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Marriage Fight Continues in Washington State

UPDATE: Abortion coverage in insurance is also at stake. Same-sex 'marriage' was signed into law by the governor Feb. 13, and traditional-marriage groups have filed a referendum as Catholics and Christians speak up for God's plan for marriage.

BY EWTN NEWS/CNA

| Posted 2/16/12 at 8:54 AM

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The Washington state governor has signed into law a bill that recognizes same-sex “marriage,” prompting those who support the traditional definition to file a referendum to challenge the law.

“Preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman is worth fighting for,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, Feb. 13.

“Marriage is a cornerstone of society that not only unites a couple to each other, but ensures that any children born of their union will have the best opportunity to be raised by their own mother and father. We’re committed to giving Washington voters the right to decide the definition of marriage in their state, just as voters in 31 other states have been able to do,” Brown said.

In response to same-sex “marriage” being legalized, the group Preserve Marriage Washington filed Referendum 73 on Feb. 13. It must collect 120,577 valid voter signatures by June 6 to put the new law on hold until the referendum faces a vote in November.

“I think, in the end, people are going to preserve marriage,” Joe Fulten, senior pastor at Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Wash., told The Associated Press.

The National Organization for Marriage has pledged to work with the state organization.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law on Feb. 13. She said it was “a day historians will mark as a milestone for equal rights, a day when we did what was right, we did what was just, and we did what was fair.”

The governor identifies herself as Catholic, but her decision undercuts the teaching and work of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle testified against the bill in January, saying the attempt to redefine marriage “ignores the origin, purpose and value of marriage to individuals, families and society.” He voiced concern that the redefinition would eliminate special laws that support and recognize the “irreplaceable contribution” married couples make to society by “bringing to life the next generation.”

He said, “Marriage makes a contribution to the common good of society unlike any other relationship, through the procreation, rearing and education of children.”

Feb. 16 update:

The Washington state House passed a bill on Feb. 13 that could mandate abortion coverage in insurance plans without any effective exemptions for religious groups and pro-life employers.

“We’d be the first state to mandate coverage for abortion, which is an avenue we certainly don’t want to be traveling down,” Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, told EWTN News.

“That really violates an awful lot of people’s consciences,” she said, noting that it will be a “very, very close vote” if the bill passes in the Senate on Feb. 16.

The legislation, which passed in the state House by a 52–46 vote, requires all insurance programs that cover maternity care to also provide abortion coverage. All health-care policies must cover maternity services under the 2010 federal health-care legislation known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“It’s more than just a violation of religious liberty. It’s not just the Catholic Church or religious organizations,” Sister Sharon added. “Lots and lots of people recognize the value and the sanctity of human life, and this would violate their individual consciences, as well as the consciences of employers who believe life is sacred and don’t want to cover abortion.”

Archdiocese of Seattle spokesman Greg Magnoni told EWTN News that local Catholics are “very concerned about the bill” and says he sees a “direct connection” between the proposal and the HHS mandate that would force Catholic institutions to provide contraception and sterilization to employees.

“What we’re seeing is a multipronged attack on the religious liberties of all people of faith. We are finding more and more,” Magnoni added, “that this kind of legislation will tolerate religion as long as it confines itself to its own churches and does not speak out outside of those churches and really confines itself exclusively to worship.”

This is in direct conflict with the Catholic Church’s mission to reach out to the poor, the vulnerable, and those who need health care, he said. “We can’t violate our conscience, and yet we’re called to a ministry of service to poor and vulnerable populations.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire is concerned about whether the law violates the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, part of the annual federal Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services appropriations bill. That amendment bars mandatory abortion coverage in any health plan that receives federal funds.

Sister Sharon said that she believes the bill violates the federal rule. “I think it’s so clear, that if this law passes, federal funds will be cut off. Obviously, that is up to interpretation.”

The conference director also voiced concern about the direction of her state.

“What we heard when the Affordable Care Act was passed was that abortion would not be part of that. And, all of a sudden, we’re the first state to go in this direction and mandate abortion coverage. No state has ever mandated abortion coverage.”

While Washington state law protects religious freedom, both Magnoni and Sister Sharon think the protections are inadequate.

State law acknowledges a right to exercise conscience and religious liberty, Sister Sharon explained, but the second part of the same law also says that no one shall be denied access. The abortion-coverage bill, she said, does not have an adequate conscience clause.

“Just as we have a contraception mandate in Washington, we would end up with a mandate on abortion,” which would also violate Catholic teachings, she explained.

“We hold that all life is sacred,” she said. While the state has the duty to protect life, its laws are saying that “there is some life that is not worthy of protection.”

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said that the bill “suggests a belief that abortion is the moral equivalent of childbirth, that killing is the same as healing.”

He wrote in a Feb. 7 essay for National Review, “And that bizarre view must be imposed on everyone who offers, sponsors or buys insurance: They must provide and pay for abortion on demand as though they believed it too.”