Cardinal George’s Sad Attempt at Bashing Illinois Marriage Equality Law

As a newly adopted Illinoisan who is also super gay, I was overjoyed when my favorite state finally passed marriage equality earlier this month. This was long time coming for Illinois, historically one of the nation’s more liberal states, and many legislators and citizens alike were getting antsy and jealous as states around us began passing their own laws at a record pace. When the votes were finally counted, I had no qualms about running tearfully through my workplace to tell everyone the great news that minute.

That’s why it bums me out that, almost immediately, Christian groups started flailing left and right about how terrible same-sex marriage is for Illinois. For one, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield is actually holding an exorcism tomorrow, the day the marriage bill will be signed, as a means of condemning same-sex marriage. So there’s that.

But while some folks might write the bishop off as a little bit extreme, people may just listen to Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, who found it necessary to pen a letter to the state’s Catholics about why marriage equality is so bad. Unfortunately for him, like most pieces of Catholic PR lately, his letter doesn’t actually make much sense. Rather, it proves that now is exactly the right time to pass marriage equality in Illinois and hopefully nationwide.

Cardinal George of Chicago

Let go piece by piece, shall we?

The Cardinal first reminds his audiences that marriage equality has become the law of the land in Illinois and that the Catholic Church, for whatever reason, played a substantial role in public discussion on the issue.

We tried to explain that this is not primarily a religious issue, since marriage comes to us from nature as the union of a man and a woman, long before Christ walked the earth or the state came into being.

You’re right about one thing: this is not primarily a religious issue. This isn’t actually a religious issue at all, except for the few groups who think their beliefs should dictate other people’s rights.

Nevertheless, there will be consequences for the Church and society that will become clearer as the law is used to sue for discrimination. The law has made some gays and lesbians happy, and that is not a bad thing in itself.

Aww, Cardinal George, that’s so sweet of you! But really, it’s actually a major strength that this law will hold institutions accountable for discrimination. Groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity (or any other factor) should face consequences for their actions. And for those of the mindset that religion makes it okay to discriminate: while I disagree, your opinion is actually the more popular one in the eyes of the law.

As with most state marriage laws, the marriage equality law in Illinois provides fully and completely for religious institutions who wish not to partake in the recognition of equal rights. The law itself is called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, and it’s been praised by state faith leaders for its protections of religious liberties.

Most notably, it doesn’t require any religious institution to participate in a marriage ceremony that conflicts with its beliefs, including merely hosting a wedding, and it “holds these institutions immune” from civil or legal action that could arise from said exclusion. According to Illinois Unites for Marriage:

In their letter, Rev. Dr. Moss and Rev. Dr. Martin also made the point: “We deeply respect the right of religious institutions to define marriage in accordance with their practices, beliefs, and doctrines, and this law in no way infringes upon that freedom. The religious exemption language in the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act is clear that members of the clergy or religious institutions are held legally harmless should they elect not to acknowledge any civil marriage that is not compatible with their religious beliefs.”

It literally gives religious groups a legal loophole allowing them to discriminate against LGBT people. What more could the Cardinal want? I’m not sure, but he’s still pretty upset:

The law, however, is bad law because it will contribute over the long run to the further dissolution of marriage and family life, which are the bedrock of any society. The Church will therefore continue and strengthen her ministry to families.

Again, the Cardinal is using a pretty restrictive definition of “families” here. I’d love for him tell the thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois who are leading happy, healthy and productive lives, some with children, that their families aren’t worth the Church’s protection or blessing. And before you ask for proof that marriage equality will lead to the “dissolution of marriage and family life,” here’s George’s main piece of evidence:

One of the consequences for our religion is already evident in the misuse of Pope Francis’ words, spoken last summer, about our attitude toward an individual gay person who has asked God for forgiveness. The Pope was not speaking about approving gay marriage. To use his words against his teaching, as they were used on the floor of the State House of Representatives on November 5, is less than intellectually honest.

Except that’s not exactly what happened. Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, himself Catholic, cited Pope Francis‘s now-famous “Who am I to judge?” statement to explain his own reasons for supporting marriage equality. First, the Pope has made plenty of comments lately that led some to believe he holds some radically progressive views on homosexuality, which isn’t really true. In the Illinois case, nobody interpreted the mention to mean that the Pope also supports same-sex marriage, nor was Speaker Madigan trying to imply that. Give us some credit, Cardinal — we know the difference.

In closing, Cardinal George would like to remind us all to love thy neighbor and whatnot, but really, he’s only saying it because he has to.

We are called, by reason of our belief that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, to love and respect all of our brothers and sisters, without exception. But we express this respect within the context of our belief in how God has made us and made the world. This belief and this love is the basis of our joy in living the Catholic faith with integrity of mind and heart.

You heard it here first, kids: Respect everyone, but, you know, not too much. Not so much that we give gay people equal rights or anything. Because that’s just foolish.

Once again, the Catholic Church is doing a pretty terrible job of defending its deteriorating principles. Good thing Illinois didn’t need its help to get this done.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.


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