Let the people vote

In a strongly-worded letter, a group of religious leaders calling themselves the Religious Coalition for Marriage are asking the archbishop of Boston to drop his support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would preserve marriage as a committed union between one man and one woman — an initiative supported by the signatures of over 170,000 citizens.

The letter claims that Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, together with the other Catholic bishops of Massachusetts are trying to impose their understanding of marriage on society because “the Roman Catholic magisterium teaches that homosexuality and gay unions are gravely immoral.”

The letter goes on to misrepresent the Catholic position on marriage, saying that the bishops are trying to impose their religious views in society and affirming that the bishops “are promoting prejudice through [a] political campaign.”

It is sad to see a letter written by a group of clergy so full of misconceptions.

The Catholic Church’s position is public and clear. It was succinctly laid out by the U.S. bishops in their 2003 document “Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions” that appears on page 8 of this week’s Pilot.

The Church’s defense of marriage is not based on prejudice against homosexuals, as has been alleged. In fact, the Church’s defense of the traditional definition of marriage is not even linked to the homosexual nature of same-sex unions. The reality is that the Church opposes any redefinition of marriage, even if it was to include chaste relations or other forms of heterosexual relationships such as polygamy.

It is widely recognized that a family with a mother and father present is the ideal environment for the raising of children. While other forms of families certainly exist and, in many cases, can raise fine children, they are not ideal. Traditional marriage, even among childless couples, creates a paradigm for this type of family. As such, it has been given special recognition and benefits.

The idea of granting special benefits to a marriage of one man and one woman because it is an ideal that should be encouraged is no more discriminatory than offering tax breaks to consumers who purchase energy-efficient vehicles, or businesses that relocate to economically depressed areas, or investors who put their money into hurricane-ravaged states... this list goes on. Government incentives encouraging beneficial behavior is not discrimination against everyone who may not be able to take advantage of them — or if it is, lawmakers need to take a hard look at how they do their jobs every day.

But beyond the issue of discrimination, which has been addressed many times in the past, we have to wonder: Why are those religious leaders specifically pointing their criticism at the archbishop of Boston and the Catholic Church? Are they not aware that many mainstream Protestant as well as Jewish and Muslim organizations also stand by the traditional definition of marriage?

Publicity over the release of the letter may create the misperception that the religious community is divided over the definition of marriage.

But nothing is farther from the truth. The vast majority of mainstream religious groups support efforts to defend the traditional definition of marriage. To our knowledge, the media coverage on the letter overlooked the fact that two years ago, a group including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders — representing over 3,000 congregations in Massachusetts — signed a joint statement calling on legislators to defend traditional marriage.

Another troubling element of the Religious Coalition for Marriage’s letter is its call for the Catholic bishops to stop publicly expressing their views. “Please stop trying to put personal faith up for a popular vote in 2008,” the letter said.

So let us understand: They, as religious leaders, can express their views but the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts are somehow wrong for expressing their views? Curious.

Catholics have a moral duty to participate in political life and inform their opinions with the moral teachings of the Church, which are derived primarily not from particular tenets of faith but from natural law.

We strongly believe that the fundamental principles of natural law broadly define a framework in which our society can exist and prosper. Defending those fundamental principles — including the foundational nature of marriage — is not advocating a “personal faith” but promoting basic human values that can be understood through rational argument.

Opponents of the amendment fear a vote on the issue because they know that a majority of citizens in the Commonwealth are concerned by the redefinition of marriage promulgated by the Supreme Judicial Court, without input from the people of Massachusetts.

July 12 your legislators will be asked to cast the first of two votes that could lead to the citizens of Massachusetts being allowed to decide the definition of marriage. Same-sex marriage supporters, using every means at their disposal, will do everything they can to prevent that vote from taking place — and if it does, to defeat the proposed amendment.

The personal involvement of citizens over the next two weeks is of the utmost importance, not only for today but for future generations. If you worry about your children and grandchildren being taught at school that it is normal to have two fathers or two mothers — something that is already taking place — you need to act now. If the Legislature meeting in Constitutional Convention does not vote to approve the amendment, the effort to let citizens decide the fate of marriage will perish. Please call your legislators and tell them that they represent you — and you want them to vote to defend marriage.

Another important way to show support for marriage is with your presence at the Statehouse July 12. Small groups of activists trying to prevent the people to vote may have a last minute impact on the decision the legislators make. Hundreds of opponents of the traditional definition of marriage are expected to flood to the Statehouse July 12. They need to be counterbalanced by peaceful defenders of marriage. If you can, we encourage you to go.

At the end of the day, all we ask is that the people be granted their right to vote on this issue. We trust that if given the opportunity, right reason will prevail and marriage will be preserved for the generations to come.