Marriage Defense

As Connecticut sees its first legal same-sex “marriages,” Catholic bishops and groups like Peter Wolfgang's (shown) are taking bolder steps to defend the institution.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut may be seeing its first legal same-sex “marriages” this week, and Catholic bishops and other groups are taking bolder steps to defend the institution.

The “Constitution State” became the third state to impose same-sex “marriage” by judicial fiat on Oct. 10.

The state’s Supreme Court ruling in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health toppled as “discriminatory” a law that gave civil unions every benefit of marriage except the name. This development should be an eleventh-hour wake-up call that the stakes involved in the Nov. 4 elections are huge, according to pro-family activists.

As the Register’s daily news blog ( was the first to report, the 4-3 court decision galvanized the state’s bishops to back a referendum with the potential of changing the Connecticut Constitution to protect marriage.

And on Oct. 15, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it is developing a national plan of action to defend marriage. The move came in response to the “societal implications of legislative and judicial efforts to redefine marriage,” according to a bishops’ conference press release.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the new ad-hoc committee, said Oct. 16 the conference began discussing the plan in June and held its first committee meeting in September. The move wasn’t directly in response to judicial activism in any particular state, he said, but because marriage is being challenged and misunderstood nationwide. (See related story on page 3.)

California voters might reverse their court-imposed redefinition of marriage by approving a ballot initiative on Election Day. Marriage amendments will also be voted on in Arizona and Florida.

With funding from the Knights of Columbus, the U.S. bishops plan to develop a brief Internet video, utilize social networking websites, and redistribute their 2003 statement on marriage, “Between Man and Woman.”

Archbishop Kurtz could not say how much of the plan will be in gear before the presidential election, which legal experts predict will have a dramatic impact on the direction of federal courts nationwide.

According to the candidates’ statements, Republican John McCain thinks “courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.”

Democrat Barack Obama suggested in remarks to a Planned Parenthood gathering what kind of judges he would appoint. He said, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.”

Obama wants to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It protects the sovereignty of state marriage statutes and recognizes marriage as only between one man and one woman in all matters related to federal law.

When a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman came to the Senate, both Obama and McCain voted to kill it without even allowing it to be debated. However, McCain voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Federalizing State Cases?

Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, predicted that some time after the election, same-sex advocacy groups will “federalize the issue using Massachusetts, Connecticut and possibly California as a launching pad.”

The Connecticut case was the outcome of a lawsuit originally filed in 2004 by the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied Connecticut marriage licenses. It’s nearly identical to GLAD’s 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which led to same-sex “marriage” being imposed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

One of GLAD’s current projects is to redefine marriage in every New England state, according to its website.

Daniels believes the only long-term defense is passing a federal constitutional amendment, a move the bishops’ conference has supported in two past attempts.

Meanwhile, all 213 parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford will be asked to promptly distribute the Connecticut Catholic Conference statement condemning the latest court ruling, Michael Culhane, the conference’s executive director, said Oct. 15.

The Connecticut Catholic Conference statement urges Catholics to vote Yes on the question calling for a constitutional convention and right of referendum. Bishops said the court decision “raises a very real concern about the infringement on religious liberty and freedom of speech with the judicial imposition of same-sex ‘marriage.’

“The real battle in this court case was not about rights, since civil unions provide a vast number of legal rights to same-sex couples, but about conferring and enforcing social acceptance of a particular lifestyle, a lifestyle many people of faith and advocates of the natural law refuse to accept,” they said.

The Connecticut homosexual advocacy group Love Makes a Family hopes voters defeat the constitutional convention referendum. “This is the biggest threat to our newly won right to marry,” said Anne Stanback, the group’s executive director.

Catholics Don’t Realize

Culhane said the secular media is focusing on jubilant homosexual activists and giving short shrift to the position of the bishops and the Family Institute of Connecticut, which is backing the referendum.

Daniels, who is not Catholic and whose Alliance for Marriage is nonsectarian, said that getting information out is key.

“Our biggest problem is even most devout, committed Catholics don’t realize what’s coming because the secular media has blocked it out,” he said. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal will not appeal the Kerrigan case on the federal level because the decision was “solely an interpretation of state constitutional law,” he said. His spokeswoman, Tara Stapleton, declined further elaboration.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said, “The Kerrigan decision has no more actual basis in the constitution than Roe v. Wade does,” referring to how judges liberally inferred that the right of privacy allowed for legalizing abortion. He claimed Blumenthal used a “losing strategy” to begin with, by not arguing why Connecticut statute reserved the term marriage to heterosexual unions forming the basis of families.

In his dissent in the Kerrigan case, Justice Peter Zarella made a similar point. He said the majority opinion failed “even to identify, much less discuss, the actual purpose of the marriage laws.” He concluded, “The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry.”

Gail Besse is based in Boston.