Archbishop Dolan Asks President Obama to Defend Marriage
by David Gibson
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked President Obama in a Sept. 20 letter to end his administration’s “campaign against the Defense of Marriage Act,” a federal law usually referred to simply as DOMA that defines “marriage” as the union only of a man and a woman.
“I respectfully urge you to push the reset button on your administration’s approach to DOMA,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York wrote. He said he is always ready to meet with the president to discuss these concerns about marriage.
Archbishop Dolan is convinced, he told President Obama, “that the door to a dialogue that is strong enough to endure even serious and fundamental disagreements can and must remain open.” He wrote to the president in a “spirit of respectful, but frank dialogue,” he said.
His letter reflected “the strong sentiment expressed” during the Sept. 13-14 meeting of more than 30 U.S. bishops who serve on the Administrative Committee of the national bishops’ conference, Archbishop Dolan explained.
In late February, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it no longer would defend DOMA in court, a decision the U.S. Catholic bishops strongly opposed. However, Archbishop Dolan observed in his Sept. 20 letter that the Justice Department now “has shifted from not defending DOMA – which is problem enough, given the duty of the executive branch to enforce even laws it disfavors – to actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality.”
An analysis prepared by USCCB staff of recent Obama administration actions related to DOMA and marriage was attached to Archbishop Dolan’s letter.
The letter said a failure by the administration “to change course on this matter will … precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”
The 15-year-old DOMA defines how to interpret the terms “marriage” and “spouse” on the federal level. The law prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and denies federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
After the administration’s February announcement that it no longer would defend DOMA, Archbishop Dolan released a statement emphatically rejecting the notion that opposition to same-sex marriage constitutes a form of unjust discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.
The archbishop insisted that “unjust discrimination against any person is always wrong.” But he said DOMA does not represent unjust discrimination; it “merely affirms and protects the time-tested and unalterable meaning of marriage.”
His Sept. 20 letter said that the U.S. Catholic bishops “stand ready to affirm every positive measure” taken by the Obama administration “to strengthen marriage and the family.” He added, though, that the bishops cannot be silent “when federal steps harmful to marriage, the laws defending it and religious freedom continue apace.”
The Obama administration’s “actions against DOMA and the values it stands for contrast sharply” with the president’s excellent 2011 Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations, Archbishop Dolan commented.
Those proclamations, he wrote, displayed “a welcome conviction” on the president’s part “that neither a mom nor a dad is expendable.” He said to the president, “I believe therefore that you would agree that every child has the right to be loved by both a mother and a father.”
And “the institution of marriage is built on this truth,” Archbishop Dolan continued. He said this truth “goes to the core of what the Catholic bishops of the U.S. and the millions of citizens who stand with us on this issue want for all children and for the common good of society.”
For that reason, “it is particularly upsetting” when the administration, through various court documents, pronouncements and policies, “attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias,” Archbishop Dolan stressed.
He said it should not be presumed that the millions of citizens who have voted in favor of state-level defense of marriage laws suffer from “ill intent or moral blindness.”
The Catholic bishops “recognize the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction,” the archbishop said. At the same time, he said the bishops’ concern for every person’s well-being is not negated, but is reinforced, by their “profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman.”
The archbishop’s letter to the president said that “while all persons merit our full respect, no other relationships provide for the common good what marriage between husband and wife provides,” and “the law should reflect this reality.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.