By Tony Merevick
Note: This article was first published January 4, 2012 by the Chicago Phoenix.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Sister Donna Quinn, a Chicago native who has been a Catholic nun for over 50 years, said it’s about time for Illinois to approve legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage.
“We believe in this, this has to be done,” she said. “We can do nothing less.”
Quinn, the coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns, which comprises over 2,000 nuns from across the country, said giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry is about fairness and respecting the love of people in committed relationships.
This breaks away from messages from the Chicago Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, which is advocating against the bill.
“It’s more of a belief in people, in all people, gay and lesbian and — it doesn’t matter,” said Quinn. “Their choice to marry is important and the benefits are crucial for their living, their livelihood, and the children they raise.”
Quinn and other members of the local faith community have thrown their support behind the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, a bill that could potentially see a vote in the Illinois Senate as early as Thursday and in the Illinois House as early as Sunday or Monday.
“I think the support from the religious community is heartwarming,” said Rick Garcia, longtime LGBT rights activist and director of the Equal Marriage Project at The Civil Rights Agenda. “It’s critical. It’s critical to counter the anti-gay fundamentalists and Catholic bishops.”
Quinn and several religious leaders are condemning recent comments by Chicago Cardinal Francis George of the Roman Catholic Church, in which he said same-sex marriage violates natural law because gay and lesbian couples cannot produce children. George sent a pastoral letter to local Catholic priests, urging them to lobby against the bill.
“Civil laws that establish ‘same sex marriage’ create a legal fiction,” George wrote, “The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible.”
But a recent poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University released in late September that shows a majority of Illinois Catholics approve of legally recognized same-sex unions.
Eighty-one percent of Catholics surveyed support either full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples or the right to a civil union. Specifically, 39.9 percent said they support marriage rights and 40.1 percent said their position is for same-sex couples to have civil unions. Only 15.7 percent said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships, according to the poll.
The numbers suggest that Catholics, too, are part of the growing wave of support for the bill, and others in the faith community won’t let George’s calls against it go unchallenged.
Bishop Alan Wilkowski of the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest issued his own letter Wednesday to lawmakers and made direct phone calls to some, urging them to support the bill and debunk “the myths advocated in the Cardinal’s letter,” he said.
“Based on our baptismal promise, I think that as men an women of faith, we have a right and obligation to enhance and protect the civil and human rights of all people,” Wilkowski said. “When religious communities — when they recognize their obligation as stewards of God’s creating — we have to do everything possible to improve the lives of all people. We cannot sit by silently and let people get relegated to less than equal status than other people.
Wilkowski argues that George is overstepping Catholic teachings, as well as the concept of an individual’s internal forum, by demanding government policy match the rules of his church, he said.
“We don’t live in a theocracy,” the Bishop said. “For the Cardinal to state that because of Roman Catholic ecclesiology, civil law must mirror that — that is voicing their beliefs on every man and woman in this state.”
However, Wilkowski believes the Cardinal and the Roman Catholic Church have the right to their own beliefs.
“If Rome wishes to limit marriage to just heterosexual couples, they can do that,” he said.
In addition, Wilkowski explains in his letter that marriage has been through several evolutions since the beginning of mankind and that it should no longer be attached to procreating.
“There’s never been a set concept of what marriage is. If we go back to before christianity, marriage was simply for procreation. Men had wives, it was simply for the purpose of procuring male offspring. That was considered the norm for centuries,” he told Chicago Phoenix.
“The Cardinal’s letter insults the intelligence of men and women by reducing natural law to some sort of circus acrobatic act,” he said, referring to sex for procreation. “The vocation of marriage is more than what one does in the bedroom. It is how two people come together, sharing their faith and the holy spirit in their lives. What do they do to build up the kingdom of God on earth.”
Both Quinn and Wilkowski are optimistic about the bill’s chances in the General Assembly but point out that the Catholic Church is pouring a lot of money into the same-sex marriage debate here.
“A lot of money is spent by leaders in the Catholic community against this issue,” Quinn said. “I don’t think that is as well known as other issues. When so much money is spent against women, marriage equality, reproductive justice — these are issues that when Catholic money is thrown to lobby against it, people need to rise up against it in protest.”
They praise people throughout the religious community and elsewhere for supporting the bill.
“I just feel very hopeful for this movement,” Quinn said.