Why has Archbishop Dolan issued a public letter on the protection of marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act to President Obama at this time?

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, in his capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is responding to the recent filing of legal briefs by the Department of Justice in cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The government briefs claim that the statute is unconstitutional and results from bias.  Other recent actions by federal agencies obstructing DOMA’s enforcement also prompted the letter.  These actions include an attempt to authorize weddings between persons of the same sex on Navy bases, and a proposal to expand a workplace training program for federal employees that equates support for DOMA to racial bias.  The letter reflects the serious concerns held by many in this country about the Administration’s attacks against DOMA.  Such attacks undermine marriage, defined as the union of one man and one woman and serving as our most basic public institution. Archbishop Dolan’s public letter follows two private letters to President Obama expressing similar concerns, one by then-USCCB President Cardinal Francis George in 2010 and the other by Archbishop Dolan earlier this year.

Why is DOMA so important?

Enacted by a wide, bipartisan majority in Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, the federal DOMA requires that all federal laws and regulations continue to uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  The federal DOMA also protects state DOMAs from being overturned by the courts in lawsuits spurred by the redefinition of marriage in other states.  Promoting and protecting marriage as the union of husband and wife is essential to securing the common good, especially the good of children who have a basic right to be raised by their own married mother and father, and enforcing DOMA is essential to promoting and protecting marriage.  Overturning DOMA or obstructing its enforcement will gravely impact not only the institution of marriage but also the religious freedom of those who uphold marriage and oppose its redefinition.

What is hoped to be gained by writing the President?

The Bishops are committed to keeping the lines of communication open with the Administration and will not give up hope in achieving positive results.  The letter and the accompanying staff analysis demonstrate that the Bishops are keeping close and careful watch over federal developments regarding DOMA and marriage.  The letter also emphasizes that the Bishops are prepared to offer constructive input regardless of any difficulties in relations they might encounter.

What happens next?

That will depend very much on the President and his Administration.  The Bishops will continue to educate public officials, Catholics and the general public.  These efforts will focus on the importance to the common good of preserving DOMA.  They will also highlight the dangers of altering federal marriage policy in any manner that ignores the fundamental significance of sexual difference in our most basic public institution.