Even as he said lawyers for the Catholic Church are working with the Cuomo administration on religious exemption language for the marriage equality bill, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the New York State Catholic Conference would never give its blessing to the measure awaiting a vote in the state Senate.
Dolan spoke from Seattle on Friday morning with Fred Dicker, a New York Post reporter and host of Albany's Talk 1300-AM radio. The archbishop reiterated the Catholic Church’s abiding opposition to same-sex marriage.
“This isn't a question of civil rights,” he said. “This is a question of something ingrained in the human question.”
On Tuesday, as momentum increased toward a marriage equality vote in the Senate, the archbishop posted a note that compared the proposed law to the tyranny of Communist regimes.
Dolan positioned many of his views in terms of religious freedom, arguing that the “perilous” bill proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo represents an infringement by the state.
“What does it say about the presumptive omnipotence of the state that we would dare to tamper?" asked Dolan. “There aren’t concessions. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Cuomo submitted the Marriage Equality Act Tuesday with exemptions for religious institutions that do not want to solemnize same-sex marriages or allow their private facilities to be used for the events. The exemptions track existing human rights law, but some Republicans in the Senate, where the bill is stalled and in need of one more vote before the session ends Monday, have expressed interest in seeing broader exemptions. For example, Sen. Greg Ball has mentioned the possibility that religious agencies could be being denied state funding if they refuse to provide adoption services, a controversy that has erupted in Illinois, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
In his interview Friday, Dolan specifically thanked Sen. Dean Skelos, the Republican majority leader, and senators Greg Ball, Andrew Lanza, and Stephen Saland for being “admirably sensitive” about the “terribly detrimental” effect the bill would have on churches. Senators Lanza, Saland and Kemp Hannon met with Cuomo Thursday evening to discuss their concerns.
Dolan said Catholic Church lawyers were working with the Cuomo administration on the religious exemption language, but he acknowledged that under no circumstances would his institution ever support the marriage equality bill. He said that the church stood opposed to the “detrimental impact on society, on culture” and that any carve-outs could always be retracted by subsequent administrations or legislatures.
"This is not to be interpreted as a caving in on our side because we are still working to defeat this bill,” said the archbishop, who added that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn planned to lobby in the state capital.
The comments from Dolan echoed what the New York State Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Catholic Church in Albany, told The Advocate Thursday. Spokesman Dennis Poust seemed to suggest the church viewed the exemption language as a kind of insurance should its efforts to stop the bill fail.
“We will always oppose the bill even with stronger religious exemption language,” Poust wrote in a brief note. “However, were the bill to pass, stronger language would prevent scenarios like we've seen in other states where Catholic ministries have had to shut down (Catholic Charities adoptions and foster care in Boston, DC, Illinois) or not-for-profit status was revoked (Ocean Grove Methodist Camp Association),” he wrote.
On Friday, Dolan described marriage equality advocates and their allies as “well-financed, well-oiled,” and he acknowledged that polls showing majority support cause the church “some concern.” Still, he said he believed the majority of "hardworking people" opposed the bill and that "there’s a good chance that this is not gonna pass this year.”
Although civil unions are not an option on the table for New York, Dolan also expressed opposition to them, saying, "Civil unions we worry about because we simply think it's a step toward the dumbing down of marriage.”
Dicker asked the archbishop about broader trends for Catholicism, prompting Dolan to mention Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“What a great guy,” the archbishop said, adding that Admiral Mullen had told him that 41% of the people in the armed services are Catholic.
Reminded by Dicker that the armed services under Mullen are moving toward more acceptance of gays and lesbian through the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Dolan said, “I’m afraid they are too."