Roman Catholic Bishops Speak Against 'Civil Unions' Law

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Sixteen Roman Catholic bishops from New England are joining forces against Vermont's "civil union" law. Critics contend the legislation amounts to a parallel system of marriage for same sex couples.

Those signing the statement include the Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Cardinal Law, whose office issued the statement, and Bishop Kenneth Angell of Burlington, Vermont, who voiced strong opposition to the measure as it made its way through the legislative process. Bishop Angell was among those urging Governor Howard Dean, a Democrat, to veto the bill, but instead Dean signed it into law.

The clerics wrote, "We act not to deprive any group of their rights, but to protect the existing rights of men and women to join in a sacred union...We should be doing everything possible to strengthen the family as the basic unit of any society and the primary building block of the whole Christian community."

The statement characterized civil unions as a "steppingstone" for same-sex marriage. "The legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the civil unions bill, has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself."

The statement said those who support same-sex unions are "trying to impose their values on the rest of the population," and it urged Vermonters to "rectify the situation that brought about the passage of the civil unions bill."

The clerics suggested it might be necessary to amend the state constitution to avoid further efforts to give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts.

The civil union law, which goes into effect July 1, offers same-sex couples virtually all of the benefits and responsibilities of traditional marriage.

However, it stops short of allowing them to legally marry. It does permit same-sex couples to obtain a license, much like a marriage license, from a city or town clerk and then engage in a "certification ceremony," which legalizes the union.