Massachusetts Catholics fight to reinstate Defense of Marriage Act

Massachusetts Catholics fight to reinstate Defense of Marriage Act


The U.S. Bishops and the Massachusetts Catholic Conference have joined a list of 17 religious groups moving to appeal the state's rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

The groups filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the First Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 27 in support of the pro-traditional marriage act that was struck down by the court as being unconstitutional in 2010.

Attorney Daniel Avila, associate director for policy and research at the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, told CNA on Feb. 2 that the brief “shows the deep unity among a broad array of religions in support of the proposition that the marital union between one man and one woman is uniquely important as a public policy matter.”

He stressed that the “redefinition of marriage creates substantial public harm to the marriage institution.”

Among the 17 groups who've signed the brief are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Avila explained that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996 by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. The act requires federal agencies to define “marriage” and “spouse” when these words are used in federal laws and regulations “as applying only to the marital union between one man and one woman,” he said. 

However, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that state marriage licenses should be issued to same-sex applicants, “same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit to force the federal government to recognize their state-approved marital status under its federal programs,” Avila said.

Though same-sex “marriage” has been allowed in the state for several years, a federal judge ruling the Act as unconstitutional in July of 2010 allowed federal benefits for same-sex couples.

Avila said that the Massachusetts Catholic Conference – which represents the four Roman Catholic Ordinaries of the Archdiocese of Boston, and the Dioceses of Fall River, Springfield and Worcester –   has been united with U.S. bishops in the “public debate over the definition of marriage” within the state throughout the years.

In helping file the brief in January, Avila said the bishops “decided that it was important to join with a broad array of other religious groups to demonstrate to the courts that the act  is a rational exercise of federal authority that is not rooted in animus or bigotry.”

“The brief argues that rational, secular grounds complement the religious understanding of marriage as divinely ordained,” he said.

Support for the Defense of Marriage Act was clearly demonstrated by new president of the U.S. bishops' conference Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York when he outlined the legislative priorities under his leadership on Jan. 18.

Archbishop Dolan said the conference “strongly” opposes legislative or executive measures that “seek to redefine or erode the meaning of marriage.” 

Avila said that now that the brief has been filed with the First Circuit Court of Appeals, a “final decision could be handed down late this year or sometime before the middle of next year.” 

Oral arguments are likely to take place in the spring after the opposition files its briefs within the month, he said.

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