SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Blessed Junipero Serra and his fellow Spanish missionaries first brought Catholicism to California in 1769, and nearly a third of the state is today Catholic. 

But, despite its Catholic roots, an increasing number of its laws are hostile to families and opposed to Catholic morality, contends Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and his brother bishops in California.  And, while California is arguably the most egregious example, many other states are following California’s lead.

The archbishop made national news in July, when, in his archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings, he specifically pointed to two such state laws. The first, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, requires the state’s history textbooks to stress the contributions of homosexuals. The other permits children to have vaccinations for sexually transmitted diseases without informing their parents.

“There was a time not too long ago when American society encouraged family values and tried to strengthen the bonds of parents and children. Recent events in our state and nation remind us that’s not always the case anymore,” Archbishop Gomez asserted.

While Catholic schools are free not to provide history textbooks used by public schools, they often depend on them to prepare their students for standardized state texts. Lobbyists for the California Catholic Conference argued that it is not the legislators’ role to decide what material to include in history textbooks. Furthermore, texts should focus on accomplishments of historic figures, not their association with a particular group.

“But on this, and many other issues, we’re not getting a receptive ear,” commented Carol Hogan, the conference’s director of communications. “Our California Legislature is dominated by liberals who have bought into the gay agenda.”

Support for the “gay agenda” led former California (and Catholic) Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a 2009 law setting aside a day to commemorate Harvey Milk, a homosexual San Francisco politician who was murdered in 1978. Milk is one of only two such Californians to receive the honor; the state’s school children are encouraged to commemorate him.

Regarding STD vaccinations, AB 16 would mandate Gardasil vaccinations against human papillomavirus. Hogan says the bishops believe that allowing children to get the Merck & Co. vaccine for pre-teen girls in both public and private schools without parental consent violates parents’ rights. But many legislators instead “believe that it’s a jungle out there, families are dysfunctional, and it’s up to them to step up and protect children.”

Many of the same legislators believe that protecting children justifies the state policy of allowing minors to obtain birth control and have abortions without parental consent.

The STD vaccination bill has currently stalled in the Legislature, but not due to moral concerns. Cash-strapped California is trying to figure out how it can afford to fund the expensive vaccination — some medical providers reportedly charge up to $500 per child.

Hogan deplored that California legislation is increasingly shaped by the “far-out fringes,” with outcomes eventually decided in the courts. The state Legislature, for example, has begun to allow individuals to choose for themselves what their gender identity (rather than base it on biological factors). On May 16, the state Assembly passed A.B. 887, which would allow cross-dressing employees to wear whatever they want to work, despite workplace dress codes. The bill is currently under consideration by the state Senate.

(“Gender identity” legislation is being approved in other states, as well; Connecticut approved HB 6599, the so-called “bathroom bill,” which, among other things, could allow a man to identify himself as a woman and demand to use public women’s restrooms, locker rooms and showers.)

When the California Catholic Conference approaches legislators to share the bishops’ viewpoint, they’re given a respectful hearing, but even Catholic legislators “feel free to disagree,” according to Hogan.

Many California Catholics are poorly catechized, Hogan continued, and unlike elsewhere in the country, “wearing a Roman collar to lobby in the Capitol doesn’t offer an advantage.” Hogan urged Catholics to be informed about legislative initiatives; the conference, in fact, offers free e-mail updates on issues of importance to the bishops.

Additionally, the state government is dominated by Democrats who all favor legal abortion.

That said, the bishops celebrated a major victory with the 2008 passage of Proposition 8, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The measure could still be overturned in the federal courts, and California state courts are still reviewing the constitutionality of denying marriage rights to same-sex couples.  The California Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the matter on Sept. 6. Both supporters and opponents of the measure believe it is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, was encouraged: “[Proposition 8’s passage] tells me that there is something in people’s hearts that makes them realize that supporting marriage is not discriminating against anyone; it’s not something that’s hateful, and it’s not something that’s bigoted. Marriage is something that benefits everyone in society, whether you’re married or not.”

Foster Care in Illinois

In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services has notified the Illinois’ Catholic Charities that, based on the recently passed Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, it could remove the nearly 2,000 foster children under the care of the church agency, ending a 30-year foster care partnership.  Catholic Charities refuses to place children in homes with same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex couples, and the state believes Catholic Charities is in violation of the act.

On July 12, an Illinois judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Catholic Charities maintaining the status quo.

