Reading between same-sex union lines

weddingcakeThe big news in David D. Kirkpatrick’s latest New York Times report from the front pews of the Culture Wars is hinted at in the lead and then buried way near the bottom. The big news: It seems that a few leaders on the Catholic left may agree to back a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriages.

Here’s the lead:

About 50 prominent religious leaders, including seven Roman Catholic cardinals and about a half-dozen archbishops, have signed a petition in support of a constitutional amendment blocking same-sex marriage.

And here are the details that really matter, the names of some (repeat some) of the clerics who signed on with that Alliance for Marriage petition.

Organizers said the petition had brought together cardinals from both the left and right sides of the United States bishops’ conference, including the liberal Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and the conservative Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, as well as Cardinals Edward M. Egan of New York, Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston.

So what is the news in that? After all, the Catholic Church has defended its ancient doctrines on marriage and sex. Even the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has supported a ban on same-sex marriages. The news, and Kirkpatrick underlines it, is that some Catholic progressives have stepped foward to back an effort that has, primarily, been led by evangelicals and by conservative Catholic politicians who do not mind cooperating with evangelicals. This has major political implications.

The petition drive was organized in part by Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, a Catholic scholar with close ties to evangelical Protestant groups. Aides to three Republican senators — Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; and Sam Brownback of Kansas — were also involved, organizers said. …

No one expects the measure to pass this year. But drives to amend state constitutions to ban same sex-marriage proved powerful incentives to turning out conservative voters in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004. At least two states with contested Senate races — Tennessee and Pennsylvania, where Mr. Santorum is seeking re-election against a Democrat who also opposes abortion rights — are debating constitutional bans on same-sex marriage this year.

However, I really do wish that the online version of this story included a link to the full list of the clerics who signed the petition. The Alliance for Marriage site does not have a full list either.

Why does this matter? Almost all of the nation’s major religious groups are opposed to same-sex marriage. But some are acting on the issue and some are not. This list will, in some ways, show who is who on the issue and also offer clues for reporters who are looking ahead to the annual summer doctrinal wars in mainline religious conventions and conferences. It even has implications for which churches stay in, and which churches may vote to leave, oldline groups like the National Council of Churches. There are also updates on growing tensions among major African-American and Hispanic groups.

Read between the lines of these paragraphs:

The prominent conservative Protestant figures included leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination, as well as the president of conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a handful of Episcopal bishops.

Other signers included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family; the evangelist D. James Kennedy; Bishop Charles E. Blake of the historically black Church of God in Christ; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals; Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union; and officials of the Orthodox Church in America.

Has anyone out there found a link to the full list of clergy who signed? There are stories in that list.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    Here’s the letter and the list. Mostly the usual suspects. A couple of surprises, at least to me, including Rick Warren and the head of the LCMS, which usually stays away from these political and legal issues.

  • Steve

    Is homosexaul marriage a political/legal issue or a moral issue? If one views homosexuality as “normal”, it’s a political/legal issue. If one views homosexual acts as sinful, then it’s a moral issue.

    Normally, I am happy that LC-MS stays focused on the Gospel and not politics, but this is a moral issue that the Church should not remain silient on.

  • Pauli

    Father Hardon’s essay on this is pertinent. He states: “A question similar to those which began this essay was posed to a Catholic priest just recently. In response to the query, ‘Father, are you a conservative or liberal Catholic,’ he replied, ‘I’m a Roman Catholic. I follow the guidelines of the Vatican.’ ”

    Lay people as well must be careful to make sure that our Catholic faith informs our politics rather than the other way round.

  • Michael

    Normally, I am happy that LC-MS stays focused on the Gospel and not politics, but this is a moral issue that the Church should not remain silient on.

    But is it? Is the ability to obtain a state-provided right that has no bearing on the workings of the church a “moral” issue so profound that the LCMS needs to lobby government officials to pass a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing that citizens be denied a legal right?

    Do they lobby on the death penalty, a much more profound moral question to some? How about abortion. Does the LCMS lobby Congress or state officials on abortion?

  • Paul Barnes

    Michael, if the Canadian example has shown anything, its that this issue does affect churches. Catholic bishops have been sued by gay activists and Knights of Columbus have been as well.

    And we come to the age old problem: how does morality affect politics, and how do both of those affect law? These are very, very important questions.

