PROVIDENCE, R.I. – For Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy in Manassas, Va., changing the law to allow same-sex marriage means changing one of the fundamental building blocks of society.
But it also would have a direct impact on the institutions that regularly celebrate marriages, such as the Catholic Church, she told an audience in Providence. She also expressed concern that those who support traditional marriage will be treated “like bigots who opposed interracial marriage.”
Gallagher was one of two national speakers who addressed two groups that have a particular stake in marriage law – Catholic clergy and lawyers. The other speaker was Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
In Rhode Island, same-sex marriages are not legal, but several bills are pending before the Rhode Island General Assembly that would allow them as well as same-sex civil unions.
But same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions where they are legal, such as neighboring Massachusetts, are considered valid under state law.
In their presentations, first to the clergy and then to the lawyers, Gallagher presented a case for the importance of marriage to society and Picarello outlined several of the potential legal ramifications that religious institutions could face if marriage law is changed.
“I entered the same-sex marriage debate in 2003 because I thought the debate was too dominated by people whose primary issue was homosexuality pro and con,” said Gallagher.
“As important as that debate is, we were also talking about changing the basic law and therefore, I believe, the public understanding of our core social institution for protecting children – marriage,” she said.
The concept of marriage, she said, rises out of “three persistent facts about human beings cross-culturally. The first is that the vast majority of us, human beings, are attracted – and not by our reason – to an action that creates human life. … The second is that society needs babies. … And, the third idea in which marriage is rooted is that children need a mother as well as a father.”
Gallagher disputes the popular notion that allowing same sex-marriage will only have an effect on gay couples.
“The big myth is that this is going to affect only ‘Adam and Steve,’“ she said. “You want to ask me how is gay marriage going to affect you? Here’s my answer: People … like you and me who think marriage is the union of husband and wife are (going to be treated) like bigots who opposed interracial marriage.”
Gallagher does not consider sexual orientation to be at all similar to race, and said that she has no objections to interracial marriage. But she asserted that those in favor of same-sex marriage have made a point to speak about sexual orientation in terms similar to those used when talking about race.
“The architects of the gay marriage strategy are people who passionately, morally believe that (same-sex) … orientation … (should be) treated exactly the same as race in law and culture … that being gay is exactly the same as being black,” she said.
The debate on marriage “is taking place between two sides, both of which have powerful moral views that are in conflict. They’re contradictory,” she said.
Up to now much of the debate on changing the definition of marriage has focused on the moral implications, but according to Picarello, the legal implications are far-reaching and are beginning to be dealt with across the country.
The legal term “marriage” appears “everywhere” in law, he said, which means that changing the definition of who can legally be married will change countless other laws – from tax laws to employment laws to health care laws.
“Throughout the law, your rights hinge very often on whether or not you (are married) … so, to change the legal definition of marriage in turn is not to change one law but to change many, many at once. These laws, in turn, regulate religious institutions,” he said.
One example is how employment laws changed by a new definition of marriage could affect the church. He gave a number of hypothetical situations, but also talked about how Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese decided to abandon its adoption services after the legalizing of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
The agency needed a state license to operate its adoption services, but once the new state law was in place, it could not have the license if it practiced any kind of discrimination. The Catholic Charities’ moral view against gay marriage – which meant they would not place children with gay married couples – became a form of marriage discrimination.
A religious exemption to the law was put before the state Legislature, and it failed.
If gay marriage becomes the law in Rhode Island, Picarello said, he sees the potential for a similar fallout affecting the Catholic Church’s hiring practices, its employee benefits, its tax-exempt status and its witnessing of legal marriages.
Even if these hypothetical legal decisions favor the church’s position, which Picarello sees as unlikely, the litigation will be costly for the church in terms of money, time and reputation.
“It seems that politically is where this needs to be stopped, because that’s really the only place where there’s hope, and I’d say there’s good hope,” he said.
Gallagher urged Rhode Islanders to begin to actively work against those lobbying for same-sex marriage, and said strengthening the culture of marriage is one of many strategies.