By Archbishop William E. Lori
On Election Day, Nov. 6, citizens of Maryland will have the enormous responsibility of deciding the fate of a law that seeks to change the legal definition of marriage in our state. In short, Maryland voters will decide whether marriage as it has been known for centuries will remain as God intended, as a union of one woman and one man.
If the majority of voters say “yes” to Question 6, the same-sex marriage law will take effect Jan. 1, 2013. If a majority votes “no,” the law will fail, but domestic partners will not be deprived of many of the same rights and benefits granted to them in laws passed in 2008 and 2009, which provide many of the same rights and benefits of traditional marriage. If the law is rejected, these partnerships just will not be called marriages.
This is not your run-of-the-mill ballot question. No, it is a question that carries with it enormous consequences for our society and thus evokes tremendous passion, emotion and thought.
Those in support of this law (and even some who oppose it) tend to be driven by their empathy for people who are same-sex attracted and who refuse to live in fear of being persecuted for their sexual orientation. It is more personal for others, especially those who have suffered discrimination for their homosexuality and for friends and family members who have witnessed the same. The passions surrounding this law, and the debates that preceded and succeeded its passage, should be matched only by our outrage of such treatment of our sisters and brothers, each made in the image and likeness of Jesus himself.
Nonetheless, supporters of the bill have sought to “frame the debate” as a matter of justice, of fairness, of equality – a context none of us as Catholics, none of us as freedom-loving Americans can comfortably oppose.
But, just like those supporters of the law, many who oppose it also have friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too want a supportive environment for families and individuals to prosper and live peacefully. At the same time they are concerned about the long-term impact of a redefinition of marriage – how it will impact families, how it will change society over time, especially given the burgeoning social problems with which families and society are currently struggling. Therefore it is necessary to examine this issue in a rational, dispassionate yet loving manner. Because once the law is changed, it will likely forever remain so.
With prayerful minds and charitable hearts, I ask that you consider the following, which represent some of the church’s reasons for opposing this law.
Domestic partners currently already enjoy many of the same benefits as married women and men, including medical and end-of-life decision making, hospital visitation, exemptions from inheritance and real estate taxes, health and life insurance coverage, state employee health benefits and many more. It is simply not necessary to redefine marriage for all of society to provide benefits to other couples.
For the past several decades, society – including federal and state governments – have been advocating for the presence of fathers in the stabilization of families. This represents the widely held belief that fathers bring to parenthood unique qualities that are critical in the upbringing of children. Nowhere are the consequences of dismantled families more apparent than in Baltimore. Consider that in December 2010 only 8.6 percent of city households were comprised of married couples and their children. There can be little doubt that the absence of fathers has a direct impact on such childhood factors as education, poverty and crime.
After the Spanish government redefined marriage, birth certificates replaced “mother and father” with “progenitor A and progenitor B.” In Canada, “husband and wife” became “spouse” and “mother and father” was changed to “parent 1 and parent 2.” In Massachusetts, after same-sex marriage became law, same-sex marriage was taught in elementary schools and parents had no advance notice and no recourse for preventing their child from being exposed to such discussions.
If we take it upon ourselves to redefine marriage, for what other challenges to this institution will such a change pave the way? If marriage is no longer to be reserved to the only union capable of bringing forth life into society and thus contributing to the common good, and marriage is just a generic label for relationships – then what’s next? Why limit unions to two people? Why a prohibition on unions of blood relatives? How long before a closely related same-sex couple challenges this new law if it is affirmed by Maryland’s voters?
In every state where this issue has been left to the voters – 32 to date – voters have chosen to uphold traditional marriage. They made this choice not because of a discriminatory view toward our same-sex attracted sisters and brothers, not because they sought to deprive them of the rights and benefits of married couples, but because they believed children deserve the opportunity to be raised by a father and mother, because society is best served by stable homes led by a mother and father and because marriage is a term that has always been reserved for the only relationship capable of bearing children.
Let us continue to pray, to dialogue in a spirit of civility and to seek the courage of our convictions to bear witness to these truths before entering the voting booth this November.
Copyright (c) Sept. 20, 2012 CatholicReview.org