11/23/2010 02:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Catholics Oppose Civil Unions In Illinois: Cardinal George, Catholic Conference Speak Out

In the few days of Springfield legislating between the November elections and the swearing-in of a new Assembly in January, myriad interest groups are hoping to see their bills moved forward. Everyone from supporters of gambling to opponents of the death penalty seems to have a horse in the race, so to speak.

One group that appears to have a shot at getting a law passed: supporters of SB 1716, which would give gay couples in civil unions similar rights to heterosexual married ones.

The bill passed the Senate last year; if a new legislature is sworn in before it passes the House, it will have to start the process all over again. But House Speaker Mike Madigan has indicated that there is hope for the bill passing during the veto session, and Governor Quinn has said that he supports civil unions and would sign such a bill if it came across his desk.

Now that the bill is showing signs of life, though, its opponents are beginning to come out of the woodwork. Most notably, the Catholic Church is campaigning hard against SB 1716.

Cardinal Francis George, the head of the Chicago archdiocese, released a statement on Monday calling on the General Assembly to reject the bill. From the release:

"Everyone has a right to marry, but no one has the right to change the nature of marriage. Marriage is what it is and always has been, no matter what a legislature decides to do; however, the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage," said Cardinal George. "Moreover, the impact of this legislation on the Church's social service ministries remains an important and thus far unanswered concern. This important legislation is being put before a lame-duck General Assembly and more should be done to engage the people in public debate."

Marriage was not invented by either the state or the Church, and neither can change its nature. However, laws structure society, and they influence patterns of behavior and thought. In our country, as in most others, marriage is granted unique protections and benefits under the law because marriage is the foundation of family and society. The proposed legislation would further weaken an already fragile institution.

Rep. Greg Harris, the highest ranking openly gay elected official in Illinois, is one of the bill's sponsors. He told the Chicago Sun-Times that Cardinal George was wrong about the bill: ''I'd say either he is being misinformed about the state of the law in Illinois or they're trying to make more of it than there really is,'' he said.

George has a record of opposing gay rights: he is the outgoing president of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops, which spent large sums supporting Proposition 8 in California.

But his is hardly the most inflammatory statement from Catholics on gay marriage. The Capitol Fax Blog reproduces some of a recent press release from the Catholic Conference of Illinois:

SNEAK ATTACK! Illinois General Assembly Sneaks in Bill 1716 Mandating Recognition of Homosexuals and so-called "Civil Unions" -- CALL YOUR STATE REP NOW!!


... Under this bill the only difference between marriage and civil unions is the name. Your message is simple: "Vote NO on Senate Bill 1716 because it equates civil unions and marriage. I am opposed to undermining marriage in this way." It is also true this bill could have a significant impact on the Church's social service missions.

As CapFax's Rich Miller wryly notes: "Sneak attack? The bill has been in the hopper for years. That's a bit much."

Still, it remains to be seen if the Church's opposition will derail perhaps the best chance at some semblance of marriage equality Illinois is likely to have for some time.