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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Illinois Church Leaders Criticize Civil Unions Bill

Legislation legalizing civil unions and guaranteeing civil-union partners the same basic protections and benefits as those enjoyed by married spouses was approved by the Illinois Senate Dec. 1, after being approved one day earlier in the state House of Representatives. Gov. Pat Quinn indicated he plans to sign the legislation in early January.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois, representing the state’s bishops in public policy matters, said it regretted the bill’s passage. The law will “explicitly grant” civil unions “the same status as marriage in state law,” the Catholic Conference said.

But “marriage is not just any relationship between human beings,” the conference commented. It said:

“Marriage has been established by our Creator in harmony with the nature of man and woman, and with its own essential properties and purpose. The church did not invent marriage and neither has the state.

“No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, mutually commit to each other in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.”

Under the legislation, a “civil union” refers to a legally established relationship between two persons of the same or opposite sex. Commentators noted that the legislation grants spousal rights to the same-sex partners of a civil union in various legal matters.

A paper issued earlier by the state Catholic conference said that “a commonly cited concern” in civil-union discussions “is the denial of hospital visitation rights to nonfamily members.” But, said the paper, “under the Illinois Power of Attorney Act, any person can be designated as an agent for another person under a Power of Attorney for Health Care and would have the ability to make medical decisions, receive medical information and visit the other person in a hospital.”

The paper added that “benefits of this type have been granted through legislative or administrative action” and that such matters “can be settled without the controversial burden of a government-sanctioned civil union.”

In remarks accompanying a Nov. 22 statement by the state Catholic conference, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said that “everyone has a right to marry, but no one has the right to change the nature of marriage. Marriage is what it is and always has been, no matter what a legislature decides to do.”

The cardinal expressed concern that “the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by the passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage.”

The statement said the approval of “marriage-like benefits” for civil-union partners would “intensify the legal attack on marriage” and would “not appease those who wish to redefine the institution of marriage.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church “teaches that homosexuals ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,’” the statement pointed out. Accordingly, it said, the church stands “ready to work with the legislature and other agencies of state government to prevent unjust discrimination and to provide benefits to people judged by the civic authority as deserving — as long as such provision does not include the attempted redefinition of marriage.”

The conference background paper insisted that “the pursuit of legislation codifying civil unions represents a political tactic designed to further the goal of legalizing same-sex marriage.”

Religious liberty concerns related to the new legislation also were addressed by the state Catholic conference. Its statement after the bill’s passage said that “while the bill states that nothing in the act should interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious body, such language may offer little protection in the context of litigation religious institutions may soon encounter.”

Explaining what types of religious liberty concerns it had in mind, the Nov. 22 statement said the legislation’s language “offers little protection in the context of litigation that religious institutions and individuals will face.” It added that “with no explicit protections for religious liberties, it will not take long before the General Assembly or the courts:

— “Mandate that faith-based institutions providing adoption or foster-care services be required to place adoptive or foster-children with couples who have entered into a same-sex civil union.

— “Require that Catholic parishes or Catholic agencies providing social services (including retreats, religious camps, homeless shelters, senior care centers and community centers) be compelled to provide these services to individuals who are in a same-sex civil union.

— “Refuse to protect small employers who do not wish to extend family benefits to employees in a same-sex civil union.”

After the legislation’s passage, the conference said in hoped these issues “will be seriously evaluated by policy-makers” and that “additional conscience protections will be afforded.”