Same-sex Marriage Poses Legal Problems for Churches, Faith Groups


The legalization of same-sex marriage in New York state could have troubling consequences for people of faith that extend far beyond the redefinition of marriage, an archdiocesan expert on legal matters said.

Edward Mechmann, assistant director of the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office, spoke at the “Mayday for Marriage” rally May 24 at the New York State Capitol in Albany. He told participants that the “real danger” of legalizing same-sex marriage is the effect it would have religious freedom and religious institutions.

Mechmann said it is essential for citizens to be made aware of the consequences of recognizing same-sex marriage. He is urging Catholics to get in touch with their legislators.

The bill that is now before the Legislature contains no exemptions for churches or other religious groups or organizations that do not recognize same-sex marriage. If marriage between persons of the same sex becomes legal, the Catholic Church and other religious entities and groups that do not recognize those unions as marriages could be subject to sanctions. For example, they could be denied government contracts and licenses to operate charitable agencies, Mechmann said.

“Dozens” of laws exist on the state and local level that make distinctions based on marital status, Mechmann said. None of those laws were enacted with the expectation that marriage would be redefined, and “all of them will be used against us,” he said.

Adoption agencies could be shut down if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Mechmann noted that Catholic Charities in the archdioceses of Boston and Washington, D.C., no longer offer adoption services because of the legalization of same-sex marriage, “and it’s happening right now in Illinois,” he said.

He also said that individual professionals could face sanctions.

“If you are a marriage counselor and you decide you don’t want to treat same-sex couples, you could be found guilty of discrimination or unprofessional conduct,” Mechmann said. “You could be disciplined, or lose your license.”

Licensed day-care providers could be subject to the same sanctions, he added, and so could anyone in any circumstance “where we would distinguish between a same-sex and a married couple in providing services.”

Catholic schools and other faith-based educational institutions could be affected.

“Our schools could be in trouble,” Mechmann said, “because all of our schools get state textbooks, state technology, state library aid. All of that could be stripped away from them because of our stand on this.”

Religious groups would be restricted by new regulations in hiring. Mechmann noted that the Catholic Church and other religious groups are protected by the “ministerial exemption,” which allows them to hire employees in accord with the group’s religious mission and values. If same-sex marriage becomes legal, there will no longer be an exemption for non-ministerial positions such as secretarial workers, mailroom staff and cafeteria personnel, Mechmann said. Religious groups will not be able to decline to hire persons in same-sex marriages, and will have to provide them with the same benefits given to heterosexual spouses.

This would put the church or religious group in the position of denying its beliefs and acknowledging that same-sex marriage is equivalent to traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Also speaking with CNY was Sister Veronica Mary, S.V., director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office. She said that the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is “written on our hearts.” She also noted that Pope John Paul II “wrote extensively on marriage” in the early years of his pontificate.

“He guided us to look back at the beginning, at what God intended in creating men and women, male and female,” she said. She quoted from Genesis: “Be fertile and multiply.”

“Marriage has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, for the good of the couple and the procreation and education of children,” she said.

She stressed the importance of becoming informed on the issue of same-sex marriage, and of praying about it.

“There’s a lot of confusion about this issue,” she said, “but God is not confused. He has a beautiful plan and a design for marriage, one that is life-giving, and it’s our duty to find out what that is...There are many sources that will give us clarity, including the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the writings of Pope John Paul II on marriage and family.”

As CNY went to press, the same-sex marriage initiative still lacked sufficient votes to become law, but Mechmann said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo “is lobbying people very hard.”

The rally in Albany on May 24 drew people of various religious backgrounds, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews.

Mechmann advises citizens to visit the Web site of the New York State Catholic Conference at and click on “Find Elected Officials” if they do not know who their representatives are.

“People need to talk to their representatives; call, e-mail, everything,” he said.

Information on the same-sex marriage issue also is available on the Web site of the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office at