by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
1. The law which redefines marriage, if approved by the voters in November, would not give same sex couples any new legal rights which they do not already have access to through the state’s registered domestic partnership provision. After the State of Washington created registered domestic partnerships in 2007, other laws in 2008 and 2009 were passed to extend all statutory rights provided to traditional married couples to these partnerships. The legislature made it clear at that time that all registered domestic partners in our state will be treated the same as married spouses. As for the new law passed this spring, the only change is that the title “marriage" is now given to these partnerships. Thus, the issue is not about making same sex unions equal to traditional marriages of one man and one woman, for this has already been done. Rather, it is about making same sex unions identical to traditional marriages. It is arguable that traditional marriage loses its unique identity in the process.
2. To accomplish the goal of making these two types of unions identical, marriage in the new law had to be redefined solely in terms of a relationship between two people. All references to marriage as a union of sexual difference and its potential to create new life have been removed. If there is anything we have come to appreciate and value more fully in this modern age, it is that men and women are not the same. That is true not only biologically, but on so many other levels. Men and women are not interchangeable. They each bring something of their difference to complement each other. In a marriage union, a mutual sharing of each other’s difference creates life, but it also nourishes that life in a family where sons and daughters learn about gender from the way it is lived by their mothers and fathers. The decision to unhinge marriage from its original grounding in our biological life should not be taken lightly for there are some things enacted law is not capable of changing. Thoughtful consideration should be given to the significant consequences such unhinging will mean for children, families, society and the common good.
3. If the referendum is approved, the most immediate consequence is that the state would no longer grant special support and recognition of the irreplaceable contribution and sacrifice that wives and husbands make to society today as mothers and fathers who bring to life, rear and educate the next generation.
4. But, we also can look to the experience of other jurisdictions to gauge the kinds of changes we might expect in marriage law, in norms for education of youth and in common language. For instance, Canada passed the 2005 Civil Marriage Act. Since then the government replaced for civic and educational purposes traditional family designations such as "husband" and "wife" with spouse, and "mother" and "father with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2". After the Spanish government redefined marriage, it was announced that birth certificates would read “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B”, not “father” and “mother.” But, words matter, especially words like mother and father, which have real depth and meaning. We lose a great deal when they are substituted by terms and designations not otherwise used. They are strange to the ear, but they also fail to convey what fathers and mothers each bring as male and female to the critical task of generating, rearing and educating their sons and daughters.
5. Admittedly, the experience of these jurisdictions is so new and limited that we cannot know the full range of other possible developments and challenges that society will face with a radical redefinition of marriage. But even now, some questions come to mind and should be asked: If marriage is only about relationships, why limit unions to two people? Why does the new law include the traditional prohibition of close kinship unions for both opposite and same sex couples? The threat of genetic disorders in children is not an issue for same sex couples. Is it not reasonable to assume that a closely related same sex couple will in time successfully challenge this prohibition as an unreasonable imposition? If so, would not the state be forced to return to the present situation of special laws recognizing the unique identity of opposite sex unions?
6. In sum, we are facing a decision about making a major shift in an institution that serves as the foundation stone of society. I would argue that this is not about granting equality to same sex couples, but of changing the identity of marriage. The church raises these concerns and objections to Referendum 74, not to impose its definition on marriage or determine who can or cannot be married. Neither the church nor the state has an exclusive right to do either. Marriage existed either before the church or the state. It is written in our human nature.
My aim here has been to offer some considerations based on the light of reason, so that this important issue can be discussed in a calm, reasonable and respectful manner by people of all faiths and none. I hope these reflections will assist your conversations with family and friends.
For us believers, however, this is just the beginning of the discussion not the end, for we are gifted with the light of faith by all that is revealed in Scripture and our tradition. In the coming weeks I will provide through the Inland Register, and our websites (dioceseofspokane.org and thewscc.org) materials based on what we believe God has revealed to us about creation, the meaning and value of marriage and family, and the way we are called to live as Christ’s disciples. I will also have something to say about what it means for us to believe.
On this occasion, I only ask the favor of giving a thoughtful and careful reading to what I have written here, and to discuss this important topic with friends and family, neighbors and co-workers with calm, civility and respect. We owe that to one other, our state and future generations.