Love to attend your wedding, but God said no

Leaders of Rhode Islanders United for Marriage clasp hands after vote to pass a gay marriage bill at the State House in Providence on Thursday.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

It’s not surprising that the leading Roman Catholic churchman in Rhode Island is disappointed that the state has legalized same-sex marriage. But in reacting to what he called “this immoral and unnecessary proposition,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence seemed to up the ante by warning Catholics not to attend the same-sex weddings of friends and relatives.

Tobin wrote 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.”


This prompted a nice rejoinder from Mark Silk of Trinity College, one of my favorite commentators on religion. “Of course,” Silk wrote, “it can also cause scandal when you disrespect your neighbors’ customs and mores.”

TIMELINE: Gay marriage chronology

“Scandal” is a term of art in Catholic parlance and refers to the importance of not undermining the morale of the faithful. In my parents’ generation, Catholics were discouraged from attending weddings and funerals at Protestant churches because that might give rise to scandal, not in the general community but among Catholics. (Fear of “scandalizing the faithful” also led bishops to cover up allegations of sexual abuse by priests.)

But if a Catholic risks “scandal” by attending a same-sex wedding, should he or she also refuse a dinner invitation from a same-sex couple? Maybe it also would scandalize the faithful to allow your children to play with Heather who has two mommies?

Where would the shaming end?


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