N.H. Diocese Supports Civil Unions as a Way to Forestall Marriage Equality

The New Hampshire House last week voted down a bill (HB 437) that would have repealed the state’s marriage equality law, and you can read about the vote and the debate which preceded it in this Concord Monitor news story.

Not mentioned in the news story–and actually not mentioned in most of the coverage of this debate–is that New Hampshire’s Catholic diocese of Manchester, which opposed marriage equality, has come out in support of civil unions as a way to forestall marriage.  According to a PolicyMic.com article,

“Historically, Roman Catholic officials have opposed virtually every regulation, policy, and law proposed to protect LGBT people nationwide, including all proposals for civil unions. However, faced with the choice of either retaining New Hampshire’s full marriage law which was signed on 3 June 2009, or else repealing it and replacing it with civil unions instead, church officials decided – for the first time ever – to endorse civil unions for LGBT people.”

According to the statement on HB 437 found on the Diocese of Manchester’s website:

“The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions. However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching, but which nonetheless provide an “incremental improvement” in the current law and a “step toward full restoration of justice.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 32)”

To be clear, the Diocese does not see civil unions as an ideal to be achieved, but as a step toward making sure that full marriage rights are not granted to lesbian and gay couples.   Still, it is an interesting development that shows that the Catholic hierarchy can, if they want to, take a different position on the question of rights for lesbian and gay couple other than outright and total opposition to everything.

The Manchester Diocese’s policy’ decision comes just two weeks after the neighboring Diocese of Portland, Maine, said they would not take an active political role in that state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality.  For links to stories on that decision, check out Bondings 2.0’s blog posts here and here and here.

Can these decisions be a sign of things to come from other bishops?  Is the hierarchy beginning to learn that opposition to marriage equality is not worth the time and investment?  Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



0 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    To put this into a global context, I must point out that although an important reversal for NH, it is not new. The Portuguese bishops took a similar strategy some years ago, arguing in favour of civil unions in an unsuccessful attempt to stave off full marriage equality for their country. More recently in the UK, Archbishop Nichols has stated publicly that he can see “some merit” in civil partnerships.These are small concessions, but clearly form part of a much more wide -ranging reconsideration of the issues. I find it striking that in all the rhetoric against marriage in recent years, in the US, the UK, or elsewhere, the attacks have all been against the recognition of our relationships. I could be wrong, but I cannot recall any direct attacks on the relationships themselves, nor have I come across any repetition of the d-word, “disordered”, This would have been unthinkable ten years ago, under JPII.

    In his superb Bannan lecture, “Intrinsically Disordered”, James Nickoloff has this delicious quotation:

    Many might agree with the perceptive theologian who once gave a useful summary of the pattern by which doctrine evolves in the Church. There are always three steps, he concluded after lengthy investigation. First, a new question arises to which the Church’s magisterium must give an answer. “No, the answer is no, has always been no, and will always be no,” reply the authorities. In a second step the hierarchy decides to study the question further. And in a third step, the magisterium declares its teaching, clearly and simply: “Yes, the answer is yes, has always been yes, and will always be yes.”


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  1. […] 2012, Diocese of New Hampshire (civil unions as alternative to full […]

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  4. […] 2012, Diocese of New Hampshire (civil unions as alternative to full […]

  5. […] 2012, Diocese of New Hampshire (civil unions as alternative to full […]

  6. […] the United States, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a civil unions bill in March 2012, as a way to forestall marriage equality.   In their statement, the diocese […]

  7. […] example, the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, ended up supporting a bill in the state legislature which would have instituted civil unions as an alternative to marriage.  […]

  8. […] other things, moral approval of same-sex relationships. The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a bill that would legalize civil unions (albeit as a stopgap measure to prevent marriage equality). Bishop […]

  9. […] other things, moral approval of same-sex relationships.  The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a bill that would legalize civil unions (albeit as a stopgap measure to prevent marriage equality).  […]

  10. […] the Archbishop of Westminster in England in December came out in support of civil unions. And in New Hampshire this year, the Catholic Church endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples as a compromise to a full repeal of that state’s same-sex marriage law, […]

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