SF Catholic Archbishop Compares Prop. 8 Supporters to Abolitionists & Civil Rights Marchers

San Francisco Catholic Archbishop George Niederauer, widely credited with drawing in the Mormon Church to the California Proposition 8 battle, issued a statement yesterday talking about his role in the Prop 8. battle that argues that’s big on the martyr complexes and short on the mea culpa‘s.

At one point, the Archbishop compares himself and Prop 8. supporters to abolitionists and civil rights activists:

“Some would say that, in light of the separation of church and state, churches should remain silent about any political matter. However, religious leaders in America have the constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy. Catholic bishops, specifically, also have a responsibility to teach the faith, and our beliefs about marriage and family are part of this faith.

Indeed, to insist that citizens be silent about their religious beliefs when they are participating in the public square is to go against the constant American political tradition. Such a gag order would have silenced many abolitionists in the nineteenth century and many civil rights advocates in the twentieth.”

The statement goes to great lengths to explain both the Church’s stance on Prop 8 and Niederauer’s support of it. He argues that the Church has every right to dip its hands into political sphere “because of their belief that the traditional understanding and definition of marriage is in need of defense and support” and takes full responsibility for inviting the LDS to get involved in California, saying:

“Last May the staff of the Conference office informed me that leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) had given their support to the campaign for Proposition 22 in the year 2000, and were already considering an involvement in connection with Proposition 8. Accordingly, I was asked to contact leaders of the LDS Church whom I had come to know during my eleven years as Bishop of Salt Lake City, to ask them to cooperate again, in this election cycle. I did write to them and they urged the members of their Church, especially those in California, to become involved.”

But Niederauer tows the line offered during the campaign that Proposition 8, designed solely to deny a specific group of people rights they already had, is not in any way a homophobic attack on the gay community and a deprivation of civil rights, saying:

“Whatever others may say, the proponents of Proposition 8 supported it as a defense of the traditional understanding and definition of marriage, not as an attack on any group, or as an attempt to deprive others of their civil rights.”

The Archbishop is looking for reconciliation and a way forward now that angry homosexuals are peacefully protesting his Church. In what would be a funny rhetorical inner monologue were it not being presented seriously by the Archbishop of San Francisco, Niederauer frets about what to do now:

“What is the way forward for all of us together? Even though we supporters of Proposition 8 did not intend to hurt or offend our opponents, still many of them, especially in the gay community, feel hurt and offended. What is to be done?

Tolerance, respect, and trust are always two-way streets, and tolerance respect and trust often do not include agreement, or even approval. We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to stop talking as if we are experts on the real motives of people with whom we have never even spoken. We need to stop hurling names like “bigot” and “pervert” at each other. And we need to stop it now.”

What is to be done? Here’s the unpleasant truth Archbishop George Niederauer needs to face: If his church has the right to interfere in the basic political civil rights of the gay and lesbian community, marriage equality advocates have every right to speak up against them. Niederauer is bothered by all the mean words being hurled around, but because his bigotry and intolerance were presented with a smiling, benevolent face makes it no less hateful or injurious. Religious leaders seem confounded by our anger, blind to the fact that in California they have successfully stripped a minority of its established civil rights.

“Now that we’ve made you second class citizens can’t we all just get along?”

Actually, no.

Archbishop George Niederauer sees himself in the same vein as abolitionists and civil rights leaders, but when the story of marriage equality is told one day in a more fair and just America, he will be remembered as a bigot and a homophobe. We may not have scriptural prophecy to tell us its so, but we know it’s the Truth.