Roman Catholic bishops in Massachusetts reaffirmed Thursday their opposition to benefits for same-sex couples as well as gay marriage, saying the media misinterpreted comments Worcester bishop Daniel P. Reilly made at a legislative hearing on a gay marriage bill. Bishops from the state's four dioceses sent a letter--bearing the title "Don't Believe the Headlines"--to state legislators, and a story was published in The Pilot, the Boston archdiocese's newspaper, reiterating church leaders' opposition to gay marriage and benefits for same-sex couples.
Newspapers, TV stations, and wire services from across the state carried stories last week on Reilly's testimony before a legislative hearing on a measure that would legalize same-sex marriages in the state. During and after the hearing, Reilly said the church would "join in the discussion" of providing certain benefits to gay couples, although he said the church remains opposed to gay 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 said at the time. Reilly later told reporters that the marriage bill now under consideration is an easy--but harmful--solution to a problem that could be solved through simply extending certain benefits, such as hospital visitation, bereavement rights, and health insurance, to same-sex 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."
In the letter sent by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference to legislators on Thursday, church leaders said, "Contrary to the headlines, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts upheld church teaching on marriage at last week's state house hearing in Boston and did not announce a change in their opposition to domestic-partnership legislation. Domestic-partnership bills would recognize homosexual relationships for the purpose of extending various socioeconomic benefits. The church opposes this recognition. Nothing in Bishop Reilly's statements contradicted or changed this position." The Reverend Christopher Coyne, spokesman for Archbishop Sean O'Malley, said O'Malley's office took many calls from parishioners concerned that the church had changed its position. Coyne said the decision to issue Thursday's statement came from the bishops and that there was no contact with the Vatican about the issue.
Daniel Avila, a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, told The Boston Globe following Reilly's testimony, "As the bishop said today, we can join the discussion if a bill does not equate a partner as a spouse. How it is accomplished is crucial." But the bishops' letter Thursday said Reilly was referring only to the "civil rights of individuals." "When individuals get together, however, and ask for benefits by virtue of a particular relationship, the issue moves beyond individual rights," they wrote. "Not all relationships deserve public endorsement, and not all claims by individuals seeking recognition of their relationships rise to the level of a civil right. The marital relationship between a man and a woman carries special advantages to society, and thus spouses have a special claim to public recognition and support."