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Religious Tolerance logo

Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM) in Washington State

2012-SEP/OCT: Catholic split: Hierarchy opposes
SSM. Laity and former Catholic priests back SSM.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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2012-SEP-04: Catholic bishops view Referendum 74 as a threat to religious liberty:

All four Roman Catholic bishops of the Washington State Catholic Conference issued a pastoral statement about Referendum 74. Signatories are  Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Spokane Bishop Blaise J. Cupich, Yakima Bishop Joseph J. Tyson and Seattle’s auxiliary bishop Eusebio Elizondo.

The statement said, in part:

"The legal separation of marriage from procreation would have a chilling effect on religious liberty and the right of conscience. Once marriage is redefined as a genderless contract, it will become legally discriminatory for public and private institutions such as schools to promote the unique value of children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers.

No institution or individual could propose that married mothers and fathers provide a singular benefit to children without being accused of discrimination.  Recent attacks on churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations that express their conscientious objection to the redefinition of marriage underscore the danger. ...

Marriage is founded on sexual difference and ordered toward the fulfillment of husband and wife and the procreation and rearing of children. This basic understanding of marriage and family is ‘built in’ to the very nature of man and woman. ...

By separating marriage from procreation and the responsibility of men and women to raise children that result from their sexual union, the new marriage law would abandon the state’s principal interest in this time-honored institution.

If the state successfully disconnects marriage from the potential inherent to sexual union between a man and a woman, the civil meaning of marriage will be lost, and the institution that results will be a genderless contract without reference to children.

The foundational nature of marriage for the good and the strength of human society will be harmed beyond repair." 1

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The bishops' third paragrah above is true of many opposite-sex couples who are fertile and plan to conceive and raise children posessing a combination of the parents' DNA. But many opposite-sex couples are not fertile, and are forbidden by the church to engage in fertility treatments or surrogate parenthood. Others are beyond child-bearing years. Still others prefer to not raise children. Finally, some loving committed relationships are established by same-sex couples. These groups may not share the Church's beliefs concerning the functions of marriage and family.

The bishops are concerned that if they continue to denigrate and discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals (LGBTs) while the government and general public increasingly accept the LGBT community, that the Church will be accused of bigotry. It will become more difficult for the Church and its members to continue their current beliefs in the face of increasing opposition from the culture. Homophobia -- defined on this site as an active opposition to equal rights for LGBTs -- may well become viewed as one more form of bigotry, in the same class as sexism and racism. That might cause a loss in membership, particularly among older youth and and young adults.

The root problem here is that the Catholic Church is tenatiously holding to its centuries-old beliefs about human sexuality. These beliefs result in the church's teaching that homosexual orientation is a disordered state and that certain forms of discrimination against LGBTs are necessary and moral. Meanwhile, most of the government, religious liberals, secularists, and the rest of the public are altering their position towards LGBTs. The increasing acceptance of LGBTs is the result of:

  • Their personal experience knowing LGBTs as relatives, friends and co-workers, and
  • The findings of science about human sexuality in general and sexual orientation in particular.

We refer to the two groups:

  • The Catholic Church with its devout followers and most other religious and social conservatives;

  • Mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, religious liberals, secularists, the LGBT community, and the rest of public

as "two solitudes." They are two groups with opposing ideas on human sexuality who seem to be incapable or unwilling to enter into dialogue.

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Commercial/industrial support for SSM:

The Bishops' statement was made public at about the same time that the Expedia travel company announced their support for SSM and marriage equality. Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said: 

"As the world’s largest on-line travel company . . . we know firsthand that the world is a diverse place.  Much like our customers, clients, partners and suppliers, our employees represent a multitude of locations, cultures and experience.

We strive to actively promote equality in our workplaces and are committed to treating one another with respect and dignity.  Today, we add our voice to the topic of marriage equality."

They joined other major employers centered in Washington, including Alcoa, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Starbucks, and Vulcan, who had previously endorsed SSM.

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2012-OCT-11: Group of former Catholic priests support SSM:

An article by Reuters described the first public stand that the Seattle Group has taken on an issue. It is made up of 120 former Catholic priests in Washington State. Sixty three of the priests were motivated by the stand taken by 100 former Catholic priests and three retired priests in Minnesota. The Minnesota group spoke out against a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one woman and one man which is also on the NOV-06 ballot.

The Seattle Group are also backing same-sex marriage. They have a combined total of 800 years service as priests. This is a direct challenge to statements by the state's Catholic bishops who have strongly lobbied against SSM.

Currently, there are 122 active priests in the Archdiocese of Seattle, who of course are not free to express their opinion.

The effort was organized by Patrick Callahan who was a Catholic priest for 15 years and remains an active churchgoer. He said:

"Progressive-thinking Catholics need the reassurance that there is more than one authentic Catholic position."

Most of the Catholic laity supports SSM nationally. A Public Religion Research Institute poll in 2012-MAR showed that support was higher among Catholics than among the general adult population:

  • 59% of Roman Catholics support SSM

  • 52% of the general public supports SSM. 2

At a news conference, the group of priests said:

"Nothing in this [SSM] legislation infringes on religious rights or restricts the Catholic Church from maintaining its own standards for sacramental marriage.  It simply provides the protection of civil law so that same sex couples may enjoy a set of civil and human rights involving health, financial and end-of-life decisions.

We regret that our Washington State Catholic bishops have chosen to oppose Marriage Equality and attempt to impose what we feel is a very narrow point of view on all society." 3

Bonnie Erbe, a TV host and author for Scripps Howard News Service, wrote:

"The church is taking on not just Catholic voters in those states or, one could posit, in the United States. Gallup poll last May on gay marriage showed half of Americans support it.

Ireland's former president, Mary McAleese, this week told Irish state broadcaster RTE she supports gay marriage. Her views on social issues have drawn the ire of many an archbishop, including the former Archbishop of Boston Bernard Law, who called her 'a very poor Catholic president.'

Her response: 'I am not a Catholic president, I'm president of Ireland ... [where] there were all sorts of people. I'm their president. I happen to be Catholic.'

It seems unwise for the church to take on such powerful politicians and social movements that are gaining mainstream support. The timing is particularly unwise when one takes into account how the church's handling of the priest pedophilia scandal cost it credibility.

I am in awe of the gay rights movement's progress on this issue. It seems LGBTQ leaders have been able to turn around public opinion on marriage equality in less than a decade. Too bad their sisters in the abortion-rights movement have not been as successful. Abortion is one topic on which the church, sadly, can keep up a successful crusade. But the church undoubtedly has a dwindling supply of social issues in its arsenal." 4

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This topic continues in the next essay ....

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References used in this essay:

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

  1. Joel Connelly, Catholic bishops: Gay marriage threatens religious liberty," SeattlePI, 2012-SEP-04, at:
  2. Jonathan Kaminsky, Author; Cynthia Johnston & Bill Trott, Ed., "Former Catholic priests back gay marriage in Washington state," Reuters, 2012-OCT-11, at:
  3. "New ad opposes, ex-priests support gay marriage," Seattle PI, 2012-OCT-11, at:
  4. Bonnie Erbe, "Catholic Church errs in fighting same-ssex marriage," Scripps Howard News Service, 2012-OCT-12, at:

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2012-SEP-05
Latest update: 2012-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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