By Sean Gallagher
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — Indiana’s six Catholic bishops have issued a joint statement affirming the dignity of all people and also the dignity and sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
The statement comes as state legislators and a host of advocacy groups prepare for the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly, when a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution related to marriage will be considered.
A joint Indiana House resolution would amend the Indiana Constitution to define marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman, and states that other legal unions “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage” will not be recognized by the state.
The resolution was passed by both the Indiana Senate and Indiana House of Representatives in 2011. For it to become a ballot measure for the 2014 general election, it will need to be passed without change by a simple majority in both bodies during the upcoming session.
In Indiana, constitutional amendments are voted on in a ballot measure only after they are approved by two separately elected legislatures.
The bishops’ statement, signed Dec. 4, quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church and affirms the dignity of all people, “including persons with same-sex attraction, who ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.'”
At the same time, the bishops say that marriage is a “natural institution established by God” that exists only between one man and one woman, and which is “not within the power of either the church or the state to redefine … since God is its author.”
In closing, the bishops exhort “the people of Indiana to respect and defend the dignity and equality of all persons as well as the truth about marriage, according to God’s plan and laws, with charity toward all.”
The statement was signed by Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and Auxiliary Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, who is vicar general; Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette; Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend; and Bishop Charles C. Thompson of Evansville.
Archbishop Tobin said the joint statement will help all Catholics in the state avoid the extremes of either seeing the public debate about the proposed amendment as a battle or as an issue in which they should simply be guided by public polls.
“Instead, we bishops struggle to allow the great questions and concerns of our people to be illumined by the word of God and the lived experience of Christians for two millennia,” Archbishop Tobin said.
He also said the bishops’ affirmation of both the dignity of all people and of marriage can be an important contribution to the upcoming public discussion. He hopes the statement also will encourage Catholics in Indiana to work to strengthen marriage and help them form their consciences on this topic.
“I trust that Catholics will recognize that our church prizes the conscience of its members, but that conscience needs to be well-formed, upright and truthful so that it formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator,” Archbishop Tobin said. “Our statement hopes to aid Catholic Christians in forming their consciences, while informing all people of good will what the church believes and teaches about marriage and human dignity.”
Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference — the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Indiana regarding state and national matters — said the committees of both legislative bodies will consider the proposed amendment. He also said committee passage of it will be “likely.”
“Whether it passes the floor in both houses is yet to be seen,” said Tebbe told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.
Tebbe explained that no other state is currently considering a constitutional amendment related to marriage. Because of that, he said, “Indiana will be a focal point for the nation on this issue” in the coming months.
“We’re going to be the eye of the storm. … There are going to be tons of pro and con literature, ads, articles — you name it,” he said.
Currently, 29 states have constitutional amendments that define marriage as between one man and one woman. Four of those states also recognize other legal unions between same-sex couples or various rights of such couples possess.
Seventeen states have legalized same-sex marriage, either through the courts or legislation.
Four states, including Indiana, have laws but not constitutional amendments that define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Tebbe said that the debate on the nature of marriage has a history of raising people’s emotions and that the bishops’ statement can encourage people in Indiana to consider it calmly.
“They’re making a statement that this is a complex issue that has to be dealt with in a very thoughtful and serious manner,” Tebbe said. “It’s not an easy, knee-jerk kind of reaction. There is clearly one definition of marriage under God’s laws. There is clearly the importance of each individual being made in the image and likeness of God, and is deserving of the respect and dignity that that person embodies through that divine creation.”
He encouraged Catholics in Indiana to consider both parts of the bishops’ statement — the affirmation of the dignity of all people and the dignity of marriage.
“We have to really keep in mind both pieces,” Tebbe said. “We’re not castigating anybody. We’re not trying to discriminate against anyone. We’re upholding the dignity of marriage, what marriage is as an institution, and its value for society, to the family and the persons engaged in it.”
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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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