Archbishop Calls for Tolerance in Same-Sex Marriage Debate

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

In a Dec. 5 letter to his flock, San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer is appealing to people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate to be tolerant of each other and to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

“Tolerance, respect, and trust are always two-way streets,” Archbishop Niederauer wrote, “and tolerance respect and trust often do not include agreement, or even approval.

“We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to stop talking as if we are experts on the real motives of people with whom we have never even spoken. We need to stop hurling names like ‘bigot’ and ‘pervert’ at each other. And we need to stop it now.”

Since Californians voted to alter the state’s constitution to recognize marriage as being only the union between a man and a woman, otherwise known as “Proposition 8,” protests have been taking place throughout the state by gay rights supporters. Some of these demonstrations were targeted at churches that supported the measure. 

The Archbishop defended the right of people of faith to allow their religious convictions to inform their activity in the public square.

“Indeed, to insist that citizens be silent about their religious beliefs when they are participating in the public square is to go against the constant American political tradition,” he said. “Such a gag order would have silenced many abolitionists in the nineteenth century and many civil rights advocates in the twentieth.”

He also set the record straight for people who question the motives behind the participation of people of faith in the same-sex debate.

“Some voices in the wider community declare that there could be only one motive: hatred, prejudice and bigotry against gays, along with a determination to discriminate against them and deny them their civil rights. That is not so. The churches that worked in favor of Proposition 8 did so because of their belief that the traditional understanding and definition of marriage is in need of defense and support, and not in need of being re-designed or re-configured.”

On Nov. 19 the California Supreme Court agreed to decide constitutional issues stemming from voters’ approval of the initiative but has denied requests to suspend enforcement of the initiative until the questions are resolved. This is the same Court that overturned a proposition passed in by 61 percent of the people in 2000 to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Their decision to overturn this ruling in May, 2008, permitted thousands of same-sex couples to marry in the state until the passage of Proposition 8 on Nov. 4 halted all such marriages. 

Irregardless of the outcome, the Archbishop is calling on people to find a way to move forward.

“We Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco need to minister to the needs of all Catholics in this local Church. Whoever they are, and whatever their circumstances, their spiritual and pastoral rights should be respected, together with their membership in the Church. In that spirit, with God’s grace and much prayer, perhaps we can all move forward together.”

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