Subsequently,  DCFS abandoned a second attempt to block Catholic Charities’ foster-care services. Before the July 18 hearing, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided to not go forward with her plan to discontinue referrals to Catholic Charities.

The next hearing to decide on the merits of the case is scheduled for Aug. 17.

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, commented, “The Catholic Charities/foster-care issue is currently our chief concern. We’re looking beyond this particular case to see if they change the definition of the word ‘spouse’ to include those in same-sex relationships. We could be a court case away from having same-sex ‘marriage.’”

Gilligan describes Illinois as “trending liberal.” Hence, the state’s Catholic Conference has failed to secure passage of many of its initiatives, including one requiring that any woman seeking abortions be shown ultrasound images of their babies before the abortion takes place.

Gilligan also expressed concern that the state may soon adopt a comprehensive sex-education curriculum that forbids the teaching of abstinence. While such measures would not directly affect Catholic schools, “what is taught in public schools affects society as a whole,” he noted.

When lobbying on behalf of the bishops, Gilligan is often disappointed with lawmakers’ lack of common sense and courage to stand up for their convictions. He said, “You don’t have to be religious to see that adoptive children do best when placed with a loving mom and dad. You don’t have to be religious to see that encouraging teens to abstain from sex until marriage would alleviate many of our social problems. I think people will look back at our time and ask, ‘What were they thinking?’”

He encourages Catholics to become more aware of issues affecting society. Concerned citizens calling public officials’ offices about issues of concern can make a significant impact, he said.

Rhode Island and New York

Catholic leaders had twin disappointments on the East Coast in June: adoption of civil unions in Rhode Island and same-sex “marriage” in New York.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, an outspoken opponent of same-sex “marriage,” released a statement on June 30 that declared: “I am deeply disappointed that Rhode Island will establish civil unions in our state. The concept of civil unions is a social experiment that promotes an immoral lifestyle, is a mockery of the institution of marriage as designed by God, undermines the well-being of our families, and poses a threat to religious liberty.”

Father Bernard Healey, director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, noted that the conference’s disappointment was tempered somewhat by the fact that the state did not adopt same-sex “marriage.”

Additionally, the civil-union legislation had a strong religious exemption that said that churches did not have to accept civil unions as valid.

The battle in Rhode Island over same-sex “marriage” will continue, he cautioned, because supporters are “relentless” and a state or federal court could “impose same-sex ‘marriage’ by judicial fiat.”

Father Healey also bemoaned that the civil-union legislation did not permit conscience protection for individuals. A wedding planner or photographer, for example, could be sued for not offering services for a civil-union ceremony.

Father Healey also noted that the conference was closely following other issues, including measures that could provide taxpayer funds for abortions and efforts to tax nonprofit institutions. The election of Tea Party proponents in the state has not always been of assistance to advancing the Catholic viewpoint, he added: “Some are fiscal conservatives but social libertarians. They’re not opposed to same-sex ‘marriage’ or abortion except when they have to pay for it.”

He encouraged Catholics to be faithful citizens, study the Church’s teachings on public-policy issues, and hold public officials accountable for their actions.

On June 24, New York’s bishops issued a statement declaring they were “deeply disappointed and troubled” by the state’s legalization of same-sex “marriage.”

Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, said, “We worked hard to defeat it, telling our legislators that a redefinition of marriage was not the way to address society’s problems. They responded by blowing up the whole issue.”

He attributes the defeat to millions of dollars of funding from same-sex “marriage” supporters, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. He said the state’s new, politically popular and Catholic governor, Andrew Cuomo, “arm-twisted” on the issue, and several key legislators switched their votes to allow its passage.

Poust pointed out two such Republican state senators, Mark Grisanti of Buffalo and Roy McDonald of Troy. (The GOP held a 32-30 majority in the senate and could have defeated the measure.) Both Grisanti and McDonald are Catholic.

Poust commented, “Mark Grisanti had said he’d vote against same-sex ‘marriage’ and even spoke about his faith on the floor of the Senate. When he switched his vote, it was particularly offensive.”

Other areas of concern for the conference include the Reproductive Health Act, which would declare abortion an unassailable right. The measure could be taken up in the next legislative session. As well as being pro-homosexual “marriage,” Cuomo is a staunch supporter of legalized abortion.

Poust concluded, “We’re off to a rocky start with Gov. Cuomo.”

Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.