WASHINGTON — As 2013 was drawing to a close, same-sex marriage became legal in two more states with rulings in New Mexico and Utah declaring that denying same-sex couples the right to marry denied those couples equal protection under the law.
In a Dec. 23 statement about the decisions made by the New Mexico Supreme Court and a federal judge in Utah, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said both the court and judge "imposed a wrong decision about the meaning of marriage onto the people of their respective states."
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone quoted Blessed John Paul II, who said: "Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong, and are at the mercy of those with the power to 'create' opinion and impose it on others.'"
Catholic teaching upholds the sanctity of traditional marriage, between one man and one woman, and also teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.
The church also affirms the dignity of all people, "including persons with same-sex attraction, who 'must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.'"
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
In Indiana, state legislators and a host of advocacy groups were preparing for the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly, when a proposed amendment to the state's constitution related to marriage will be considered. The state's Catholic bishops in a joint statement Dec. 4 affirmed the dignity of all people and also the dignity and sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
In Oregon, a coalition is working to put same-sex marriage on the ballot in 2014.
On Nov. 13, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a measure legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. At the signing, he acknowledged the religious component of the debate and asserted the bill balanced personal and religious freedoms.
Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva, who had vigorously opposed the legislation, called same-sex marriage a "manufactured civil right" that is "symptomatic of a profound misunderstanding of the purpose of human sexuality."
"It is very sad that many of our state legislators and our governor have confused a manufactured civil right with a true civil right based on the centuries-old respect for marriage as a stable union between one man and one woman established and publicly recognized primarily for the welfare of children," the bishop said in a statement.
Hawaii's new law took effect Dec. 2. It protects -- to a degree -- clergy and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage from having to provide services or facilities for same-sex ceremonies.
In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Catholic, signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state; the Illinois Legislature passed it Nov. 5. It takes effect June 1, 2014.
In May, Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage with measures that passed the legislature and signed into law by their respective governors.
"The church, for its part, will continue to work to rebuild a healthy culture of marriage and family life, as well as defend the rights of Minnesotans to live out their faith in everyday life and speak the truth in love," said the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., in an open letter to the state's Catholics, said the Catholic Church has fought very hard to "oppose this immoral and unnecessary proposition," and that God would be the final arbiter of people's actions.
On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court -- in separate 5-4 rulings -- struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, defining marriage as between one man and one woman and also refused to rule on the merits of a challenge to California's Proposition 8, the voter-approved initiative barring same-sex marriage.
In the rulings, the court said DOMA was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and the justices sent back to lower courts a challenge to Prop 8, saying the individuals who defended the law in court lacked the legal standing to do so.
The U.S. bishops called it a "tragic day for marriage and our nation."
A joint statement by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and by Archbishop Cordileone said the court "has dealt a profound injustice to the American people" with the DOMA ruling.
"The court got it wrong," they continued. "The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage."
President Barack Obama called the "a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law," but also stressed the importance of "maintaining our nation's commitment to religious freedom."
"How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision -- which applies only to civil marriages -- changes that," he said.
The U.S. bishops' also raised concerns about implications for traditional marriage in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate Nov. 7. The nondiscrimination bill has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 except the 109th; the House has not introduced a similar measure.
In a letter to U.S. senators, the bishops said they opposed the bill to protect gay and lesbian workers because it goes beyond the scope of prohibiting unjust discrimination and "poses several problems."
The bill supports the redefinition of marriage and would likely be "invoked by courts" to support the constitutional argument that same-sex marriage must be legal, and at the same time rejects the biological basis of gender by defining "gender identity" as something people may choose at variance with their biological sex.
Religious entities that are exempt are all houses of worship churches and religious-sponsored hospitals and charities.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act in September and December, respectively. It would bar the federal government from discriminating against those who "act upon their religiously motivated belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage."
The bill's scope would include protection for individuals and organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit.