Rhode IslandWith Rhode Island’s legalization of same-sex marriage yesterday, New England becomes the first region in the country to go all in for SSM. Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the Union, and New England the most Catholic region. Given the Church’s staunch opposition to SSM, an explanation would seem to be in order.

Simplest, of course, is that New England Catholics don’t pay much attention to what the Church teaches. But that just begs the question. What differentiates them from Catholics in other parts of the country is their greater reluctance to impose the teachings of their faith on the rest of society.

As my colleague Andrew Walsh and I argue in One Nation, Divisible, our book on religion and region in American politics, New England Catholics retain a vibrant communal memory of once having been a disfavored minority subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous Yankee behavior. Rather than return the favor, they have chosen to do better unto others than was done unto them. Why should the Catholic proscription of SSM prevail against the wishes of those who have no part of it?

Such privatization — or, one might say, communalization — of Catholic marriage doctrine sits poorly, of course, with bishops who believe the doctrine to be inscribed in natural law and thus incumbent on all people at all times. But for New Englanders all politics tends to be local, which is to say less about big ideas than about reconciling your preferences with mine.

It’s a lesson that Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence would do well to take to heart. Tobin, who did all he could to keep SSM from coming to Rhode Island, was in a monitory mood as he faced the inevitable. Declaring himself “profoundly disappointed,” he warned that

because “same-sex marriages” are clearly contrary to God’s plan for the human family, and therefore objectively sinful, Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others.

Of course, it can also cause scandal when you disrespect your neighbors’ customs and mores.

Categories: Culture

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

10 Comments

  1. Edward G. Burton , LL.B., M.P.S.

    Rhode Island is to the best of my knowledge the only one of the 13 original states to have offered freedom of religion and the absence of state support of any religion. With tomorrow being the 237th Anniversary of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations’ Declaration of Independence from England, it is appropriate that this ratification of freedom of religion has occurred now.

  2. A 2013 Gallup Poll shows that Providence, R.I., is one of the least religious cities in America; Rhode Island is one of the least religious states in America; and New England is one of the least religious regions in America. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a federal disaster area.

    So it’s not surprising that New England is the first region to get totally mired in the quicksand of SSM. But it’s not just them; our entire nation is in serious trouble. The clock is ticking.

    Meanwhile, kudos to Bishop Tobin for taking a courageous (and potentially costly) stand for biblical Christianity. There is nothing disrespectful about his quoted message, unless honoring and obeying God and the Bible are now considered “disrespectful” activity.

  3. Oh, come now, Neil. ‘Let the one who is without compromise post the first arrogant comment.’ Show me your uncompromising handful, and I’m pretty confident I could show you a bunch of folks whose compromises simply coincide with yours. Self-styled purity of heart ever so often simply masks hardness of heart. You would be upsetting, if you weren’t simply so silly.

  4. Scandal is a technical term in Catholicism. It means evil words or acts which might lead others to sin — see Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II-II, question 53, article 1. Anyway, the actual scandal is in Bishop Tobin’s remark, which denies the commandment given by Christ to love others.

  5. state legislators many are homosexuals them selves so of course they would want to make being a homosexual
    acceptable by using state laws to do so.. Yet they can make all the laws they want to hiomosexuality will never be acceptable..simply because most parents want to become grand parents .. and perfer normal relationships for their children .. i dont know of any parent looking into their new born children’s face wishes he or she becomes A murder or homosexual or thief or any other sorrt of deviant embarassing person

  6. Remember when Catholics were liberal? Remember when Liberals were Liberal?
    I don’t think it would be inconsistent for a traditionally liberal voting bloc, (New England Catholics), to vote YES for equal rights while harboring reservations about sin and morality related to homosexuality. I think a great many Catholics in New England realize it wasn’t all that long ago they were considered the Hated Minority.

    I think Silk makes some good points, but I’m a little uncomfortable referring to equal rights as “SSM.” Maybe I’m just an old school fool, but “SSM” sounds more like a sex act than a political one. The question of same-sex marriage isn’t a question about sex or morality …or religion. It’s about equal rights. I don’t think “SSM” helps folk to visualize it that way.
    But…you know… old fart…

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