    Even Mill argued for his political system on the basis of morality (arguing that utility was the greatest morality) and he stated in his essay, On Liberty, that citizens needed some ‘goodness’ to them for his system to work.

  • Michael

    Actually, the bishop of Alberta had a human rights complaint filed against him, and the human rights commission has not issued a ruling. Most people in Canada feel the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will protect the bishop’s freedom of speech and religion–as it should.

    The Canadian regime is vastly different than the U.S., so a complaint like that is inconceivable in the U.S., which does not provide the vast level of remediation and protection of group rights that exists in Canada.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    I noticed the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (the WELS) is absent from the list, as is to be expected. I believe the only political issue the WELS has ever taken a stand on is the issue of abortion–and that because not all churches are in agreement on the issue and it does deal with a moral issue.

    The church needs to focus on marriage and its preservation as intended by God. We do no service to marriage if we expend energy on trying to stop what we view as immoral, yet the institution of marriage is statistically as shambled as the public as a whole–perhaps even worse. If gay marriage were legalized, would churches be forced to comply? Would that be a violation of the First Amendment on freedom of religion? Or is the government’s pressure on the Mormon’s to abandon polygamy to allow statehood for Utah a precedent that the church must accede to the government’s wishes? That is the crux of the matter. As it stands today the church does not have to perform a marriage for anyone deemed worthy by the state. Some churches won’t grant marriage to a divorced person even though that is allowed by the state. If the church would have to perform same-sex marriages because of state mandate, then the church has a right to voice an official position.

    Will the church agree with everything the state legislates? A good example can be found in Scripture. Moses set up guidelines for divorce not because divorce is God-pleasing, but because, as Jesus said, the hardness of men’s hearts means sinful activity will occur. Divorce parameters were thus established to protect the innocent from the vagaries of the evil.


  • Steve


    The Bible provides for capital punishment. Just read what Paul wrote in Romans or the Mosic Law. The question is how we, if we choose as a society, implement capital punishment.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    One can even go further than that in regards to capital punishment. Right after Noah and his family disembark from the ark God told Noah and his family, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

    As to same-sex marriage and gay rights, my own Lutheranism topic seems to be populated with ads for gay Christians (GLBTQ Lutheran Seminarian
    Support, Encourage and Become Ministry With Integrity and God Loves & Accepts Gays
    Read What the Bible Says, and Doesn’t Say, about Homosexuality. ). As long as there’s disagreement in the church over the issue, there will be Christian groups speaking out pro and con on the issue.

  • Pingback: CaNN :: We started it.

  • Skeptic99

    Aren’t religions and religious leaders supposed to be concerned with the *spiritual* welfare of their, uhh…sheep? Why are these Catholic (and other) clergy so interested in imposing their views on society through a law? Don’t they already have enough to do in ministering to their flocks without getting involved in politicvs?

    I remember vividly–and bitterly–the silence of the Catholic church years ago when it came to desegregation. I would drop dead of surprise if the Catholic church actually took a decent stance on any social-political issue that did not involve SEX in one way or another.

  • Scott Allen

    Skeptic99, I’m not a catholic, but they seem to have strong opinions on the death penalty, right? Not exactly a sexual matter.

    Regarding their interest in same sex unions, I believe you’re confusing action and reaction. Obviously the “sexual revolution” brought these issues to the fore. The catholic church reacted, as is its right.
    Further, who is imposing a law on who? (Or is it “whom” — sorry if I messed it up!) America had laws that its citizens believed were good, specifically that the civil union we call “marriage” meant a corporate unity between a man and a woman who are “of age.” Now judges have imposed their own standards in some states (such as Mass), and many people also advocate same sex unions (as is their right) through the democratic process.
    The catholic church did not give up its rights, however, as explicitly provided in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. It has a right to advocacy on issues (though not specific candidates if it wants to remain tax exempt). The Episcopal church and other “gay friendly” churches have the same rights. Whether people inside and outside these churches will listen to these viewpoint and vote accordingly is also a matter of religious freedom.

    Your bitterness about desegregation is understandable, but don’t be so eager to rob catholics or anyone else of their civil rights. They have the freedom to vote according to their conscience. It may be bothersome to you, but you may need to actually persuade some christians that same sex unions are beneficial to society. Or hope that judges impose views you like, instead of going the other way.