nor Christian.

  6. MattofWa says:

    Let me be clear. I support equality and do not believe the state should restrict marriage to persons of the opposite sex. I also do not believe the state should be able to compel religious-based oranizations to fund and support behavior opposed to their core beliefs. In this regard, the open letter does point out, validly i think, a concern. Note, the federal government has already required religious sponsored health plans to pay for abortions. That is, in my book, overreaching by the government. Following that progressive thinking would lead one to agree with the open letter’s statement that allowing gay marriage would result in churches being compelled to do things that they are morally opposed to. The issue, then, really is the reach of the state’s ability to dictate what churches do. We don’t need this power struggle of the state telling churches what they must do, and vice versa. The government always wins that battle, once engaged (Church of England, e.g.). We need to re-examine the ability of the state to compell church sponsored orgs. to do acts, We also need to allow ppl who are not straight to love and marry who they wish.

  7. ChuckGG says:

    MattofWa: I see this more of churches complaining because they do not wish to comply with the law when they are involved in secular activities.

    As everyone knows, no church will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage just as churches today are not forced to perform marriages for inter-racial couples or couples where one or both of the partners previously were married. That has and always will be the choice of the church.

    Where the problem arises is when these same churches hang out a shingle and decide they are going to go into business, advertise and rent out their Hall or provide other services to the secular, commercial world. Can you imagine if a church refused to rent out its hall to a black couple? How appalling would that be? No, if they want to play in the secular sandbox, they must abide by the secular laws just as every other business must.

    Furthermore, if they are contracted to provide a service for the government (adoption services, being an example) and they are paid by tax dollars, they must comply with the law. The tax dollars are there to serve ALL the people, not just the people they think are moral. If they don’t like these rules then they can start their own non-profit adoption service and cherry-pick their own clients.

    As long as they accept $1 of tax money they must play by the same rules as everyone else. That is only fair to the public, the other service competitors, and the tax payers.

    I have yet to see any violation of this concept. I know of no cases where a church was forced to provide anything against its wishes when the situation was solely within the church. It has only occurred when the churches are dealing with the secular world. I would like to see some examples to the contrary.

  8. MattoWa says:

    Chuck– I appreciate your points, even if I may not fully agree. Good comments.

  9. ChuckGG says:

    MattoWa – Thanks. I appreciate your contributions, as well. This is a rather contentious issue. I do not like government intrusion any more than the next person. Churches have special rights granted in our Constitution. They are not taxed nor generally do not have to follow secular laws as they are separate and unique from the secular world.

    As a small child, I personally thought religion and, in particular, the large religious institutions, were the biggest conspiratorial delusion ever foisted upon mankind. These large institutions, to me, seemed more bent on power, control, and money, than on anything actually related to spirituality. The larger they are, the more closed and dogmatic they seemed to be. Rather than be open and explore all aspects of life and the universe, they instead resist change, enforce strict code (their own), and even threaten their parishioners with eternal damnation should they attempt to peek out the windows or behind the curtain. This is the antithesis of how I chose to live. That said, I have no problem with people who wish to believe whatever.

    Where I draw the line is when their views intrude upon my secular laws and my equal rights for all. They yap on endlessly about how we must have a Constitutional Amendment banning any chance of Sharia law being used within our court system. This indicates a gross ignorance of Constitutional law and the separation of church and state. In the same breath about the evils of Sharia law, they believe it is acceptable to inject Christian tenets and restrictions into our secular laws. Their flawed logic has become tiresome. I do not know if we always have had this many ignorant people and they were somewhat invisible (or not in our circles) or now the internet has become so widespread that every fool in the country has their own blog. Some of the stuff I see and hear stuns me. I am surprised we do not have (maybe we do?). It has become a bizarre world in many cases.

    But, I digress. In a nutshell, we need to keep secular and sectarian separate. There will be some intrusions across the line. There is no DMZ between the two. We cannot have government telling the churches what they can do in the privacy of their own confines. On the other hand, we cannot have the churches failing to comply with secular laws when they are playing in the secular sandbox. Hopefully, the two can remain apart, or at least reasonably so.

  10. ChuckGG says:

    Sorry everyone. I live by the rule: “Why say something in 25 words when it can be said in 2500 ?”

    This is the credo of an opinionated touch-typist.

  11. Mattowa says:

    Yeah to the above, but all the same, I think the govt oversteps when the government dictates to private companies and idividuals the goods and services they are permitted and required to offer, with due exceptions for national security, public safety, disaster, etc.

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