The following editorial appeared in the Herald-Sun (Durham) on February 13, 2012, the Carrboro Citizen on February 23, 2012, and the Chapel Hill News and the Durham News on February 26, 2012 (note: the last sentence was deleted in the February 26 printings):

In the pulpit recently, Catholics were urged by a letter from the bishops of Raleigh and Charlotte “to protect traditional marriage” by voting in favor of the proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution on May 8, 2012.  The bishops stated that more information would be forthcoming, and that they wanted to “engage the debate in a manner that never diminishes the inherent dignity of any person.”   They stated that their position was “a principled one based on eternal and divine truth[.]” 

I felt a sense of sadness when I read this letter. I spent the greater part of my young life attending St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Athens, Ohio, where, growing up, I methodically marched my way through the sacraments (Baptism, Confession, Communion, and Confirmation). Sadly, however, I knew that the next step in the church – Marriage – was one that I would never be allowed to take. I was also sad because although I respect the Catholic Church and appreciate the manner in which they pledged to engage in this debate, I strongly disagree with their support of this amendment.

 I now attend a church that opposes the amendment. Like many other faith communities, my church advises that our faith calls us not to judge one another but to love one another. But my personal opposition to the amendment is further informed by my professional life, where I study principles of federalism, and state and local law and policy.  The proposed amendment seems to put little stock in the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. And yet, as evidenced by the need for churches to state their positions – both for and against the amendment – in 2012, we seem not to be able to separate church and state.  

We have no proof about how John F. Kennedy, the nation’s first and only Catholic president, would feel about this amendment that would influence the legal rights of gay and lesbian citizens.  We do, however, have his own words (from a 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association) to remind us of what he said in an era when people in this country were concerned about having a Catholic as our Commander-in-Chief, and I believe those words provide some indication as to what his opinion might be. He said: 

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. 

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. 

“…  I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equals–where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.  … That is the kind of America in which I believe. …” 

President Kennedy, this is the kind of America I believe in, too.

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