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US Catholic leaders endorse Constitutional ammendment against gay marriage

Richard N. Ostling | September 11, 2003

NEW YORK — Leaders of the United States' Roman Catholic bishops gave "general support" on Wednesday to amending the U.S. Constitution in order to define marriage as a union of a man and woman. They also condemned legalized same-sex unions.

The 50-member administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting privately in Washington, acted after a strong Vatican call to defend traditional marriage and the decision of Canada's government to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bishops said they "strongly oppose any legislative and judicial attempts" at the federal or state levels "to grant same-sex unions the equivalent status and rights of marriage - by naming them marriage, civil unions or by other means."

The move plunges leaders of the nation's largest religious body, with 66.4 million members, in the middle of a growing national moral debate that could conceivably become as divisive as the one over abortion.

Sam Sinnett, president-elect of Dignity/USA, a group of 2,500 gay and lesbian Catholics, sharply criticized the bishops' action.

He said "they need to try to use the anti-gay card to deflect attention from what's really going on in the church," including such problems as the clergy sex abuse crisis.

The bishops' statement said "the church's teaching about the dignity of homosexual persons is clear. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity," but that this does not mean changing marriage laws.

They said protection of marriage requires, among other things, advocacy for legislation and public policies that "define and support marriage as a unique, essential relationship and institution."

"At a time when family life is under significant stress, the principled defense of marriage is an urgent necessity to ensure the flourishing of persons, the well-being of children and the common good of society," the bishops said.

The Vatican denounced same-sex marriages in a July decree from its doctrinal office.

President George W. Bush has not endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment but has said marriage is between a man and a woman, and "we ought to codify that one way or the other."

The bishops did not endorse specific wording but mentioned the "federal marriage amendment" introduced in the U.S. House on May 21. Proponents say the bill now has 75 co-sponsors from both parties. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist supports the idea but Democratic senators opposed it last week.

The proposed amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, which is campaigning for the amendment, said the bishops' decision is a "milestone" that recognizes only a constitutional change "offers hope of preserving the legal status of marriage for future generations."

"The courts are taking us to the point of a constitutional crisis over this issue. The handwriting's on the wall," Daniels said.

State courts in Massachusetts and New Jersey face decisions on lawsuits from same-sex couples who seek the right to marry.

David Smith, spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group, said "we are extremely disappointed that the U.S. Catholic bishops would involve themselves in the political efforts of some groups that are trying to make sure gay and lesbian families never receive the rights, protections and security of civil marriage."

Smith said gay organizations are not asking that churches be forced to recognize "marriages not in keeping with their teachings," only for change in secular law. –Sapa-AP

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