To the editor,
As a Catholic and a legislator, I recognize that to protect our religious freedom we must protect the freedom of others. The marriage equality bill I voted for in the Rhode Island Senate celebrates the civic virtues of fidelity, mutuality, monogamy, commitment, companionship, and family. It also contains robust protections for the free exercise of religious beliefs about Holy Matrimony. It does not impose any obligation on any religion to modify its faith definition of marriage or its belief in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
To my friends in faith, my decision was informed by the Catholic tradition known as the primacy of conscience wherein the responsibility to make choices in politics rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience’
The Catholic understanding of conscience includes the process of discernment by which we strive to act in accordance with the truth and the common good of humanity. This understanding of conscience has as its core value the dignity of the human person. The Catholic Church’s appreciation and teaching of this understanding of conscience was expressed in Vatican II’s Declaration of Religious Freedom.
“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons – that is, as beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility – that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek truth ….Wherefore man has a duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth … in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience … “
Conscience formation means that we ask difficult questions even when they make us uncomfortable. Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is … the way in which Christians offer their concrete contributions so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.
For me, this process of discernment, asking the hard questions, and searching for the truth kept bringing me back to the Great Commandment which tells us to love God and love our neighbor, and the Golden Rule, to treat others the way we would have them treat us.
Vatican II defines the Church as the entire People of God, recognizing that all people are created with an inherent human dignity. Because we all share in this human dignity, all people must be treated with equal respect. This means that people must not be understood simply in terms of their sexual orientation alone, as it does not define us as human beings. Catholic social justice tradition compels us to understand human beings in our totality. All people must be treated with human dignity regardless of their status, their beliefs, or their sexual orientation.
I firmly pray, hope, and believe that history will judge marriage equality as a joyful expression of freedom and liberty for all Rhode Islanders.
Sen. William J. Conley Jr.