The Massachusetts Catholic Conference is open to extending social and economic benefits to same-sex couples, but it remains adamantly opposed to achieving that through the legalization of gay marriage or civil unions, Worcester bishop Daniel P. Reilly said Thursday. Speaking on behalf of the leaders of four Massachusetts dioceses, including Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston, Reilly told a legislative committee that the issue of benefits should be dealt with separately without involving the institution of marriage. "If the goal is to look at individual benefits and determine who should be eligible beyond spouses, then we will join the discussion," Reilly told the judiciary committee. Reilly later said that the gay marriage bill under consideration by the Massachusetts legislature is an easy--but harmful--solution to a problem that could be solved through simply extending certain benefits, including hospital visitation and bereavements rights, to gay couples. "There should be a way for the state to provide the benefits they have a right to, like other citizens," Reilly said. "But just to put the title of marriage on it, I think that's a wrong way to go."
Supporters of gay marriage said they welcomed the opportunity for a dialogue with the church but added that equality will come only through the conveyance of full rights. "It's the first time I've heard them say something like this," said Sen. Cheryl Jacques (D-Needham), a gay lawmaker who has two children with her partner. "But I also heard someone who said his church's doctrine should control civil law. We're not trading in our civil rights for some civil benefits." The judiciary committee held the first-ever statehouse hearing on the legalization of gay marriage Thursday.