Seattle lays out “policy refresher” regarding same sex marriage

From the Archdiocese of Seattle website, some guidelines that I suspect will soon be appearing in other parts of the country, too:

With voters’ approval of Referendum 74, same-sex marriage is legal in Washington state beginning Dec. 6. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain responded to the passage of R-74 in an archdiocesan “policy refresher” sent to parishes Nov. 29.

The archbishop wrote that he was “disappointed that so many voters failed to recognize marriage between a man and a woman as the natural institution for the permanent, faithful covenant of love for a couple, for bringing children into the world, and for nurturing and educating those children. This change in civil law is not in the best interest of children or society,” he wrote.

Archdiocesan policies
The archbishop also noted that several pastors and church leaders had raised questions about the implications of the new law. The refresher addressed several questions from the perspective of civil and canon law.

“Since marriage is regulated by both civil and canon law, clerics must always keep in mind the demands of both law systems,” the refresher stated. “Now that any two persons regardless of gender are permitted to enter marriage as defined in the State of Washington, the law of the Catholic Church diverges from civil law.”

Two men or two women, “even if permitted to celebrate a civil marriage, are not qualified by canon law to enter marriage,” the refresher continued.

The refresher then laid out specific archdiocesan policies based on canon law:

  • No priest or deacon or lay minister may officiate at a same-sex “marriage.”
  • No church facility or school facility may be offered for such an event, even if it is to be witnessed by a non-Catholic minister or civil official.
  • No church facility or school facility may be used for a reception after such an event.
  • No church ministers, ordained or lay, may offer “wedding preparation” for such couples.

Legal FAQ
The refresher also included a section of frequently asked questions about civil law and liability, with supporting quotations from Washington state law (omitted here):

Q. Are priests and deacons required to solemnize same-sex marriages?
A. No, priests and deacons are not required to do so.

Q. Is there any liability risk when a priest or deacon refuses to solemnize a marriage?
A. No, priests and deacons are immune from any civil liability in this regard.

Q. What does it mean to not “recognize” a same-sex marriage?
A. Pastors and deacons do not provide religious-based services to same-sex partners that are designed for married couples or engaged couples directly related to marriage, such as religious counseling, courses, retreats, workshops.

Q. Can a Catholic church or Catholic school legally refuse to provide accommodations, facilities or any services related to same-sex marriage?
A. Yes.

Q. Is a church or Catholic school civilly liable in refusing accommodations, facilities or services related to same-sex marriage?
A. No, churches are immune from any civil liability.

Q. Can a local government or state agency retaliate against a priest or deacon or church or Catholic school for not solemnizing, recognizing or refusing accommodations or facilities related to same-sex marriage?
A. No, state and local government cannot retaliate.

No pot in church
The policy refresher also addressed the passage of Initiative 502 legalizing marijuana in Washington state. Beginning Dec. 6, adults 21 or older may possess up to one ounce of marijuana under state law.

“Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and it is still unclear how this new state law will be treated by federal authorities,” Archbishop Sartain noted. The refresher stated that “until new policy is promulgated, marijuana, like alcohol, will be prohibited on parish property. The only exception to this policy pertains to alcohol at official pastor-approved parish events at which alcoholic beverages are served.”


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