Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marriage Equality and the Catholic Bishops

by Geoffrey R. Stone

Huffington Post

June 25, 2011

New York State has taken an important step forward in our nation's never-ending quest to remake ourselves as a more decent, more inclusive, more just, and more moral society. Looking back from the future, our grandchildren will surely see the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as an inspiring chapter in America's story, a story in which we have progressively abolished slavery, ended state-sponsored racial segregation, prohibited laws against inter-racial marriage, protected equal rights for women, promoted religious diversity and tolerance, and outlawed discrimination on the basis of disability. There is no doubt that, in the long run, the United States will follow the lead of New York State. The challenge, though, is to make the long run short.

The most vehement opponent of marriage equality in New York was the Catholic Church. Indeed, in the heat of the debate in the state legislature, the New York State Catholic Conference issued a ringing proclamation: "The Bishops of New York State oppose in the strongest possible terms any attempt to redefine the sacred institution of marriage. Marriage has always been, is now, and always will be the union of one man and one woman. Government does not have the authority to change this most basic of truths."

That the leaders of the Catholic Church take this position is certainly their right, but it is a sorry testament to their understanding of their Church's own history in this nation. If anything, one would expect those leaders to be leaders in the fight against bigotry and intolerance, rather than voices in support of prejudice and discrimination. After all, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. once observed, prejudice against Catholics has been one of "the deepest bias[es] in the history of the American people."