Updated Jan. 1, 4:55 p.m.
Just over a year after Chicago Cardinal Francis George made controversial comments comparing the city’s Gay Pride Parade to a Ku Klux Klan demonstration, the head of the local Roman Catholic Church has again advocated against the gay and lesbian community — this time on the topic of gay marriage.
In a letter to priests, George urged Catholics to oppose recent efforts to pass a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.
“Civil laws that establish ‘same sex marriage’ create a legal fiction,” George wrote, “The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible.”
In addition, George explained gay and lesbian marriages break away from what nature intends for the creation of families in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune.
“Marriage comes to us from nature,” George told the paper. “That’s based on the complementarity of the two sexes in such a way that the love of a man and a woman joined in a marital union is open to life, and that’s how families are created and society goes along. … It’s not in our doctrine. It’s not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of reason and understanding the way nature operates.”
George’s comments come days before the lame duck session begins in the Illinois General Assembly, when lawmakers are widely expected — if not poised — to vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, a bill that would legalize gay and lesbian nuptials.
Chief sponsors of the bill Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) announced earlier this month they are close to securing enough support among their colleagues to successfully pass the bill and that it would likely come up for vote before the new class of lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 9.
The bill needs at least 30 votes in the Senate and at least 60 votes in the House before it can reach the desk of Governor Pat Quinn, who said he would sign it into law and urged the legislators to lend their support with yes votes. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon is also lobbying for the bill, alongside ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Despite the anti-gay marriage sentiments coming from the top of the local Catholic Church, a majority of Illinois Catholics support same-sex unions, according to a poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University released in late September.
Eighty-one percent of Catholics surveyed support either full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples or the right to a civil union. Specifically, 39.9 percent said they support marriage rights and 40.1 percent said their position is for same-sex couples to have civil unions. Only 15.7 percent said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships, according to the poll.
The same poll found that 43.6 percent of Illinois voters support full marriage equality for gays and lesbians, putting the Catholic community’s support just below the amount of support from the state in general.
“I think the numbers show striking shifts in public opinion,” said Harris at the time of the poll’s release. “The data shows that this is not undecided voters making up their minds, but rather previous opponents shifting their positions on long held beliefs.”
The cardinal’s comments also break away from much of the religious community as a whole in light of a letter to state lawmakers signed by over 260 religious and faith leaders, in which they ask for support for the bill because its the fair, just and compassionate thing to do.
“Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples,” the clergy wrote. “There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The letter also highlighted a provision in the bill that allows religious institutions to opt out and refuse to officiate same-sex marriages in the event they object to them.
“Some recognize and bless same-sex unions, and some do not. The important thing is that the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act protects religious freedom and guarantees that all faiths will decide which marriages should be consecrated and solemnized within their tradition,” wrote the faith leaders.
Rick Garcia, a longtime LGBT rights activist, policy director at The Civil Rights Agenda and a Roman Catholic, said George’s comments are simply part of traditional Roman Catholic teaching, but that the cardinal is unfairly selective about what teachings he highlights.
“His position on gay marriage, gay rights and gay people is not based as much on catholic teaching as it is on bigotry,” Garcia said. “I would not make that suggestion if the cardinal was not equally adamant against Walgreens selling birth control or the county dissolving marriages — or performing second marriages. If he gave all those issues equal weight, I wouldn’t speak so strongly about this.”
Catholic bishops such as George no longer have any credibility among the general public and no moral authority, he said.
“That saddens me because the Church’s teachings on so many other issues are important for the general public to hear,” he said. “Because the bishops can’t take their heads out of gay peoples’ crotches to look at the bigger picture. They are obsessed with gay peoples’ crotches and what they do with them.”
Garcia also noted that George’s comments about the same-sex marriage bill will likely not have an effect on its passage, given the local Catholic Church’s track record on lobbying against LGBT policies.
“They fought the city’s gay rights ordinance, they fought state’s human right’s law, they fought civil unions … and they lost and they lost and they lost,” Garcia said.
And although the bill has received an outpouring of support from the faith community, high-ranking elected officials and even President Obama, a coalition of religious organizations is actively lobbying against the bill, including the Concerned Christian Americans, the Illinois Family Institute and Catholic Citizens of Illinois.
The Archdiocese of Chicago and George’s press representative could not be reached for additional comments.