How can we expect other nations around the world to create and sustain pluralistic democracies when prominent religious leaders in the United Sates, such as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of New York, fail to grasp the fundamentals of this concept? Elected officials represent the many different people who elected them, not their particular religious organizations. The private religious doctrines of these legislators’ faith communities cannot dictate their political positions. That would be to effectively “establish” their church’s view as the law of the land, something the Constitution forbids.
But Bishop DiMarzio’s position goes even further over the line that should separate church and state when he advocates shunning all state officials for this vote on marriage equality. “I have asked my collaborators not to bestow or accept honors, nor to extend a platform of any kind to any state elected official, in all our parishes and churches for the foreseeable future.” One issue, then, will dictate that these churches should shun all elected officials, apparently on any issue and into the foreseeable future. That’s not pluralism, that’s exclusivism. In effect, according to this bishop, “any state official” has to play by the rules of the Catholic Church. That’s not just crossing the line that should separate church and state, it’s drawing a line in the sand that elected officials are not supposed to cross.
Drawing a “line in the sand” preventing marriage equality for LGBT Americans is not where the American people are going. In fact they are going the other way, favoring reducing barriers to marriage equality. It is also not where the Catholic rank and file is going in terms of marriage equality. As of May, 2011, Gallup reports that the majority of Americans now favor allowing gay citizens to legally marry. Interestingly, in the breakdown, Gallup notes “support for legal same-sex marriage is higher…among Catholics than among Protestants.”
Americans Catholics now seem to know, as this bishop does not, that the sorry state of heterosexual marriage is not going to be fixed by continuing to deny marriage equality to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. In addition, they also seem to know children do just as well in gay as straight families. For example, Stanford University researchers found “children of same-sex parents have essentially the same educational achievement as their peers growing up in heterosexual households.”
The heart of the bishop’s moral appeal against marriage equality in New York State was the care of children. “The children of our state deserve the best,” he wrote in his opinion piece.
Here’s the really good news. The state legislators of New York gave the children of New York “the best.” They gave them a state where the number of stable households just increased, just what research shows children need to thrive.
Therefore, not only is Bishop DiMarzio taking a stand that is “over the line” in terms of the proper relationship between church and state in a religiously pluralistic democracy, he’s also out of step, taking a drastic public position based on outmoded and discredited ideas that many Catholic laypeople (as well as other Americans) no longer believe.
There are many wonderful things about living in a religiously pluralistic democracy, and one really great one is that people of faith start to think for themselves and make their own judgments. And that’s allowed in this country. In fact, it’s often encouraged.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite | Jun 29, 2011 1:55 PM