Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and his six auxiliary bishops officially entered Illinois' gay marriage fray Tuesday, issuing a letter that urges parishioners to contact state legislators and voice opposition to a legalization bill that could face a vote this week.
"Civil laws that establish 'same-sex marriage' create a legal fiction," George and the bishops wrote in a letter sent to priests Tuesday. "The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."
State Sen. Heather Steans, a Democrat from Chicago, said she plans to introduce the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to legalize same-sex marriage after the Senate reconvenes Wednesday. She has said she is confident the legislation would pass the current General Assembly. A new set of lawmakers will be sworn in Jan. 9.
While traditional marriage advocates have cited Scripture as the basis of their objections to civil unions and gay marriage, Roman Catholic leaders have been highlighting their belief that same-sex relationships violate natural law.
According to the tradition of natural law, every human being must seek a fundamental "good" that corresponds to the natural order to flourish. Natural-law proponents say heterosexual intercourse between a married man and a woman serves two intertwined good purposes: to procreate and to express a deep, abiding love. For that reason, they say, homosexual relationships are not equal to heterosexual ones.
Some people of faith, including Catholic politicians, disagree. In an open letter to legislators last month, more than 250 Illinois clergy, mostly Protestant and Jewish, endorsed the gay marriage bill. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, both Catholics, also have endorsed the measure.
In George's letter, he writes that despite the church's objections to gay marriage, priests and parishioners should not alienate members of the gay community, especially relatives. He said the church is not "anti-gay."
"Does this mean that the Church is anti-gay? No, for the Church welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to convert to God's ways and maintain friendship with Christ," he wrote.
"The Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago has consistently condemned violence toward or hatred of homosexually oriented men and women. Good pastoral practice encourages families to accept all their children and not break relationships with them."
The Rev. Thomas Belanger, pastor of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on the South Side, said he found that part of the letter to be particularly "pastoral."
"I understand where the cardinal is coming from," he said, adding that he would not read the letter from the pulpit this weekend but would publish it in the bulletin for parishioners to read on their own time.
Chris Pett, president of Dignity Chicago, a Catholic gay rights organization not sanctioned by the church, said the cardinal might have had pastoral intentions, but he missed an opportunity to call for dialogue and engage with the gay community. Instead, the cardinal made it clear that the church would fight marriage equality "until the bitter end."
"It looks and sounds like, 'We want to care for you. You are part of our family,'" Pett said. "But if you should ask for and be the recipient of marriage equality then you're causing harm. I continue to be surprised that they use the same arguments over and over."
In the letter, George cautions parishioners about the negative consequences for gay marriage opponents if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.
"We will all have to pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race," he wrote. "Those who continue to distinguish between genuine marital union and same-sex arrangements will be regarded in law as discriminatory, the equivalent of bigots."
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