Government’s refusal to defend marriage undermines democracy, Calif. bishop warns

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone
Bishop Salvatore Cordileone


The failure of the Obama administration to support the Defense of Marriage Act and similar actions in California and the District of Columbia violates the constitution and takes the issue “away from the people,” Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif. warned in his newspaper column.

President Barack Obama’s order that the Department of Justice not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was “an egregious violation” of the federal government’s separation of powers because it is not the role of the executive branch to decide which laws are unconstitutional.

The act in question defines marriage for federal purposes and preserves the right of U.S. states not to recognize same-sex “marriages” contracted in other states. It had passed by an “overwhelmingly majority,” Bishop Cordileone said in the March 7 issue of The Catholic Voice.

He criticized the claim that the act should not be defended because it discriminates against a sexual minority and is unconstitutional.

“The affirmation of marriage does not discriminate against anyone and casts no judgments on how people work out their intimate relationships, but rather affirms the most fundamental good in any healthy society,” said the bishop, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the  Defense of Marriage.

The Oakland bishop further charged that the U.S. Department of Justice had submitted an “apparently deliberately weak defense” of the legislation which will make it likely to be overturned. The defense omitted the one compelling factor which has convinced every court: the connection between marriage and the good of children, he said.

This failure was similar to California officials’ refusal to defend Proposition 8, the successful 2008 ballot measure which affirmed marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is now the state’s governor, refused to defend the law on the grounds he is personally opposed to it.

Bishop Cordileone called this “an explicit denial of his public duty.” He noted the irony that legislators have said they could not impose their personal views on issues like abortion but “we now have the chief law enforcer in the state doing exactly that.”

“(T)hese and so many other moves by our public officials should give cause for concern about the fate of democracy in our country,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is, wherever ‘gay marriage’ has become the law of the land, it has happened in a way that avoids the democratic process, and sometimes even goes directly against it,” he wrote. “On the other hand, whenever the people have had the chance to vote on marriage, they have consistently affirmed it.”

These successes came despite advocates of traditional marriage being outspent and facing “strong” media bias, he explained.

Bishop Cordileone also took issue with reporters who have depicted these election decisions as votes on “gay marriage,” even though such unions have never been put on the ballot. They also downplay the unanimous successes of these votes: when the traditional definition of marriage has been on the ballot it has won “every time” in all 31 states, he said.

Legislative action to recognize same-sex “marriage” has also failed to show concern for democratic rule, the bishop contended. In Washington, D.C. the City Council approved recognition of these unions and obstructed efforts for a popular vote on marriage “every step of the way” in a city with a very large black population.

In the bishop’s view, it was ironic that “a small group of political elites” claimed to expand rights by denying the right to vote to the masses of black citizens.

These trends show that the present cultural conflict puts “the future prospects of our democracy at stake,” Bishop Cordileone concluded.

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