Archbishop Dolan Tells Obama to End War Against DOMA

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com September 22 2011 11:15 AM ET

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week to criticize recent actions of the administration on behalf of LGBT equality, especially the decision to stop defending DOMA.

In the letter sent Tuesday, the archbishop of New York, writing in his capacity as head of the bishops' public policy arm, expressed “grave concerns” about steps that, in his opinion, “escalate the threat to marriage and imperil the religious freedom of those who promote and defend marriage.” He focused on the decision of the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this year, a move the bishop's conference opposed.

“Now the Justice Department has shifted from not defending DOMA — which is problem enough, given the duty of the executive branch to enforce even laws it disfavors — to actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality,” wrote Dolan, who seemed largely absent from the marriage equality debate in New York this year. “Unfortunately the only response to date has been the intensification of efforts to undermine DOMA and the institution of marriage.”

His two-page letter was accompanied by a three-page conference staff analysis of the administration’s recent actions around DOMA and related “threats.” The analysis argued that the Justice Department “escalated the level of hostility” against DOMA in July with its brief in Golinski v U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which the analysis said “compares DOMA in effect to racially discriminatory laws.”

“According to the government’s view, support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference is a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people,” read the analysis. “DOJ’s contention thus transforms a moral disagreement into a constitutional violation, with grave political consequences,” it said.

The “threat analysis” also listed concerns including the administration’s support for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would punish adoption and foster care agencies that refuse to serve same-sex couples; the prospect of sensitivity training in federal agencies regarding sexual orientation; and conflicts between DOMA and the open service of gays and lesbians in the military following “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. According to the document, the moves contradict the beliefs of the majority of Americans about marriage, as expressed in 29 state constitutional versions of DOMA, and imperil religious liberty.

“Based on the experience of religious entities under some state and local governments already, we would expect that, if the Administration succeeds, we would face lawsuits for supposed ‘discrimination’ in all the areas where the Church operates in service to the common good, and where civil rights laws apply — such as employment, housing, education, and adoption services, to name just a few,” it read.

Although he said he was writing “in the spirit of respectful, but frank dialogue,” Dolan concluded his letter with phrasing reserved for negotiations with a former Cold War adversary. He urged Obama once again to end the "campaign" against DOMA and religious freedom.

“Mr. President, I respectfully urge you to push the reset button on your Administration's approach to DOMA,” he wrote. “Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman.”