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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why Cardinal Francis George Has Civil Unions All Wrong

By Michael A. Jones -

Illinois could be on the precipice of moving civil unions legislation forward in its state legislature. The state's current (and just re-elected) governor, Pat Quinn, favors the measure and has vowed to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. And advocates are pounding the pavement in Springfield, working the offices of state legislators in hopes of securing a vote on the bill during a temporary session of the Illinois General Assembly. Whether there are enough votes there is still in question, but all sides admit that it's close.
And that's led the head of the Chicago Archdiocese, Cardinal Francis George, to weigh in, and he's not happy. See, according to the Cardinal, civil unions are too close to marriage equality, and that offends his Catholic sensibilities.
"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; however, the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage," Cardinal George said.
So the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by a "civil unions" law that never mentions the word "marriage," nor grants all the rights and responsibilities of marriage? Perhaps the Cardinal has been sniffing too much incense.
What a missed opportunity here for Cardinal George. I'm reminded of an Archbishop on the other side of the pond, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who made some waves earlier this year suggesting that Church theology needs to be updated to reflect the fact that same-sex couples are decent human beings.
"We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships," Cardinal Schönborn said.
That might not be a ringing endorsement of same-sex relationships, but it certainly suggests a different tone when it comes to same-sex relationships than that put forward by Cardinal George. For George, civil unions can't be stomached because, even though they are not marriage, they are still enough to make the sky collapse. For Schönborn, it's less about lobbying legislators to condemn same-sex relationships, and more about figuring out how the Church can keep its position on marriage, while secular society can go about respecting the civil rights of all people.
What a shame Cardinal George couldn't take a lesson from his fellow Cardinal. More to the point, enacting civil unions will have no impact on the Church whatsoever. No priest will need to officiate a civil unions ceremony. Catholic churches won't be forced to include "How to Get a Civil Union" pamphlets in their rectory. Heck, even the name of the proposed legislation -- the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act -- indicates that the law, while adding some rights for same-sex couples, will still respect the principle of freedom of religion.
Send the Illinois legislature a message, urging them to pass this bill. It's a step in the right direction toward equality. And while Cardinal George might not agree with that sentiment, more than 300 other religious leaders in the state have. Yes, when it comes to civil unions, Cardinal George is not the last word. In fact, it's his position that is in the minority on this issue.


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