.- Several dozen religious leaders joined together against redefining marriage in America, warning that such a move would have âfar-reaching consequencesâ for religious freedom.
In a Jan. 12 open letter to all Americans, the leaders described marriage and religious liberty as âfundamental goods that stand or fall together.â
They noted that if the civil definition of marriage is changed to include same-sex couples, the government âwill compel special recognition of relationshipsâ that many communities âcannot, in conscience, affirm.â
Those who signed the letter included Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York â president of the U.S. bishops' conference â and Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, chairman of the U.S. bishopsâ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, head of the bishopsâ ad hoc Committee for Religious Liberty also signed the letter, along with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Ft. Wayne - South Bend, who leads of the bishopsâ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
The bishops joined with more than 35 religious leaders representing a wide variety of communities across the United States, including Evangelical, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish and Mormon groups.
In their statement, they said that marriage is a universal and foundational institution that âprecedes and transcendsâ any government, society or religious group. This, they explained, is because it is rooted in the nature of the human person as male and female and the children that are born from their union.
The religious leaders argued that changing the civil definition of marriage changes hundreds or even thousands of laws that are dependent upon marital status, including taxation, housing, property, employment discrimination and benefits, adoption, education and health care.
New laws in these areas will have âgrave consequencesâ for religious individuals and groups who serve in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, adoption agencies, counseling centers and many other facilities, they said.
The leaders warned that religious groups are already being targeted as bigots for adhering to their firmly-held religious convictions.
The letter gave examples of âgovernment punishments and pressuresâ against adoption agencies who object to placing children with homosexual couples, marriage counselors who deny counseling services to same-sex âmarriedâ couples and employers who do not wish to extend married health benefits to same-sex âspouses.â
They also pointed to situations in which religious groups across the country have faced other government sanctions, losing service contracts, grants and tax-exempt status because they refused to treat same-sex unions as marriages.
If civil marriage is redefined, the punishments will become âmore frequent and more severe,â as the government forces religious people and groups to violate their beliefs by recognizing homosexual conduct âas the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.â
The religious leaders urged Americans to recognize that the union of one man and one woman is a fundamental institution that contributes to the âcommon goodâ of society.
They urged âall people of good willâ to work together in supporting laws that protect both âthe unique meaning of marriage and the precious gift of religious freedom.â