Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Wash., warned against a state referendum legalizing same-sex “marriages,” saying that supporters' definition of rights, freedom and equality is “seriously mistaken.”
“There is something uniquely special about a man and a woman coming together in wedlock, and this union has an essential public significance,” he said in his Oct. 7 pastoral letter on marriage and Referendum 74.
If passed, the referendum for the November ballot would recognize “gay marriage” in Washington state. The state already has a domestic partnership law granting same-sex couples the legal rights of married spouses.
The proposal is presently leading in surveys and backers have amassed large donations from some of the state’s wealthiest businessmen, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
“If you and I don’t uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman, who will?” Bishop Tyson’s letter asked.
Bishop Tyson said marriage is “the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman.” Marriage has been “recognized, privileged and protected” because it unites a man and a woman together with the children born from their union.
He recounted the marriage of his own parents at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Yakima, saying their union made it possible for him to serve as bishop.
He said his parents’ marital vows were in line with the preaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “... from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
The bishop said this passage is key to understand Jesus’ preaching on marriage.
Referendum 74, he said, is based on a conception of marriage “wrong from the start” because it “presumes that marriage is simply a matter of what any two consenting adults desire.” Its proposed redefinition ignores the spiritual, biological, psychological and emotional significance of the human body and human sexual difference and complementarity.
He warned that the passage of the referendum would have major social consequences and would endanger religious liberty and the rights of conscience.
If marriage is redefined as a “genderless contract,” he said, it will be illegally discriminatory for public and private institutions to promote “the unique meaning of marriage” and its benefits for children.
“No institution or individual could propose that married mothers and fathers provide a singular benefit to children without being accused of discrimination,” Bishop Tyson said.
Churches, businesses and other organizations that oppose same-sex marriage are facing significant social pressure and are accused of “hate speech.”
The use of the words “mother” and “father” or “husband and wife” could recede in favor of gender-neutral terms, as could the unique place of motherhood and fatherhood.
The bishop said the referendum’s passage would condition society to “forget or ignore basic realities of human existence.” It would result in the “tragic irony” that “a law touted as a victory for civil rights and equality is actually a loss of civil rights and equality for the most vulnerable among us, children.”
Bishop Tyson acknowledged that some Catholics have friends and family with same-sex attractions, love them, and “do not want to lose them.”
“We do not want them to feel rejected again,” he said.
However, he said, “because we support marriage’s unique meaning does not mean we love any of our family any less,” noting that many family members and friends are at different points in their growth in the moral life.
Bishop Tyson urged Catholics to think beyond the elections.
“We need to find ways to replant our Church’s moral proposal for human happiness that flows from marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he said, stressing the Church’s desire to “reintroduce the Good News of Jesus Christ to those whose faith has grown weak.”