Friday, May 13, 2011

Catholic Spirit Editorial: Marriage amendment not about ‘fringe’ politics, hate

The Minnesota Independent noted in a recent article that newspapers throughout the state are coming out against a bill seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. No editorial boards, it said, are supportive of the amendment.

That’s not true. This newspaper is supportive of the effort.

Marriage and family life have been the bedrock of civil society for millennia. It is the place where a man and woman pledge to share a lifelong, committed love with each other. It is the place where new life is created, and where it should be nurtured and protected.

This union is so sacred that the church elevates it to the level of a sacrament. But one doesn’t need to be a person of faith to recognize the value of traditional marriage to society.

The state — meaning our secular government — recognizes marriage and gives it certain benefits because it contributes to the common good. Stable unions between a man and a woman who love each other are in the best interest of the children they bring into the world — children who will someday become important contributing members of society as workers, taxpayers, community volunteers, spouses and parents of children themselves.

That’s not to say that married couples don’t fall short of the ideal sometimes for a variety of reasons, but that is not the fault of the institution itself. Nor is it to say that a child cannot be raised successfully by a single parent.

But neither case warrants changing the definition of marriage.

What they’re saying

Newspaper editorials opposing the marriage amendment effort have failed to recognize the essential purpose of marriage and the importance of the institution itself.

Some, like the Fairmont Sentinel, question the fairness of not extending some of the benefits enjoyed by married couples — “rights associated with property, inheritance, tax law, work benefits, etc.” — to same-sex couples.

The Winona Daily News characterizes the amendment initiative as pandering to the interests of “fringe conservatives.” A few, including the Star Tribune and the Mille Lacs Messenger, call it bigotry.

Two points are garnering much of the concern and complaint: benefits and equality.

However, the propriety of extending certain benefits to same-sex couples can be addressed through private legal arrangements without resorting to changes in the definition of marriage or creating civil unions that are equivalent to marriage.

Regarding the latter — equality — there is a sense among some that if the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry, it amounts to saying that persons with same-sex attraction are somehow “lesser individuals” who can be treated with less respect.

Not true. They deserve the same respect as any other child of God. Our laws say so, and so does our church — a fact that seems to get lost when the church comes under criticism in some quarters for supporting the amendment effort.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: People with same-sex attraction must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

Admittedly, at times, the church — we individuals, parishes and institution as a whole — could do a better job of acknowledging the gifts that these brothers and sisters of ours bring as well as the challenges they face in communities that aren’t always willing to acknowledge their God-given human dignity.

But, none of that is a reason to change the definition of marriage. And that’s why supporters of traditional marriage are advocating for the amendment bill.

Why this approach?

Even though same-sex marriage is currently prohibited by state law, that law could change. Recent court rulings and legislative actions in other states have changed the legal definition of marriage. Five states plus the District of Columbia currently allow “same-sex marriage.” Illinois recently passed a law legalizing civil unions and giving them the same status as marriages in the state.

The only way to ensure that the definition of marriage does not change is to make it part of the state constitution. If the amendment bill passes both the House and Senate, which it could do as early as this week or next (the governor’s signature is not required), Minnesotans will have 18 months to debate the merits of an amendment before voting on it in November 2012.

Ensuring the definition of marriage doesn’t change has nothing to do with hate. It is nothing “fringe” or radical. It is all about preserving an institution that best serves children and the common good. Catholic Spirit

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