December 13, 2013

Indiana bishops issue statement on dignity of persons, marriage

A groom and bride hold hands on their wedding day. (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

A groom and bride hold hands on their wedding day. (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

By Sean Gallagher

Indiana’s six Catholic bishops have issued a joint statement regarding the dignity of every person and the dignity and sanctity of marriage.

(Read the statement | En Español)

The statement comes as state legislators and a host of advocacy groups prepare for the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly in which a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution related to marriage will be considered.

House Joint Resolution 6 (HJR 6) defines marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman, and states that other legal unions “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage” will not be recognized by the state.

Amendments to Indiana’s constitution are voted upon in a ballot measure only after they are approved by two separately elected legislatures.

The resolution was passed by both the Indiana Senate and Indiana House of Representatives in 2011. For it to become a ballot measure for the 2014 general election, it will need to be passed without change by a simple majority in both bodies during the upcoming session.

The bishops’ statement, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, affirms the dignity of all people, “including persons with same-sex attraction, who ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity’ ” (#2358).

At the same time, the bishops say that marriage is a “natural institution established by God” that exists only between one man and one woman, and which is “not within the power of either the Church or the State to redefine … since God is its author.”

In closing, the bishops exhort “the people of Indiana to respect and defend the dignity and equality of all persons as well as the truth about marriage, according to God’s plan and laws, with charity toward all.”

The statement was signed on Dec. 4 by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis; Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, vicar general; Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette; Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend; and Bishop Charles C. Thompson of Evansville.

Archbishop Tobin said that the bishops have been discussing the possibility of making a statement on these issues since August. He also noted that it is important that the bishops speak as one.

This statement, he said, will help all Catholics in the state avoid the extremes of either seeing the public debate about the proposed amendment as a battle or as an issue in which they should simply be guided by public polls.

“Instead, we bishops struggle to allow the great questions and concerns of our people to be illumined by the word of God and the lived experience of Christians for two millennia,” Archbishop Tobin said.

He also said that the bishops’ affirming both the dignity of all people and of marriage can be an important contribution to the upcoming public discussion.

“On the one hand, I hope that the statement serves to affirm the great esteem we afford to the institution of marriage, a way of life that is prior to the nation-state and any government,” Archbishop Tobin said. “On the other hand, we hope to reinforce the dignity of every human being, whom the Church accepts as a unique creation of our loving God.”

He also expressed his hope that the statement will encourage Catholics in Indiana to work to strengthen marriage and help them form their consciences on this topic.

“I trust that Catholics will recognize that our Church prizes the conscience of its members, but that conscience needs to be well-formed, upright and truthful so that it formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator,” Archbishop Tobin said. “Our statement hopes to aid Catholic Christians in forming their consciences, while informing all people of good will what the Church believes and teaches about marriage and human dignity.”

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference—the official public policy voice of the Church in Indiana regarding state and national matters—spoke about the possibility of HJR 6 passing both the Indiana House and Senate.

He expects the proposed state constitutional amendment will be given consideration in committees of both legislative bodies and that committee passage of it will be “likely.”

“Whether it passes the floor in both houses is yet to be seen,” said Tebbe.

Tebbe explained that no other state is currently considering a constitutional amendment related to marriage. Because of that, he said, “Indiana will be a focal point for the nation on this issue” in the coming months.

This attention, Tebbe said, will influence the debate on the proposed amendment.

“We’re going to be the eye of the storm,” he said. “And so it’s bound to have an impact. There are going to be tons of pro and con literature, ads, articles—you name it.”

There are currently 29 states that have passed constitutional amendments that define marriage as between one man and one woman. Four of those states, however, recognize either other legal unions between couples of the same sex or rights that such couples possess.

In comparison, 17 states have redefined marriage to include couples of the same sex. This change has occurred either through the courts or legislation.

Four states, including Indiana, have laws but not constitutional amendments that define marriage exclusively as being between one man and one woman.

Tebbe said that the debate on the nature of marriage has a history of raising people’s emotions and that the bishops’ statement can encourage people in Indiana to consider it calmly.

“They’re making a statement that this is a complex issue that has to be dealt with in a very thoughtful and serious manner,” Tebbe said. “It’s not an easy, knee-jerk kind of reaction. There is clearly one definition of marriage under God’s laws. There is clearly the importance of each individual being made in the image and likeness of God, and is deserving of the respect and dignity that that person embodies through that divine creation.”

He encouraged Catholics in Indiana to consider both parts of the bishops’ statement—the affirmation of the dignity of all people and the dignity of marriage.

“We have to really keep in mind both pieces,” Tebbe said. “We’re not castigating anybody. We’re not trying to discriminate against anyone. We’re upholding the dignity of marriage, what marriage is as an institution, and its value for society, to the family and the persons engaged in it.”

(For more on how the Church in the United States is working to strengthen marriage, log on to

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