.- The State Legislature of New Jersey struck twice last week, passing a bill that offers funding for embryonic stem cell research and another that makes New Jersey the third state to allow homosexual civil unions. The Catholic Conference of New Jersey spoke to CNA regarding both pieces of legislation.
In a strong 53-24 vote, 4 Republicans joined all 49 New Jersey Democrats to pass a general assembly bill that approves 270 million dollars in funding for embryonic stem cell research itself, as well as for facilities in which embryonic stem cell research will be conducted.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference responded last week by reiterating its strong support for adult (non-embryonic) stem cell research, but strong opposition to embryonic stem cell research.
The NJCC, which provides a political voice for all Catholics in New Jersey, noted that research done using adult stem cells has already helped thousands of patients and holds tremendous promise for the future, while embryonic stem cell research has not yielded any results and requires the destruction of a human life in the process.
The conference has consistently opposed human embryonic stem cell research legislation on the basis that the creation and destruction of human embryonic stem cells violate the sanctity of human life.
Patrick Brannigan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference emphasized to CNA that the Church has an intense desire to find cures and offer hope for those with disabilities and diseases, but that it will not condone the killing of other human lives in an attempt to reach a possible cure. “If someone reads the New Testament,” Brannigan pointed out, “some of the most moving passages are those wherein Jesus heals the blind, the deaf, the leper, where He brings people back to life. Anyone who tries to be a follower of Jesus must also try to be a healer. So, in this whole issue we can acknowledge people’s desire to heal those who are sick. But the Catholic Church believes in a consistent ethic of life which holds that life begins at conception and ends in natural death.”
Brannigan noted the NJCC’s work with New Jersey Assemblymen Neil Cohen and Louis Greenwald in an effort to encourage umbilical cord and placental blood donation. According to the NJCC, fifteen New Jersey Catholic Hospitals, hundreds of Catholic parishes, the Catholic Health Association and all of New Jersey’s Catholic Bishops have endorsed this initiative and are working with the two public umbilical blood banks in New Jersey to actively support adult stem cell research.
On the same day, lawmakers in the state approved by a 56-19 vote in the Assembly and a 23-12 vote in the Senate, a bill that allows homosexual couples in New Jersey to enter into “civil unions,” which would provide similar benefits as those afforded to married couples.
The bill was drafted in response to a landmark New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in October that required the state to extend the rights and benefits of marriage to gay couples within 180 days. The court, in its 4-3 ruling, left it up to the legislature to decide whether to call such unions "marriages" or something else.
Brannigan told CNA he wasn’t surprised by the fact the legislature did what the court mandated that they do and said the Catholic Conference was only half successful in achieving its goals, the protection of “marriage.”
“The word marriage really was the point of most dialogue, discussion, and debate,” Brannigan said. “What we’ve maintained all along was that our concern was the preservation of the definition of marriage as a union only between one man and one woman and that this was a natural institution, founded in natural law, that precedes the laws of man. We see marriage as the foundation of family and family as the foundation of society.”
The NJCC head said, that the Church gave testimony at the legislative hearings, “not to oppose the awarding of benefits to anybody, but to defend the definition of marriage.”
While, the legislature did not apply the word “marriage” to homosexual unions, they also did not pass an amendment that would have defined marriage as a union of husband and wife.
According the Associated Press, gay rights groups have argued that not calling such unions "marriage" creates a different, and inferior, institution. And Brannigan noted that the same-sex alliance of New Jersey has pledged to continue pushing for the word marriage.
He said the New Jersey Catholic Conference will continue to fight for the protection of marriage through positive means.
“I think at this point in time what is most important is for the Church to continue to clearly teach, to its own parishioners and to others, what it always has taught which is that marriage is one man and one woman, it’s a sacramental institution and we must work to support marriage and help people as they enter into marriage to prepare them and to help them, so we can raise up, in the eyes of all, the important role of marriage in our society,” Brannigan said.