took a huge step forward in its march to become the next state to recognize same-sex marriage. Two bills were introduced -- one in the State House by Rep. Arthur Handy, and one in the State Senate by Sen. Rhoda Perry -- that if passed would recognize "civil marriage" between same-sex couples. Both bills make clear, however, that if religious institutions don't want to recognize same-sex marriage, they won't have to.
You might think that would be enough to quell conservative religious opposition to marriage equality. If only we lived in a sane and sensible world.
Instead, the Catholic Church in Rhode Island, led by Bishop Thomas Tobin, is going all-out with efforts to try and stop same-sex marriage from moving forward in the Ocean State. Bishop Tobin lashed out at supporters of marriage equality over the weekend, going so far as to say gay marriage would be "morally wrong" and "detrimental" to the state of Rhode Island. He even called gay marriage a divisive issue that tears communities apart.
Bishop Tobin couldn't be further off his rocker.
The facts on the ground in Rhode Island paint a completely different picture than the one Bishop Tobin would like people to see. For starters, majorities of voters in Rhode Island believe that it's time for the state to recognize same-sex marriage. A Brown University poll from 2009 showed that 60 percent of the state supported same-sex marriage legislation. But get this: among Catholics, support for same-sex marriage is two-to-one, with 63 percent of self-identified Catholics saying they support marriage equality, and only 32 percent opposed.
So it's puzzling to see Bishop Tobin say that gay marriage is divisive. Sounds more like he's just fishing for justification for being on the wrong side of history.
One last note about the bishop. In his condemnation of same-sex marriage last week, Bishop Tobin suggested that leaders should focus on economic issues instead of civil rights issues. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Same-sex marriage is an economic issue, as newly-inaugurated Gov. Lincoln Chafee made clear in his inaugural address. Allowing same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island will only stand to improve the economy.
As Chafee said: "The status quo economically is not working. Our foundation here in Rhode Island was built on tolerance and acceptance, and this is an area I want to move our state forward on, by building on our strengths of centuries ago. Let’s give marriage equality a chance to grow our state.”
In every facet, Bishop Tobin just doesn't have a leg to stand on here. But while we're talking about the issue of being divisive, it's worth Bishop Tobin reading that parable about people who live in glass houses. Why? Because last year, Bishop Tobin decided to play God with the Catholic sacrament of Communion, and barred former Rep. Patrick Kennedy from receiving the Eucharist during Mass. Now that sounds like something that's pretty divisive, mean, and intended to hurt.
Send the Catholic Church in Rhode Island a message that marriage equality isn't divisive or detrimental. Civil marriage in Rhode Island won't require the Church to change any theological positions. But what it will do is allow same-sex couples to receive the same civil rights and civil protections that opposite-sex married couples receive in the state. And that's called equality and fairness, not division.
petition text -
Dear Bishop Tobin,
I am deeply disappointed by your recent comments on the subject of same-sex marriage, where you said that supporters of gay marriage are immoral, and that same-sex couples are detrimental to the state of Rhode Island. This is extremely hurtful rhetoric that only serves to divide residents of your state. I expect better from faith leaders, who are supposed to be pastoral, not divisive.
The fact of the matter is that civil marriage legislation in Rhode Island will not require the Catholic Church to change its beliefs on the subject of gay marriage. Instead, it will extend numerous civil benefits to same-sex couples. Without these benefits, thousands of same-sex couples continue to face discrimination on a state and local level. That's unjust.
I'm writing you today to let you know that your rhetoric -- calling supporters of same-sex marriage immoral and saying that marriage equality would divide the state in harmful ways -- is irresponsible. It's also not reflective of the majority of voters and Catholics in your state, who support the right of same-sex couples to access civil marriage.
Thank you for your time.
[Your name here]