The anti-Proposition 8 decision’s claim that religious opinions about the sinfulness of homosexuality harm homosexuals is “outrageous” and could endanger both the place of religion in public life and religious liberty itself, legal experts and Catholic leaders have warned.
Last Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Prop. 8, the 2008 California ballot measure which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. He declared as a “finding of fact” that “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”
Under this finding, Walker’s decision cited statements of several religions on homosexual acts and legal recognition of same-sex relationships, including the 2003 Vatican document “Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons.”
That document written by Pope Benedict XVI when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) spokeswoman Mary Ann Walsh criticized the Prop. 8 decision in a Friday column at the Washington Post website’s “On Faith” section.
She said the decision was “irrational” in dismissing marriage between a man and a woman “as if it were some kooky idea.” Judge Walker’s claim about religious beliefs’ harmfulness to homosexuals was “even more irrational.”
“The judge's placing religion and government at odds amounts to Constitutional irrationality,” Walsh charged. “It is no small irony that his anti-religious position is enshrined in a ruling deemed to oppose bigotry.”
The USCCB spokeswoman claimed that the U.S. Constitution precludes government from weighing in on the acceptability of religious beliefs. She also said that the judge’s ruling wrongly said that the Church views homosexuality as sinful, when in fact the Church sees it as an inclination that is not intrinsically sinful.
“The Catholic Church makes clear that it is homosexual activities it deems sinful, because it holds that all sexual activity belongs within marriage between a man and a woman,” Sr. Walsh explained, adding that the Church “abhors” violence against homosexuals and opposes “all unjust discrimination.”
Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, President of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, spoke about the Prop. 8 ruling in a Monday phone conversation with CNA.
Asked whether the finding of fact about religion’s harmfulness could set a precedent, he explained that findings of fact are “limited to the case” of Prop. 8. He also suggested that it was “not helpful” to criticize as unconstitutional the judge’s statements on the harmfulness of specific religious beliefs.
For Hasson, the ruling was “disappointing but not surprising.” He charged that the judge conducted the case as a “show trial” and further claimed the judge took the “outrageously extreme” view that those who believe in moral traditions are “irrelevant, irrational even.”
Hasson added that he doesn’t believe any other federal cases have ruled religious teachings to be harmful.
“To say categorically that religion is bad is an amazingly arrogant statement,” the Becket Fund head commented, charging that Judge Walker was “an activist judge.”
Hasson particularly criticized the ruling’s “sweeping statements,” such as its contention that male-female marriage is a “leftover” and that gender roles are “an artifact of time gone by.” He predicted that the ruling’s “breathtaking grandiosity” will lead it to its being overruled.
He repeated that the decision was a “breathtaking development” because it advocated that all religious believers and their moral convictions “should be out of the public square.”
“On homosexuality, when life begins, when life ends, whether euthanasia is permissible, questions of sexual propriety, right across the board. Anything that believers hold is categorically excluded,” he continued.
“This is very dangerous precedent,” Hasson commented, pledging that the Becket Fund is prepared to oppose “anybody who attempts to expand Judge Walker’s erroneous opinion into other areas.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told CNA in a Monday e-mail that the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality are shared by many world religions and have been the view of most people throughout history.
“But in the mind of Judge Walker, all of this is now suspect. Such arrogance would be hard to top,” Donohue continued.
“In the eyes of the Catholic Church, all sexual unions outside marriage, traditionally understood, are harmful to the best interests of society. And for good reason: they compete, if not undermine, the institutional basis that allows for the establishment of a family.”
CNA asked the Catholic League about the judge’s citation of the CDF document signed by Pope Benedict.
“Listing the Pope's remarks in a judicial ruling designed to prove the harmfulness of Church teachings on homosexuality is invidious,” Donohue responded.
He charged that the action seeks to “stigmatize the defense of marriage” and tries to make homosexual relations more acceptable.
“In doing so, it opens the door to the demonization of Christianity in the schools,” Donohue continued.
The Catholic League president claimed that the Prop. 8 ruling would “invite greater pressure” on the Catholic Church and other religions to accept “the radical homosexual agenda.”
If this effort is successful, Donohue warned, “not only will the family suffer, the prospects for religious liberty will be endangered as well.”