SAN FRANCISCO—The California Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement supporting the Definition of Marriage Initiative that will appear on the ballot for the March 7, 2000, primary.

The initiative would place California's current ban on same-sex marriages in the state constitution by adding a provision to the state's family code, saying that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Advocates of the initiative want to add the “or recognize” concept to law as a buffer against the potential of California being forced by federal law to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states by the U.S. Constitution's requiring states give “full faith and credit” to other states' laws.

The bishops join numerous other churches, organizations and individuals voicing support for the initiative which, state the bishops, “reaffirms the profound importance of marriage and the family in contemporary society.”

“Catholic tradition maintains that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love,” the bishops wrote in their June 18 statement. “This union was instituted by God and by its very nature exists for the mutual fulfillment of the husband and wife as well as for the procreation and education of children.”

Underscoring that Jesus raised the natural contract of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, the bishops said, “This special marital union thus becomes for the married couple their fundamental way of attaining holiness of life.”

Their statement affirms the theology of marriage articulated by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Letter to Families and on many other occasions.

The Pope has emphasized that the marital union between a man and a woman in a “partnership of their whole life” is “ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children”

“Other interpersonal unions which do not fulfill the above conditions cannot be recognized, despite certain growing trends which represent a serious threat to the future of the family and of society itself,” the California bishops' statement said.

The bishops also note that in caring for and educating their children, “a mother and father serve not only their family but also expend personal resources and energy for the common good of society. Marriage and family life lived generously anticipates and prevents many of the social problems which plague society today.”

An April poll of 1,200 Californians who said they were “likely” to vote showed that 55% were in support of the Definition of Marriage Initiative. The poll was commissioned by the San Francisco-based Horizons Foundation, which is helping finance opposition to the initiative.

Republican Sen. Pete Knight from Palmdale is the initiative's sponsor. The proposed legislation is called the Knight Initiative by some. Many proponents, however, are calling the ballot measure the Protection of Marriage Initiative, including the state's bishops.

The official ballot title will be Definition of Marriage Initiative. Still others have referred to the initiative by the term used to describe federal legislation on the issue, Defense of Marriage Act.

On June 17 the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce's board of directors voted “by an overwhelming majority” to oppose the measure.

“The Knight Initiative is a mean-spirited attack that is meant to be divisive, not to help California come together to grow and prosper and celebrate its diversity,” said Rhea Serpan, president and CEO of the chamber.

“Because California already prohibits same-gender marriages, the actual legal effect of the initiative would be to deny recognition of same-gender marriages performed in other states or countries, if such marriages were to become legal,” a chamber press release stated.