HRC Responds To Vatican Statement, Religious Institutions Will Not Be Forced To Recognize Civil Marriages

Responding to a Vatican statement encouraging Catholic
lawmakers to oppose civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples,
the Human Rights Campaign made clear on August 1st that religious institutions
will not be forced to recognize the civil marriages of gay and lesbian
couples. HRC also urged American lawmakers to be mindful of the nation's
founding principle of the separation of church and state.

"Our nation was founded by those who held deeply in their hearts
the principle that religious matters should be separate from state
matters," said Elizabeth Birch, HRC's executive director. "It's
important for lawmakers – and the American people – to understand that
civil marriage is about receiving more than 1,000 protections and rights
under federal and state law. Civil marriage strengthens families by
giving them access to an important safety net provided by federal and
state laws consisting of Social Security survivor benefits, hospital
visitation rights and the ability to inherit a spouse's property without
being taxed, among other protections. No religious institution would be
forced to recognize these marriages, just as today the Catholic Church
isn't forced to recognize the marriage of someone who has been

In a 12-page document issued July 30 by the Catholic
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church stated that the
"Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition [to gay
marriage] clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor
of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral." However, in
a letter in January Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also called on Catholic
politicians to support religious freedom, according to The Washington

"In our nation's history, freedom of religion has meant that
religious institutions have the freedom to espouse their theology, but
that matters of the state should be based on sound policy, the
democratic process and equality under law," said Birch.

There are more than 1,000 federal rights, benefits, protections
and responsibilities associated with civil marriage in this country,
according to a 1997 study by the General Accounting Office. Gay and
lesbian couples in lifelong relationships pay higher taxes and are
denied basic protections under the law. For example, they can be denied
the right to visit a sick or injured loved one in the hospital. They
receive no Social Security survivor benefits upon the death of a
partner, despite paying payroll taxes. They must pay federal income
taxes on their domestic partner's health insurance, while married
employees do not have to pay such taxes for their spouses. They must pay
all estate taxes when a partner dies. They pay significant penalties on
IRA and pension rollovers. They are denied health benefits under COBRA
and family leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"Even though other countries have allowed same-sex couples to
marry, no country has attempted to change the definition of marriage as
defined by a religious institution," said Birch. "Some denominations
bless same-sex unions, others do not. We're not seeking to change church
doctrine through legislation, and we never would. We're asking for
legally conferred rights – critical protections and responsibilities
that are granted through civil marriage. In the end, the question of
civil marriage for gays and lesbians is a question about fairness and
equality under the law. Gay and lesbian couples in long-term, loving and
committed relationships are raising happy and healthy families, doing
good work and paying higher taxes for fewer rights and protections than
other Americans. In a nation championing equality, that is far from

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