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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Illinois.

2013-JAN: National Organization for Marriage
responds. A Roman Catholic bishop condemns SSM.

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2013-JAN-02: National Organization for Marriage (NOM) issues action alert:

NOM's sole function is to prevent as many loving, committed same-sex couples as possible from being able to marry. One is too many. They issued an action alert saying, in part:

"As the legislature returns to Springfield, powerful elitesâ€"from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to President Obama himselfâ€"are pressing lawmakers to approve a measure that would redefine marriage and jeopardize the rights of religious believers across the state.

While most citizens in the Land of Lincoln have been celebrating the Christmas and New Year holidays, gay marriage activists have been busy contacting legislators and lobbying in support of SSM.

The bill is now scheduled for a Senate committee vote as early as this evening.

Have you contacted your state senator and representative yet?" 1

It is not clear what religious rights would be jeopardized. If the bill is passed and signed into law then:

  • Conservative clergy, congregations, and denominations will still be able to discriminate against the LGBT community with impunity by refusing to marry same-sex couples. They lose no religious rights except for the right to live in a state that discriminates against loving, committed same-sex couples by not allowing them to marry.

  • Liberal clergy, congregations and denominations who have wanted to marry same-sex couples for years or decades will be able to do so. They would gain personal religious liberties.

  • Same-sex couples would be allowed to marry in a religious setting. They would only need to find a liberal clergyperson to solemnize their marriage. Or they could be married in a civil setting. Again, they would gain personal religious liberties.

  • Some companies that provide marriage services to the general public, like wedding photographers, cake bakers, etc. could be open to charges of discrimination under existing human rights laws in various states if they refuse to deal with same-sex couples. This would be a loss in their religious liberty -- not the freedom of religious belief, but the liberty to discriminate and denigrate minorities. However, experience in states that have legalized SSM shows that this is a very rare occurrence.

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2013-JAN-02: A second Roman Catholic prelate condemns same-sex marriage:

The Catholic bishop of Springfield, IL, Thomas John Paprocki, issued a pastoral letter. He joined with Cardinal Francis George and other local Catholic leaders by condemning same-sex marriage as being a violation natural law. As such it would be a violation for Roman Catholics, as well as for persons affiliated with all other Christian denominations, and with other religions, and those not affiliated with any religion.

His letter said, in part:

"The proposed law is, in truth, a grave assault upon both religious liberty and marriage. ... All people of goodwill, and especially Christ's faithful committed to my pastoral care in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, should resolutely oppose this bill and make their opinions known to their representatives. .... [N]either two men nor two women .... can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be lying if it said that they could. ..."

"The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman, committed to a life which is fulfilled by having children, is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature's God."

"There is no possible way – none whatsoever – for those who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of husband and wife to avoid legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment if the bill becomes law. … After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an 'unfair' view of marriage. The state would have equated our view with bigotry -– which it uses the law to marginalize in every way short of criminal punishment. ..."

"The bill's sponsors maintain that it would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility for marriage. It would radically redefine what marriage is -- for everybody. 2

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Analysis of Bishop Paprocki's pastoral letter:

Unfortunately, in his pastoral letter, Bishop Paprocki does not differentiate among:

  • Religious marriages as solemnized by the Catholic Church and other conservative faith groups, and
  • Religious marriages as solemnized by liberal and progressive faith groups, and
  • Civil marriages, as typically solemnized by a judge or civil servant on behalf of the state.

Down through the years, religious institutions have often defined marriage differently from each other. States have also differed in their definitions and from religious definitions. For example:

  • The Catholic Church has refused to allow allow certain couples to be religiously married. This includes some opposite-sex couples who are infertile because of physically disability, and every same-sex couple.

  • Many states did not allow interracial couples to enter into civil marriages prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 decision ironically named Loving v. Virginia during.

  • In the late 19th century and early 20th century, some states did not allow deaf couples to enter into civil marriage.

  • Congregations affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and other liberal and progressive congregations have long held union ceremonies for same-sex couples. It is only since 2004 that some states have granted them the religious liberty to actually marry same-sex couples in a religious service as they have wanted to do for decades.

  • About ten countries of the world including Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, etc., along with the District of Columbia and -- as of 2013-JAN -- nine U.S. states allow all physically disabled and same-sex couples, subject to limitations based on age and genetic closeness, to be eligible for civil marriage.

There have always been differences between religious marriage and civil marriage. We expect this to continue far into the future. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires a wall of separation between church and state. This allows religious institutions to refuse to marry couples on any grounds that they feel is reasonable even if the couple possess a marriage license. Most or all SSM state laws have included a clause that reinforced the First Amendment by stating that any faith group can refuse to marry same-sex couples.

