The head of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ has criticized the state's four Catholic bishops for pushing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban marriage rights for gay men and lesbians, saying it's an issue of civil law, not religion. In a letter E-mailed Monday to each of the state's 430 UCC congregations, president Nancy Taylor said denying gay people marriage rights is discrimination, and she questioned why the bishops asked parishioners to lobby legislators to support such a ban. She said Catholic officials wouldn't be forced to perform gay marriages even if they were to become a civil right. "The Catholic Church has every right to try to enforce its teachings among its own members, but I believe the question before the legislature must be argued and decided on the grounds of civil rights, not Catholic or any other religious doctrine," Taylor wrote.
At masses last weekend many priests, prompted by a call from the bishops, reiterated the Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage. Some parishioners protested, turning their backs to the altar or walking out of church. The call came as the state's supreme judicial court considers if marriage between members of the same-sex is permitted under the state constitution. The legislature also is expected to consider a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
Dan Avila of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference said the issue extends beyond religious ceremony because if marriages between gay people were a civil right, the church might be asked to betray its moral principles in following the law. For instance, he said, antidiscrimination laws might require the church to hire gay married people at Catholic organizations, even though the church believes gay marriage is immoral. The church is not trying to deny basic civil benefits to gay people, he said, but it doesn't believe the definition of marriage should be changed to ensure those benefits. "What we've had since the beginning of this commonwealth has served us well, and I think it will continue to serve us well," Avila said.
Taylor said she wrote the letter to ensure that the bishops weren't the only religious leaders speaking out on the issue, adding that she knows not all UCC churches, also called Congregational churches, agree with her. "I don't want to leave [the bishops'] voice alone without responding that there are Christians out there who disagree profoundly," Taylor said. In her letter, she said the bishops don't recognize that families come in many forms. "Among these configurations of family there are many gay and lesbian people who, living in committed relationships with life partners, are gifted parents," she wrote. "Yet under current laws, we do not support these families; instead, they are denied the basic rights that most of us take for granted."