Illinois' legislature passed a bill on Dec. 1 that will establish same-sex civil unions in state law. While the state's Catholic governor Pat Quinn said his faith prompted him to support the bill, his bishop has warned that the governor's actions clearly contradict Church teaching.
“If the Governor wishes to pursue a secular agenda for political purposes, that is his prerogative, for which he is accountable to the voters,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., after the contentious vote.
“But if he wishes to speak as a Catholic, then he is accountable to Catholic authority,” he continued, “and the Catholic Church does not support civil unions or other measures that are contrary to the natural moral law.” In the governor's case, the local “Catholic authority” is Bishop Paprocki himself.
The Springfield Journal-Register quoted the governor as saying, “My religious faith animates me to support this bill.”
“He did not say what religious faith that would be,” Bishop Paprocki noted. “But it certainly is not the Catholic faith.”
Governor Quinn has promised to sign the civil union measure into law, following its passage in the state's House and Senate. Local reports indicated that the Democratic governor received a standing ovation from members of his own party, following the 61-52 vote in the Senate.
The governor joined Democratic Representative Greg Harris, the self-described “highest ranking openly gay elected official in the State of Illinois,” in supporting the initiative.
The bill drew opposition from Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, as well as the Catholic Conference of Illinois, due to its potential impact on the Church's work in adoption and foster care.
Cardinal George and the conference also expressed concerns that the bill would diminish the status of marriage in public life, by granting most of its benefits to any two consenting adults. They warned that the bill could substantially alter the law's definition of what constitutes a “family,” and said its supposed provisions for religious liberty were vague and subject to restrictive readings.
Robert Gilligan, Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, spoke to CNA Dec. 1 about the new law. He predicted that future generations might have to learn some harsh lessons about the unintended consequences of using the law for what he called “social engineering.”
Civil unions, he said, indicate America's trajectory toward a European model of living, in which adult romantic relationships have little or nothing to do with family or a lifetime commitment.
He noted that although individuals might enjoy this lifestyle or even deem it a “right,” a culture cannot sustain itself by functionally equating such arrangements with marriage. In time, he said, societies that choose to diminish marriage in this way will face the effects of shrinking populations and family breakdown.