Sen. Conley pens letter explaining vote on same-sex marriage legislation


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.

East Providence


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Dear Senator Conley,

The crux of your letter relies on the argument of the primacy of conscience and the inherent human dignity in us all. To begin with, then, have you consulted with your parish priest about how your conscience arrived at the “joyful expression of freedom and liberty” through the passage of the marriage equality bill in Rhode Island? Did you speak with Bishop Tobin who is our shepherd here in Rhode Island about why he opposed marriage equality? I do agree with you that each individual must make their decision through the light of a properly formed conscience. However, our Catechism also speaks of erroneous judgment. “Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.” A conscience can be blinded; a conscience can make assertions on the mistaken notion of its autonomy.

As to your second point – that all people are created equal with inherent human dignity – I am also an advocate for this belief, especially when it comes to the unborn in the womb. But this is NOT about the equality of the human dignity of each person as so many same-sex marriage advocates would have you believe. This is about the protection of marriage. According to “ Citing marriage's unique societal role in the procreation and raising of children, the Vatican said, ‘The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.’ The Administrative Committee said the church clearly teaches the dignity of homosexual persons and condemns ‘all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.’ The bishops said their defense of marriage focuses "on the importance of marriage, not on homosexuality or other matters."

I would urge you to meet with Bishop Tobin. As we all continue our journey home to God in heaven, may all Catholic Christians especially defend our core beliefs. I am at the end of the baby-boomer generation and have seen several decades of bad catechetical instruction presented to Catholics. Now is definitely the time for the New Evangelization so that the truth may be presented clearly and consciences may be properly formed.



Monday, May 6, 2013 | Report this

I have stated this before, but it bears repeating. The word “marriage” in and of itself is a legal commitment, governed by the laws of the state. Even clergy must say “…by the power vested in me by the state of ___ I know pronounce you…”. The separation of church and state is there for a reason. No one is asking anyone to give up their religious beliefs. Same-sex couples do not need to be married in a church, and neither do opposite-sex couples. In fact, Common-Law marriage is legal in some of the US states (such as RI) and it does not involve a church at all (nor is it even recognized or sanctified by a church). If a man and a woman live together for 7 years in RI, and present themselves as a “couple” for all intents and purposes, then the law of marriage applies to them. Religious beliefs do not enter into that equation, and they should not enter into same-sex marriage either.

This is about human rights, not acceptance, and you have not done your homework if you think this is 3 percent of the population. Human rights must always trump personal or religious opinion.

Friday, May 10, 2013 | Report this

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