The debate surrounding Illinois’ SB10, a marriage equality bill, is heating up, and Catholics are playing a major role to help get the measure passed. In addition to the formation of a coalition of Catholic supporters of the bill, the other news is the publication of an insightful op-ed from a Catholic professor on the topic of the law’s relationship to organized religion.
“Catholics for Marriage Equality–Illinois” formed recently to highlight the fact that Catholic lay people support equal rights for lesbian and gay couples in regard to marriage law. The coalition is comprised of members of Chicago and West Suburban Call To Action chapters, Faithful of Southern Illinois, Dignity/Chicago, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.
The coalition will participate in an October 22nd “March on Springfield,” Illinois’ state capital. Marriage equality supporters from all over the state will gather that day to urge lawmakers to pass the bill.
“What can Catholics do?” asked Barbara Marian, the mother of a gay daughter. “Support for marriage equality is a natural outcome of the best of Catholic social teaching. We encourage all Catholics to take a moral stand FOR equal marriage. Email or call your friends, urge them to get involved, sign up with Catholics for Marriage Equality, attend the rally in Springfield on October 22nd
and write letters to the editors. This is clearly an issue where the bishops do not speak for the membership of the Catholic Church.”
The Chicago Sun-Times website published an op-ed by Cristina Traina, a Catholic religious studies professor at Northwestern University, Illinois, in which she dispels three common myths concerning religion and marriage equality:
Myth #1: Religious leaders will be forced to marry gay and lesbian couples, against their principles.
“In Illinois religious organizations and leaders may refuse to officiate at any wedding. They already do so whenever they decline to marry people who do not fit their criteria for marriage, for whatever reason: divorce, non-membership in the religious community, cohabitation before marriage, unwillingness to go through the community’s marriage- preparation process, and the like. SB10 does not force religious communities to accommodate same-sex partner weddings; these couples can still marry in a civil setting.”
Myth #2: Religious organizations will be forced to accommodate gay and lesbian couples under the new law.
Traina points out accommodation is not covered by the new marriage equality bill, but it might be required by state anti-discrimination bills:
“. . . [T]he Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act would not alter the obligations that any organization has to gays and lesbians under Illinois’s human-rights and public-accommodations act. If an organization or business is obligated to welcome, serve, or employ partnered or unpartnered gays and lesbians now, it would be obligated to welcome, serve, or employ people married to same-sex partners later. If it is not obligated under the act now, it would not be required to accommodate married gays and lesbians in the future.
Myth #3: The institution of marriage has always been a religious concept, and it has never changed its form.
Traina offers an important history lesson:
“Marriage was a social and legal institution before it was a Christian one. In the United States, there has often been quite a lot of daylight between civil law and mainstream Christian definitions of marriage. For instance, polygamy — historically prohibited by almost all American religious groups except some Muslims and nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints — did not become illegal in U.S. territories until 1862. Prohibitions against interracial marriage — which few religious groups have explicitly prohibited — were not overturned until 1967.”
Her essay is worth reading in its entirety, and it can be accessed here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry