National Catholic Register

Inperson

California's Marriage Lessons

Behind the Scenes on Proposition 8

BY Sue Ellin Browder

June 7-13, 2009 Issue | Posted 5/29/09 at 1:55 PM

 

The California Supreme Court May 26 upheld Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex “marriage” passed by the state’s voters in November.

Proposition 8 amended the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The high court allowed the 18,000 or so same-sex “marriages” already performed in the state to stand.

Many say Prop. 8 would never have qualified for the ballot without the leadership of Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, former San Diego auxiliary bishop. It was he who got key San Diego Catholics to step forward and make the first significant donations that got the momentum rolling.

But the newly installed bishop of Oakland says the ultimate victory came from spiritual warriors of all faiths working together.

Bishop Cordileone spoke with the Register about lessons learned during the hard-fought Prop. 8 campaign and how these lessons might help Catholics in their battles to save marriage in other states.


The first lesson learned, you said, was the importance of forming alliances with people across all faiths — Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons — all working together.

Yes, it’s critical to lock arms with like-minded people. In terms of large groups, that means people of faith: other Christians. The Mormons’ contribution was absolutely critical. We couldn’t have done this without their support. Everyone involved has to trust and to prove themselves trustworthy.


Trustworthy in what way?

No one was doing this for their own glory. They didn’t care who got credit for what. There were times when I was getting credit, and people were hurrahing for me at these different events. From my perspective, other leaders were doing more than I was. But nobody cared who got credit. We did it only for the glory of God, not our own, and for the sake of the common good of our society.


The second important lesson is to understand that this is a spiritual battle.

That’s something evangelicals and Catholics have in common: We understand this concept of spiritual warfare. So prayer and fasting are critical. It was the evangelicals who were calling for a 40-day fast leading up to the election. Serious fasting.


What do you call serious fasting?

For example, a group of about 30 young people from around the country came to San Diego to participate in this. They prayed all day long and ate soup at night, and that was it — for 40 days. Others may have eaten nothing at all for 40 days. In our Catholic tradition, our way of fasting is one meal a day, and I encouraged Catholics to do that.


Another important factor understood by both Catholics and evangelicals, you said, was the need for repentance.

We realized we need to repent of our sins of negligence. We have so many people of faith in our country. How could we have allowed the state of family life in general to get this bad in our society? So for us Catholics, I encouraged people to avail themselves of the sacrament of penance.


What’s the third lesson?

That would be to educate people about what marriage really is and why marriage is important. We need to explain that this is not about passing judgment on anyone and how they live out their intimate relationships. It’s about marriage, because marriage is so critical for the good of society. It’s the basis on which everything else is built.


How can lay Catholics do that? What’s the first way to engage the culture in a dialogue about marriage?

People, first of all, have to understand what marriage is. We can’t allow the terms to be defined for us. A common misunderstanding of marriage today is that it’s a relationship with one significant other to which the state gives certain benefits. But we have a definition in canon law that reflects how marriage has been understood in every civilization since the beginning of the human race: as the lifelong union of a man and a woman of exclusive fidelity for the purpose of procreation and education of offspring and the mutual good of the spouses.


So you emphasized that marriage isn’t just any relationship.

This is a point I would often make. In our society, there are many very precious types of relationships — the relationship be--tween parents and child, the relationship between friends, the relationship of a pastor to his people. But only marriage has the special status it does in the law because only marriage is the basis on which a family is built. It’s only the union of a man and a woman that a child can arise from. And society has a stake in that.

For a society to flourish, its citizens have to be virtuous. For citizens to be virtuous, children have to grow up in stable, healthy families. So a marriage campaign is a great educational opportunity. It’s always important to keep it positive, that this is about marriage.


You said another way to educate people about the importance of marriage is by getting them in touch with how they’ve been hurt by the loss of marriage. 

It’s kind of sensitive, but there are ways to do it. A lot of people are hurting deep inside precisely because of a dysfunctional family situation they grew up in. In fact, research found out here in California the message that resonated most deeply with young people was that a child needs and longs for a mother and a father. They grew up in a society where, unfortunately, so many of them didn’t have that.


We’re told you connected people with many different gifts and talents to get Proposition 8 on the ballot.

Yes. I connected people who understood how to make the case for marriage, people who understood how to operate within the systems of social communication and politics, and people who had the ability to raise the money or had the financial means to make it happen. A political campaign like this takes a lot of money.


How much did it take?

They tell me that in California each side raised somewhere around $40 million. They told us it would take at least $1.5 million just to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. In a state like California, most of the signatures have to be gathered by professional signature gatherers. We only had about three months to do this. We needed to raise a lot of money within that short period of time, plus have a record number of volunteer signatures. It takes both.

People with lots of experience who were in favor of this said it was just impossible to accomplish. It was truly a miraculous thing that we succeeded.

But, you know, we prayed.

Early on, when people were still trying to collect signatures, some Catholics wanted to organize a 54-day Rosary novena. So we started it the day before Ash Wednesday, which concluded it on Divine Mercy Sunday. I also asked the people at that time to offer up their Lenten fasting for the success of this effort.


If one moment during the Proposition 8 campaign stands out most vividly in your mind, what would it be?

We were staying up through the night to find out how the election was going. When our campaign manager called the election for us, it was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and we all just burst into prayer. Someone broke out singing, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” a hymn common to us all. So we all joined in the singing. To me, that was the defining moment. It encapsulates everything that campaign was for us.

Sue Ellin Browder writes

from Willits, California.