Catholic bishops lobby against marriage legislation
by Joe Siegel
EDGE New England Editor
Wednesday Apr 29, 2009

Reverend Thomas Tobin, bishop of Providence, is among the Roman Catholic officials across New England who continue to lobby lawmakers and urge their parishioners to tell their legislators to oppose legislation that would extend marriage to same-sex couples.

With the push for marriage for same-sex couples gaining steam in recent weeks with the Iowa Supreme Court decision and the Vermont legislature’s decision to override their governor’s veto, opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians across New England remains as strong as ever.

New Hampshire and Rhode Island legislators have introduced marriage legislation. And Maine lawmakers held hearings in Augusta last week on a bill to legalize nuptials for same-sex couples in the state, but rhetoric from religious leaders in these states has grown more heated as the prospect of these bills becoming law becomes more real.

Reverend Thomas Tobin, bishop of Providence, warned of the consequences he feels marriage for same-sex couples would bring to heavily Roman Catholic Rhode Island in an article the Rhode Island Catholic published. Tobin claims marriage for gays and lesbians will force religious institutions to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. He also encouraged his fellow Catholics to contact their legislators and urge them to oppose the bill.

"Homosexual activity is unnatural and gravely immoral," Tobin said. "Gay marriage, or civil unions, would mean that our state is in the business of ratifying, approving such immoral activity. The fact that Rhode Island has successfully avoided the gay marriage phenomenon is a credit to our Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. They - along with a number of other legislative leaders - have been consistent and courageous in deflecting the onslaught of gay activists and in upholding the traditional definition of marriage. We hope and pray they’ll continue to do so."

Tobin’s comments drew a feisty response from Reverend Gene Dyszlewski, the pastor at Riverside Congregational Church in East Providence and the Chairman of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality.

Dyszlewski said Tobin "shamelessly raises the specter of fear that the state will interfere with Catholic worship and practice."

"His [Rev. Thomas Tobin, bishop of Providence’s] assertion that the Catholic Church will be forced to perform same-sex marriage and or be forced to allow a gay man to be a godfather is laughable."
"His assertion that the Catholic Church will be forced to perform same-sex marriage and or be forced to allow a gay man to be a godfather is laughable," Dyszlewski said. "The church is well protected from any interference from the state in regard to worship and sacraments."

Rick Harris, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, also condemned Tobin’s comments:

"It is unfortunate that some Catholic Church Officials can not see the Civil Rights issue at hand. We are working to ensure that a civil procedure is available to all. We also have 91 practicing ministers and rabbis in [Rhode Island] who disagree with Bishop Tobin’s position and interpretation of God’s will as it applies to homosexuality and a basic governmental responsibility - marriage."

Reverend John B. McCormack, bishop of Manchester, [N.H.], has also spoken out against marriage for same-sex couples. He spoke out against the bill in a statement read during a hearing in Concord earlier this month.

"The New Hampshire House, through the narrowest of margins, voted to establish same-sex marriage in New Hampshire," McCormack said. "[House Bill] 436 deeply disappoints and concerns hundreds of thousands of New Hampshire citizens. The bill runs directly counter not simply to the teachings of the Catholic Church, but to the well-established and proven values of our civilization - values that are time tested and fully incorporated into our system of justice."

Reverend Richard Malone, bishop of Portland, [Maine], issued a similar statement during the state’s Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

"In nearly every culture, (marriage is) a social institution with the primary purpose of ensuring that the next generation grows up in a secure, loving, balanced environment guided by both male and female parents," he said. "Children learn different traits from both genders. What message do we send to children when an institution as vital as marriage can be irrevocably altered simply because a particular group demands it? Maintaining traditional marriage, and only traditional marriage, is in the best interest of the children and people of Maine."