By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
On the same day that California’s gay-marriage ban was back in court, the U.S. bishops, along with a broad coalition of the largest religious communities in the U.S., published an open letter to express their commitment toward the protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
According to a USCCB press release, the letter entitled, “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment” was signed by leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Sikh communities in the United States.
“The broad consensus reflected in this letter—across great religious divides—is clear: The law of marriage is not about imposing the religion of anyone, but about protecting the common good of everyone,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, newly elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and one of the letter’s signers.
“People of any faith or no faith at all can recognize that when the law defines marriage as between one man and one woman, it legally binds a mother and a father to each other and their children, reinforcing the foundational cell of human society.”
The release of the letter came on the same morning that oral arguments began on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a voter approved ban on same sex marriage that an openly homosexual federal district court judge ruled to be unconstitutional in August of this year.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a three-judge panel of one of the most liberal courts in the country, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, heard arguments yesterday for both sides of the case.
During the proceedings, Charles Cooper, who is representing Protectmarriage.com, said the court had to address whether the definition of marriage was an issue that “the people themselves can resolve through the democratic process…or whether our constitution takes that out of their hands.”
This assertion was challenged by Senior Circuit Judge Michael Hawkins, a judge whose vote is expected to be critical in the case, who asked whether Californians could also vote to reinstitute school segregation. “How is this different?” he asked.
Cooper went on to argue that Californians had a “rational basis,” a critical test for the courts, to enact Prop 8. That basis, he said, was to protect a traditional definition of marriage designed to channel ‘sexual relations between a man and woman’ to raise children in stable families.
“That sounds like a good argument for prohibiting divorce,” said Judge Stephen Reinhardt, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter.
Reinhardt, whose wife Ramona Ripston is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, denied requests to recuse himself from the hearing. According to The New York Times, he claimed that he was able to remain impartial in the case in spite of his personal connections
Ted Olson, who represents the same-sex couples who brought the suit, told the court that California had “engraved discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation into its constitution” and said there was no good reason to prohibit same-sex marriage.
Judge N. Randy Smith, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said that he could “suggest a couple of things,” such as whether reserving the term “marriage” for opposite-sex couples was important to “market” marriage to couples.
A considerable amount of time was spent arguing whether proponents of Proposition 8 had legal standing to challenge the lower court ruling. Judge Reinhardt suggested several times that the court could return the case to the California state Supreme Court for a ruling on that issue.
The three judges could issue a ruling at any time. Court watchers believe they will do so early next year.
Meanwhile, the bishops’ letter could not have been better timed.
“Today is the moment to stand for marriage and its unchangeable meaning,” Archbishop Dolan said. “We hope this letter will encourage just that.”
Downloadable PDF versions of the letter can be found at www.usccb.org/defenseofmarriage/shared-commitment.
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