.- Following President Barack Obamaâs backing of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), an official with the U.S. Catholic bishopsâ conference says Catholics and others cannot take the legislation for granted but should be prepared to defend it.
âWe just canât simply sit back. Every Catholic and every Catholic institution concerned about marriage and the family will need to be able to step forward and advocate for the Defense of Marriage Act as federal policy,â commented Dan Avila, a policy advisor to the U.S. bishops on marriage and family issues and a member of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
âWe canât just take DOMA for granted,â he told CNA on July 20. âEven if thereâs no immediate prospect for this bill to race through Congress, the fact is that the pressure is building and the case is being made for the eventual demise of DOMA. All those concerned about the preservation of marriage simply need to pay attention, stay tuned, and be ready to respond.â
The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage for the purposes of federal law and protects states which do not recognize âgay marriageâ from being forced to recognize unions contracted in states which do.
On July 19, White House press secretary Jay Carney announced that President Obama supports Sen. Dianne Feinsteinâs (D-Calif.) Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal DOMA. Carney said the proposal would âuphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couplesâ the same rights as others, the Washington Post reports.
But Avila warned that a repeal would begin âa further and more intense erosion of public policy on marriage.â
âMarriage is the keystone of the common good. When you erase from a policy on marriage any reference to sexual difference, you will force the government to ignore and to be indifferent to the absence of either the man or the woman in the most fundamental relationship that we know of.â
Marriage between a man and a woman is a âfirst cellâ of society that helps bridge âthe most fundamental difference between man and woman, in a way that no other relationship can.â
The redefinition of marriage at the federal level would have âextraordinarily broad effects,â Avila warned.
âAttempts to redefine it through statute forces anyone who disagrees to take the position of being a threat to the public good,â he explained. âThe whole premise of redefining marriage is that marriage as we define it now is a form of bigotry and prejudice. Therefore anyone who disagrees with this redefinition will be treated as equal to racists, for example.â
This premise carries âgreat threatsâ to the Catholic Church and all like-minded organizations.
Avila cited various instances where recognition of same-sex unions has affected religious liberty.
âIn New York right now, long-serving faithful public servants, who have the responsibility of issuing marriage licenses, are being told that they have to be fired if they refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.â
Soon after the Massachusetts Supreme Court redefined marriage, he noted, Catholic Charities in Boston was required to make legal adoptions to same-sex couples and was forced out of the adoption business.
State tax exempt status was revoked from a Methodist organization in New Jersey which indicated that they would not allow a same-sex couple to rent a beachfront pavilion for a civil union ceremony. A bed and breakfast in Vermont is now being sued after it refused for religious reasons to allow its facilities to be used for a same-sex âmarriageâ ceremony.
In February the Justice Department stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act against a federal lawsuit on the grounds it believes it is unconstitutional because it discriminates against homosexuals.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) praised President Obamaâs support for the repeal, calling the Defense of Marriage Act âdiscriminatory and cruel.â
Avila contended that claims that Defense of Marriage Ac is discriminatory are not decisive arguments, because at issue is a question of whose discrimination will be adopted.
âI would daresay that Congressman Nadler and others who are advocating the repeal of DOMA are not also advocating for the repeal of the requirement that be limited to people,â he said. Many who argue for same-sex marriage have taken positions against recognizing group marriage, even as polygamists have filed suit charging that polygamy bans are discriminatory.
âHaving a mom and dad in the home is best for children,â Avila stated.
The Defense of Marriage Ac passed in 1996 with âoverwhelmingâ bipartisan support and was signed into law by a Democratic president, Avila noted, while 31 states have amended their constitutions to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
âIt still represents the will of the people in this country,â he said. âDOMA strongly affirms the consensus that marriage is between a man and a woman.â