We are are concerned by Bishop Paprocki's description of the:

"... basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman, committed to a life which is fulfilled by having children. ..." 2

By linking a valid marriage to both the ability and willingness of the couple to conceive children by themselves is troubling. It may be interpreted by many observers as denigrating the marriage of infertile opposite-sex couples who are forced to arrange an adoption, or to undergo artificial insemination or other medical procedures at fertility clinics in order to add children to their family. It also might be interpreted as denigrating the marriage of opposite-sex couples who decide to not bear children, either because they carry defective genes or because they want to pursue their careers.

We find Bishop Paprocki's comment about "legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment" confusing.

He said that religious conservatives who reject SSM will be be legally penalized and harshly treated, presumably by government actions. We have never seen anyone treated in this way because of their beliefs on SSM. Same sex couples have been able to marry in Massachusetts since 2004, in Canada since 2005, and in the District of Columbia other states more recently. To our knowledge there has never been a case of persecution by a government or individual based on beliefs.

What he may be referring to is a small handful of U.S. human rights cases in which companies who have actively committed an act of discrimination against same-sex couples. These are companies who offer various services to the general public such as hall rentals for receptions, special occasion photography, sale or rental of clothing, cake baking, custom printing, etc. By refusing to offer their services when requested by same-sex couples they have run afoul of state or local human rights laws which forbid discrimination by companies offering services to the general public if the discrimination is based on racism, sexism, sexual orientation, etc. Such lawsuits might occur if a company refused to extend their services to a civil union, or engagement party, or any other celebration by a same-sex couple. Their act of discrimination would not necessarily involve a same-sex wedding; most probably don't.

Bishop Paprocki seems to suggest that all or at least a majority of religious conservatives would be attacked by lawsuits or other other penalties or harsh treatment. This has not occurred in any state to date and is very unlikely to do so in the future.

Finally, Bishop Paprocki is correct when he writes that the proposed bill would not expand the eligibility for religious marriage -- at least as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church, and other conservative faith groups. But he is also wrong because it would expand the eligibility for religious marriage as defined by the Unitarian Universalist and other liberal and progressive faith groups. Also it would expand the eligibility for civil marriages.

Bishop Paprocki is incorrect that the law would "redefine what marriage is for everybody." It certainly would not redefine marriage for the Catholic Church which will still restrict marriage to one man and one woman for the conceivable future. However, the bill would redefine eligibility for persons interested in entering a civil marriage.

Whether the bill would represent a major or radical change is a matter of opinion. If this bill were to become law, it would be what we believe to be the fifth redefinition of marriage in the history of the United States. Previous redefinitions were:

  1. In the mid 1860s when marriage was redefined to allow African Americans to marry.
  2. In the late 19th century when marriage was redefined to exclude functionally deaf couples in some states.
  3. In the early 20th century when marriage was redefined to include functionally deaf couples in those states.
  4. In 1967 when marriage was redefined to allow interracial couples to marry.

In terms of today's population, about 8.7% of the population are African American. 3 About 10% of opposite-sex marriages are inter-racial. 4 So the first and fourth of the above redefinitions would probably be considered major by most people. The percentage of persons who are totally deaf is about 0.5%, 5 so redefinitions two and three would probably be considered a minor change. The percentage of American adults who are either lesbian, gay or bisexual is about 10%. Relatively few of them would probably marry over the next decade. However same-sex marriages may grow in the future towards 10% over time if, as expected, the acceptance of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals continues to improve, as more states legalize SSM, and as more gay and lesbian children are raised assuming that they will marry. Whether the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples is major or radical would appear to be a judgment call.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "A message from Brian Brown, President, NOM. URGENT: Make a quick phone all to protect marriage today!, National Organization for Marriage email, received 2013-JAN-02 at 3:25 PM ET.
  2. Full text of Bishop Paprocki's pastoral letter, Good As You, 2013-JAN-02, at:
  3. Figure 2. Fifteen Largest Ancestries," Wikipedia, as on 2012-NOV-23, at:
  4. Sharon Jayson, "Census shows big jump in interracial couples," USA Today, 2012-AOR-16, at:
  5. Ross E. Mitchell, "How Many Deaf People Are There in the United States? Estimates From the Survey of Income and Program Participation," Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Vol 11, Issue 1, P. 112-119, at:

Copyright © 2012 & 2013by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2012-DEC-30
Latest update: 2013-JAN-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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