Providence, R.I., May 2, 2013 / 03:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence lamented Rhode Island’s new law recognizing “gay marriage,” using his pastoral letter to call on Catholics to have courage in the face of negative cultural change.
“We must continue to engage our culture, remembering that Jesus called us to be ‘the salt of the earth and the light of the world’,” Bishop Tobin said in his May 2 letter.
“Without a doubt this is a time of challenge, even disappointment for many of us, but it is also an opportunity to be steadfast and courageous and to renew our commitment to Christ and His Church.”
The bishop said it is important to affirm Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” He said same-sex unions 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,” the bishop said.
Though Catholics are not free to “endorse or ignore immoral or destructive behavior,” Bishop Tobin stressed that 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,” he said.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee promised to sign the bill recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages shortly after its final approval in the legislature on Thursday.
In a New York Times editorial, Chafee said he thought the bill was about being “as inclusive as possible.” He also said redefining marriage would help the state’s economic competitiveness and make the state welcoming to the “young, educated and forward-looking.”
The Senate’s Judiciary Committee could have stopped the bill, but passed it by a 7-4 vote. Two senators who had previously stated their opposition to “gay marriage” voted to send the bill to the Senate floor. It passed there by a vote of 26 to 12 last week, with all five Republicans voting in favor.
A similar version of the legislation had passed the state House of Representatives in January. The House approved the final version on May 2.
The Rhode Island Catholic Conference on April 23 thanked senators who opposed the legislation “despite tremendous pressure from well-funded special interest groups.”
The conference voiced appreciation for some religious freedom exemptions, but warned that they “fail to protect individuals and small businesses who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.”
In other states, redefining marriage and anti-discrimination laws have allowed lawsuits against businesses with moral objections to recognizing same-sex unions.
Some states have shut down or de-funded Catholic adoption agencies because they do not place children with same-sex couples.
The Rhode Island law has language ensuring that groups like the Knights of Columbus that have event facilities aren’t legally obligated to host same-sex “weddings,” the Associated Press reports. The law also says no religious leader is obliged to officiate at any marriage ceremony.
The new law takes effect Aug. 1. It bars new same-sex civil unions from being contracted. Civil unions were passed in 2011, but few couples have contracted any.
Rhode Island joins nine other states which have recognized “gay marriage.” Marriage redefinition has usually taken place through court decisions or legislative action, though it passed in two states by popular vote in the 2012 election.
Rhode Island is one of the most heavily Catholic states in the U.S.
Bishop Tobin invited Catholics to “a moment of prayer and reflection as we respond to this new challenge of the post-Christian era into which, clearly, we have now entered.”