Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, the newly appointed head of the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, told a group of religious leaders Thursday that "any redefinition of marriage must be seen as an attack on the common good," making his first statements on the issue of gay marriage since he was installed. "The weakening of the institution of marriage has already had too high a social cost," he told about 100 religious leaders who were gathered at the Celebration International Church in Wayland, Mass., for a conference called "The Summit of October to Save Marriage," organized by the Massachusetts Family Institute. "Radically redefining marriage will simply serve to intensify the assault on marriage and the American family." The audience in the nondenominational Protestant church included Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy.
Massachusetts Family Institute, based in Newton, was formed in 1991 to promote traditional family and Judeo-Christian values. It has fought for a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, excluding same-sex relationships. The Massachusetts supreme judicial court is currently considering whether to legalize to gay marriage.
In his speech Thursday, O'Malley said that neither the church nor the government should get involved with the institution of marriage. "Marriage is not a creation of the state or of the church, and neither has
the legitimate authority to change its nature," he said. "As for Catholics, the same catechism that demands that people of homosexual orientation be treated with every respect and with compassion and that their rights be defended also defends the unchangeable nature of marriage." O'Malley went on to say that many dismiss opponents of gay marriage as intolerant, and he asked his listeners to stand strong in the face of such criticism. "We are part of a pluralistic society and in no way pretend to force our religious preferences on other people," he said to loud applause. "But neither can we be intimidated by those who see our defense of the common good as simply mean-spirited, narrow-minded, or intolerant of other people's rights. The rights of children and indeed of the community demand that we support family life by protecting the definition of marriage."
Outside the conference a small group protested silently. The Reverend Katie Lee Crane of the First Parish Church of Sudbury said she was there "to make a respectful statement that people of other faiths in the community have different opinions on this." Marianne Duddy of Dignity/USA, a national organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, was angered by O'Malley's claim that the American family is threatened by same-sex marriage: "If the church wants to support marriages, there are lots of positive ways it could do that: by providing support for couples, for their children, helping couples in crisis, helping better with marriage preparation. There's no evidence to suggest that support for same-sex marriage weakens existing marriages in any way, shape, or form. It's nothing but empty rhetoric."