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WASHINGTON LETTER Oct-15-2004 (980 words) Backgrounder. xxxn

Defining marriage top ballot issue, but others interest Catholics too

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With proposed state constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman on the ballot in at least 11 states Nov. 2, same-sex marriage clearly tops the list of ballot issues of interest to Catholic voters this fall.

In their support for those proposals, Catholic leaders have expressed themes similar to those stated by the Ohio bishops in an Oct. 5 statement. "Marriage did not originate from either the church or state, but from God," they said. "Therefore, we believe, neither church nor state ought to alter the nature and structure of marriage."

In Michigan, where the Catholic Church has given an estimated $500,000 to the Citizens for the Protection of Marriage campaign, the bishops said in an Oct. 15 statement that "the values of marriage, family and children are at stake" in the state's proposed Marriage Protection Amendment.

In addition to Ohio and Michigan, amendments related to same-sex marriage are on the ballot in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. Voters in Missouri (in August) and Louisiana (in September) have already approved similar proposals this year. However, a judge Oct. 5 threw out Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban, saying it was unconstitutional.

There are 157 measures on ballots in 32 states in all, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, and many of them have prompted calls for support or opposition from bishops and other Catholic leaders.

In Arizona, for example, the bishops of the Dioceses of Phoenix, Tucson and Gallup, N.M., which includes northeastern Arizona, spoke out against Proposition 200. It would require anyone registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship and oblige state workers to verify that anyone seeking welfare benefits was not in the United States illegally.

"While Proposition 200 does nothing to control our borders or solve the complex immigration problems in our state, it will potentially make criminals out of well-meaning government workers and deny basic rights to undocumented immigrants," the bishops said. "Consequently, we believe that such legislation is bad public policy."

In California, which leads the nation with 16 initiatives on the November ballot, the hot-button issue is embryonic stem-cell research. The state's Proposition 71 would establish a constitutional right for scientists to pursue such research and fund it to the tune of $3 billion.

"We are not opposed to stem-cell research," the California Catholic Conference, representing all the state's bishops, said in a statement strongly opposing Proposition 71. "We approve and encourage research that uses cells derived from adults and umbilical-cord blood, and we rejoice at the phenomenal cures that some have experienced because of that research."

In addition to citing the moral problems posed by the destruction of embryos for stem-cell research, the bishops called it "socially unjust to launch a $3 billion new state bureaucracy when vital programs for health, education, police and fire services are being cut."

The conference expressed support for Proposition 66, which would limit the state's "three strikes" law to certain violent and/or serious felonies. "The causes of crime are complicated and simplistic sentencing solutions are not an adequate answer," the bishops said. "We pledge to work with others to protect public safety, to promote the common good and to restore community. In our considered judgment ... (Proposition 66) can be a step in that direction."

Catholic Charities of California also has called for passage of Proposition 63, which would impose an additional 1 percent tax on personal income above $1 million to expand funding of mental health services in the state, and urged defeat of two proposals that would expand casino gambling in the state.

Catholic health care leaders in the state have backed Proposition 72, which would require employers in large and medium-size companies to pay 80 percent of the cost of health insurance for their workers.

The Florida bishops also are opposing the expansion of gambling, saying that a proposal to amend the state Constitution to allow slot machines could have "long-range implications ... for the quality of life of all of the citizens of our state."

But the bishops have called on Florida Catholics to approve Amendment 1, which would permit the Legislature to pass legislation requiring notification of at least one parent before a minor's abortion. "Young women who are considering an abortion should have the benefit of the wisdom and guidance of their parents when making this life-changing decision," the bishops said.

In Maine, Bishop Richard J. Malone of Portland wrote to Catholics about "perplexing and confusing" questions posed by state's tax cap proposal but did not make a specific recommendation.

He urged voters to ask themselves whether the tax cap would "redress taxation inequalities in such a way that a common good will be better met or will it lead to further inequalities," noting that Catholics "are called to place the needs of others above our own. To place our own selfish interest above the needs of those less fortunate violates justice."

In South Dakota, voters were to consider a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to authorize participation in school transportation and food services by children who attend parochial and private schools.

The amendment, if passed, would allow the long-time cooperation between the public schools and religious and private schools in the state to continue, according to Nancy Swenson of South Dakota Families for Equality in Education.

In some areas, parochial and Christian school students are allowed to ride on public school buses to and from school. One school district in the state refused to continue the practice because of an insurance flap, even after the matter was resolved.

In Oregon, the Catholic bishops recommended defeat of Measure 33, which would expand access to medical marijuana in the state, but did not issue any statement on the issue.


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