Washington Bishop on Marriage Referendum

"We Should be Committed to the Proposition That Our Public Dialogue Must Be Marked by Civility and Clarity"

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SPOKANE, Washington, AUG. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the letter and reflections by Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington on the Referendum 74 ballot. The referendum will allow voters to repeal a law that redefines marriage.

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A Letter to Parishioners: Referendum 74

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

On Nov. 6, Washington voters will decide the fate of the law passed by our state legislature and signed by the governor, which redefined marriage to include same sex unions. If a majority of voters “approve” Referendum 74, the same-sex marriage law will go into effect on Dec. 6, 2012. If a majority votes “reject,” the law will fall, but, “registered domestic partners” will not be deprived of any of the rights granted to them in laws passed in 2008 and 2009, namely all the rights of traditional marriage. “Registered domestic partnerships” just will not be called “marriages.”

Admittedly, the conflicting positions of this issue are deeply held and passionately argued. Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it. As a result, supporters of the referendum often speak passionately of the need to rebalance the scales of justice. This tends to frame the issue as a matter of equality in the minds of many people, a value that is deeply etched in our nation’s psyche.

Likewise, many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean.

My genuine hope is that we all can value the coming vote on Referendum 74 as an opportunity to have a substantial public debate regarding this critical issue, carried on with respect, honesty and conviction. When addressing issues of depth and passion – indeed, most importantly at such times – we should be committed to the proposition that our public dialogue must be marked by civility and clarity, and that it should generate light rather than heat. As a means of contributing to that effort, I ask your careful consideration of the attached reflections which outline some of the reasons for the Catholic Church’s position recommending that citizens vote “reject” on Referendum 74, and thus overturn the law that redefines marriage. I offer these thoughts with respect, but also out of a sense of duty to contribute to the debate for the good of our state.

But, I also want to be very clear that in stating our position the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity. As the 2006 statement, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops unequivocally states:
All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected. In keeping with this conviction, the Church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358).

We recognize that these persons have been, and often continue to be, objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence in some sectors of our society. Sometimes this hatred is manifested clearly; other times, it is masked and gives rise to more disguised forms of hatred. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Oct. 1, 1986, no. 10.)

In the peace of Christ,

+ Most Reverend Blase J. Cupich
Bishop of Spokane

Some Reflections on Referendum 74

1. The law which redefines marriage, if approved by the voters in November, would not give same sex couples any new legal rights which they do not already have access to through the state’s registered domestic partnership provision. After the State of Washington created registered domestic partnerships in 2007, other laws in 2008 and 2009 were passed to extend all statutory rights provided to traditional married couples to these partnerships. The legislature made it clear at that time that all registered domestic partners in our state will be treated the same as married spouses. As for the new law passed this spring, the only change is that the title “marriage" is now given to these partnerships. Thus, the issue is not about making same sex unions equal to traditional marriages of one man and one woman, for this has already been done. Rather, it is about making same sex unions identical to traditional marriages. It is arguable that traditional marriage loses its unique identity in the process.

2. To accomplish the goal of making these two types of unions identical, marriage in the new law had to be redefined solely in terms of a relationship between two people. All references to marriage as a union of sexual difference and its potential to create new life have been removed. If there is anything we have come to appreciate and value more fully in this modern age, it is that men and women are not the same. That is true not only biologically, but on so many other levels. Men and women are not interchangeable. They each bring something of their difference to complement each other. In a marriage union, a mutual sharing of each other’s difference creates life, but it also nourishes that life in a family where sons and daughters learn about gender from the way it is lived by their mothers and fathers. The decision to unhinge marriage from its original grounding in our biological life should not be taken lightly for there are some things enacted law is not capable of changing. Thoughtful consideration should be given to the significant consequences such unhinging will mean for children, families, society and the common good.

3. If the referendum is approved, the most immediate consequence is that the state would no longer grant special support and recognition of the irreplaceable contribution and sacrifice that wives and husbands make to society today as mothers and fathers who bring to life, rear and educate the next generation.

4. But, we also can look to the experience of other jurisdictions to gauge the kinds of changes we might expect in marriage law, in norms for education of youth and in common language. For instance, Canada passed the 2005 Civil Marriage Act. Since then the government replaced for civic and educational purposes traditional family designations such as "husband" and "wife" with spouse, and "mother" and "father with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2". After the Spanish government redefined marriage, it was announced that birth certificates would read “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B”, not “father” and “mother.” But, words matter, especially words like mother and father, which have real depth and meaning. We lose a great deal when they are substituted by terms and designations not otherwise used. They are strange to the ear, but they also fail to convey what fathers and mothers each bring as male and female to the critical task of generating, rearing and educating their sons and daughters.

5. Admittedly, the experience of these jurisdictions is so new and limited that we cannot know the full range of other possible developments and challenges that society will face with a radical redefinition of marriage. But even now, some questions come to mind and should be asked: If marriage is only about relationships, why limit unions to two people? Why does the new law include the traditional prohibition of close kinship unions for both opposite and same sex couples? The threat of genetic disorders in children is not an issue for same sex couples. Is it not reasonable to assume that a closely related same sex couple will in time successfully challenge this prohibition as an unreasonable imposition? If so, would not the state be forced to return to the present situation of special laws recognizing the unique identity of opposite sex unions?

6. In sum, we are facing a decision about making a major shift in an institution that serves as the foundation stone of society. I would argue that this is not about granting equality to same sex couples, but of changing the identity of marriage. The church raises these concerns and objections to Referendum 74, not to impose its definition on marriage or determine who can or cannot be married. Neither the church nor the state has an exclusive right to do either. Marriage existed either before the church or the state. It is written in our human nature.

Concluding Remarks

My aim here has been to offer some considerations based on the light of reason, so that this important issue can be discussed in a calm, reasonable and respectful manner by people of all faiths and none. I hope these reflections will assist your conversations with family and friends.

For us believers, however, this is just the beginning of the discussion not the end, for we are gifted with the light of faith by all that is revealed in Scripture and our tradition. In the coming weeks I will provide through the Inland Register, and our websites (dioceseofspokane.org and thewscc.org) materials based on what we believe God has revealed to us about creation, the meaning and value of marriage and family, and the way we are called to live as Christ’s disciples. I will also have something to say about what it means for us to believe.

On this occasion, I only ask the favor of giving a thoughtful and careful reading to what I have written here, and to discuss this important topic with friends and family, neighbors and co-workers with calm, civility and respect. We owe that to one other, our state and future generations.