As the chairperson of a coalition of religious leaders inRhode Islandwho favor marriage equality, I find myself in conversation about marriage being about love, commitment, nurturing and soul building. Discourse in the context of religious diversity gives rise to a considerable appreciation for religious liberty and the freedom of conscience.
America, with its constitutional principle of separation of church and state, is a wonderful and safe place to walk life’s journey with integrity and conviction. But, diversity among religious leaders implies difference may occur on just about anything. And so it does, particularly when I read Bishop Tobin’s recent statement on marriage equality.
Without question I disagree with the bishop’s position on marriage equality. The Bishop addresses the issue of marriage from a Catholic perspective and I hold a Protestant view. The Bishop has a right and a duty to teach the merits of Catholic dogma to Catholics. Catholics may wish to engage him in that discussion. What is a matter of concern for me is that he seems to be asking that the Catholic understanding of marriage be enshrined into civil law in Rhode Island. Not a good idea.
To be sure, the State’s understanding of marriage has never been totally consistent with the restrictive concept of marriage held by the Catholic Church. For example, it is not a requirement for civil marriage in Rhode Island that couples produce children. Divorce and remarriage has always been allowed. This has posed no more a threat to Catholic religious liberty than same-sex marriage will. It is and always will be up to each church to decide who to marry based upon their beliefs.Rhode Islandcan’t protect religious freedom by becoming a theocracy; it is only by remaining a secular civil society that religious freedom is safe.
In his admonition against same-sex marriage, the bishop makes numerous bald declarations with nothing to substantiate his claims. These alleged problems are believed to be known to those who regularly visit his column. Since I am not a frequent flyer, I can only raise concerns with the allegations that he actually makes.
Emblematic of the bishop’s thinking is his struggle with modernity. One example is his appeal to natural law theory. It sounds authoritative but such medieval thinking pales in the face of the informative weight of contemporary behavioral science. However, science is evidence based and invites critical thinking, neither of which appears to be consistent with the bishop’s arguments. There is not a single note of awareness of any contemporary science based understanding of homosexuality. In addition, the use of the phrase “homosexual lifestyle” is dismissive of the complexity and psychodynamic nature human sexuality.
Modernity requires recognition that today we live in a science based, pluralistic, secular society. Diversity abounds. Each of us may formulate and act upon our own beliefs. However, it is not okay to require others to be governed by laws deduced from our own religious convictions.
For Marriage Equality advocates there is a totally different conversation. No one is asking anyone to stop believing anything. No one is trying to redefine anything. Even the heady vision of a more just society falls short of the basic ask: respect. People just want to be treated as people. Gay and lesbian couples want to marry for the same reasons straight couples do. – to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other. Allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to get married does not change the meaning of marriage. What defines marriage is love, commitment, and the ability to nurture and protect your family.
Marriage equality is necessary:
- Marriage equality improves the lives of thousands of people
- Marriage equality restores legal rights and privileges for numerous couples
- Marriage equality strengthens the social fabric of our community.
- Marriage equality harms no one.
- Marriage equality is unquestionably the right thing to do.
The Rev. Eugene T. Dyszlewski
Chair, Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality
Ordained Minister, UnitedChurchofChrist
Community Minister for Social Justice, 1st UnitarianChurchProvidence