New York gay marriage bill delays continue as Republican senators
decide whether to hold a vote. One of the variables they are likely
considering: the considerable influence Catholics and the Catholic
Church have in state politics.
Groups on both sides of the drawn-out debate over the New York
gay marriage bill have used moral and religious language to appeal
to lawmakers. But one religious group - the Roman Catholic Church -
exerts an especially strong pull on the state legislature's moral
Nearly 40 percent of New York voters are Catholic, according to
public opinion surveys and voter exit polls, and "the church
hierarchy has always been a presence at the state Capitol," says
Jeffrey Stonecash, a political scientist at the Maxwell School of
Syracuse University in New York.
But as the Senate's Republican majority on Friday continues its
closed-door debates over whether to bring the same-sex marriage bill
to the floor, one of the variables it must consider is whether to
heed the advice of the Catholic Church or of Catholic voters.
Opinion polls point to a split between the Catholic hierarchy and
lay Catholics over the issues of homosexuality and gay marriage,
complicating matters for conservative lawmakers attempting to get a
bead on the attitudes of an important constituency.
"They're trying to decide: Does the Catholic Church really have
that much sway over their members anymore?" says Mr. Stonecash.
More to the point, he adds, lawmakers wonder: "Can they really
have an impact on my election?"
Along those lines, one major cause of the bill's holdup has been
concern about language in the bill that would exempt religious
groups from performing or hosting gay marriages. Several GOP
senators want to expand the exemptions to protect religious-
affiliated groups, such as the social service organization, Catholic
The Catholic Church itself has been vocal in its opposition to
"We've been urging Catholics across the state to call and e-mail
[their representatives] to express their opinion that the state
should not be redefining marriage," says Dennis Poust, a spokesman
for the New York State Catholic Conference.
Mr. Poust says nearly 65,000 New York Catholics receive the
group's e-mail newsletter, which lists the e-mail addresses and
phone numbers of key legislators. Conference lobbyists have also met
with Senators - both Democrats and Republicans - repeatedly in
recent weeks to argue against the bill.
Moreover, the state's Catholic leader, Archbishop Timothy Dolan,
has used his pulpit - both the actual pulpit and his personal blog -
to loudly protest the "perilous presumption of the state to
reinvent" traditional marriage, which he says is "hardwired into our
human reason." He emphasized that the church is anti-gay marriage,
but pro-gay individual rights.
Difference of opinion
But his exhortations do not necessarily reflect those of American
Catholics in general or New York Catholics in particular, polls
"Really across the board on questions about gay and lesbian
rights, Catholics tend to be more supportive than the general
population," says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research
For example, a Pew Research Center poll in May found that 64
percent of US Catholics say homosexuality should be accepted by
society, compared with 58 percent of the general population. …