One month after the victory of California’s Proposition 8, Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer has written an essay defending Catholics’ role in the campaign and explaining his cooperation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are also known as Mormons.
The archbishop explained the reasons Catholics, Mormons, and a broad coalition of other churches supported restoring the definition of marriage to be a union between a man and a woman.
He also criticized some of the most hostile reactions to the success of the ballot proposal, calling for mutual tolerance, respect, and trust.
Writing in his weekly column in Catholic San Francisco, the archbishop noted that the bishops had endorsed several propositions on the California ballot and through the California Catholic Conference (CCC), urged Catholics and lay Catholic organizations to work for their passage.
“The Archdiocese of San Francisco did not donate or transfer any Archdiocesan funds to the campaign in favor of Proposition 8. As far as I know, that is also true of other Catholic dioceses in California. The Archdiocese did pay, and appropriately disclose, printing and distribution of flyers to parishes,” he wrote.
In May, he said, the staff of the CCC informed him that Mormon leaders and members had supported the 2000 marriage initiative Proposition 22 and were considering involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign.
“Accordingly, I was asked to contact leaders of the LDS Church whom I had come to know during my eleven years as Bishop of Salt Lake City, to ask them to cooperate again, in this election cycle. I did write to them and they urged the members of their Church, especially those in California, to become involved,” the archbishop explained.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Michael Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the Mormon church, said that the archbishop’s letter persuaded church leaders that they would not be alone in the campaign.
"We were invited to join the coalition," he said. “We didn't unilaterally go into the battle.”
"Having Catholics, evangelicals and Jews in a coalition was exactly the right way to do it," Otterson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We knew someone would make this a Mormon-versus-gays battle."
Writing in his column, Archbishop Niederauer also emphasized that Catholics and Mormons were joined by evangelical Protestant churches and churches with many African-American members.
“Among the Orthodox churches, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of San Francisco and three other Orthodox bishops signed and published a joint statement in favor of Proposition 8,” he continued.
Archbishop Niederauer also rejected claims that these churches were motivated by “hatred, prejudice and bigotry against gays, along with a determination to discriminate against them and deny them their civil rights.”
“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,” he insisted.
The archbishop noted that religious leaders in America have a constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy.
“Catholic bishops, specifically, also have a responsibility to teach the faith, and our beliefs about marriage and family are part of this faith.”
“Members of churches who supported Proposition 8 sincerely believe that defining marriage as only between a man and a woman is one such issue,” Archbishop Niederauer said. “They see marriage and the family as the basic building blocks of human society, existing before government and not created by it. Marriage is for us the ideal relationship between a man and woman, in which, through their unique sexual complementarity, the spouses offer themselves to God as co-creators of new human persons, a father and mother giving them life and enabling them to thrive in the family setting.”
The archbishop emphasized that Proposition 8 was not an attack on any group or an attempt to deprive others of their civil rights, noting that domestic partnerships provide the same rights and benefits as married couples.
To those who were offended by the campaign and had voiced hostility to Proposition 8 supporters, Archbishop Niederauer counseled:
“Tolerance, respect, and trust are always two-way streets, 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.”
Bill May, Chairman for the Catholics for the Common Good initiative which encouraged Catholics to back Proposition 8, commented on the Archbishop’s statement. He described it as presenting “strong and legitimate reasons for supporting marriage between a man and a woman.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, May said that Niederauer “is a very loving person,” and “he expresses the teachings of the church in a very pastoral way. He is expressing the fundamental understanding of the Catholic Church that every human person has intrinsic dignity that must be respected.”