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Rest, good civil servant—this Bishop's personal religious opinion can't hurt your rights now

by Jeremy Hooper

Calling it "a serious regression in the public morality of our state," Rhode Island's Archbishop Tobin is doing what our national body of Bishops now pretty much do as their definitive public work: condemning gay people's civil marriage rights. Tobin says of his state's just-signed marriage bill:

First, like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize “same-sex marriage.” The Catholic Church has fought very hard to oppose this immoral and unnecessary proposition, and we are most grateful to all those who have courageously joined us in this effort. When Bsp2 all is said and done, however, we know that God will be the final judge of our actions.

As I have emphasized consistently in the past, the Catholic Church has respect, love and pastoral concern for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction. I sincerely pray for God’s blessings upon them, that they will enjoy much health, happiness and peace. We also offer our prayerful support to families, especially parents, who often struggle with this issue when it occurs in their own homes.

Our respect and pastoral care, however, does not mean that we are free to endorse or ignore immoral or destructive behavior, whenever or however it occurs. Indeed, as St. Paul urges us, we are required to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph 4:15)

At this moment of cultural change, it is important to affirm the teaching of the Church, based on God’s word, that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357) and always sinful. And because “same-sex marriages” are clearly contrary to God’s plan for the human family, and therefore objectively sinful, Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others
[Providence Diocese]

Most of my political opponents would probably expect me to pushback. To protest. To jest. To do a point-by-point breakdown and analysis of what Tobin has to say.

The thing is? I really don't care at all about this, Archbishop Tobin's postmortem expression of personal religious opinion. This is well within his right. While I don't agree with any of it; think that this anti-gay stuff is seriously threatening to destroy an already-battered Catholic church; and remain shocked that this church thinks they can detach us from our attractions, use vicious language against these attractions, and still claim to be nice and loving, I fully support Archbishop Tobin's right to preach to the converts who choose to listen to what he has to say. People can determined for themselves whether or not they want to follow his influence and apply it to their own faithful lives. That is what religion is: a choice.

The difference in how I respond of course hinges on the fact that we have now passed and executed a civil marriage equality bill (/law) in the state. The local Catholic church tried to stop that push, which is when people like me stepped in and said, "Oh no, no, no, no, no—quit the overreaches there, father!" But now that they have failed and we on the right side of civil rights have prevailed (with lots of Catholic support, I should add), the Archbishop's words return to being exactly what they should be: Expressions of his personal theology. He can proceed to deny us religious ceremonies (something I always support), preach against us in full throat, and waste considerable time and goodwill convincing himself that same-sex love is worthless. But he can't touch our civil rights, so his words can't touch my "rage" sensor. I didn't sign up for his words. I didn't will my belief system to his pastoral care. I didn't make that choice.

This is the crucial distinction that the anti-equality crowd just won't accept. Believe it or not, I actually know quite a few LGBT activists—the biggest names in our movement, in fact. I can tell you that all of us, almost to a person, are 100% ready, willing, and able to accept that certain religious bodies are going to continue to reject us. Even those within our community who do the accepting faith work know that it's a conversation into which the oppositional voices must voluntarily buy in. On our side, there is a considerable amount of respect for voices of faith, and there is near-full acceptance of the religious freedoms/expression that we have set up here in America.

The problem is that folks like Archbishop Tobin don't want to accept this. This religious figure wrote the above because he feels like he, an actor in this legislative fight, lost the fight. He won't accept that this, a fight over civil marriage that is always disconnected from the always-ancillary faith component that folks voluntarily place upon their unions (or not), was never really his fight to begin with.

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