CommunityPam's House Blend

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain Drops the Pretense, Calls for Special Rights for Heterosexuals

Opponents of lifting bans on access to civil marriage licenses for same-sex couples frequently claim that lifting those bans somehow amounts to “special rights” for same-sex couples. For example, Gary Randall, a retired televangelist from Oregon with a long history of opposing civil rights for Washington’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents, makes frequent statements like this:

In fact, what is being sought through the passage of the “redefining marriage” law is not “marriage equality,” it is “special rights.”

Such claims are disingenuous since restricting access to civil marriage licenses to heterosexual couples is the very definition of “special rights.” Presumably, opponents of civil equality like Randall make these disingenuous assertions because they don’t want to admit that they are defending discriminatory laws.

In contrast, Washington’s Catholic bishops have long expressed the opinion that discrimination against same-sex couples seeking access to civil marriage or even second-class domestic partnerships is justified. Their justification revolves around the baseless assertion that heterosexual couples will cease to produce children or will not rear them responsibly if same-sex couples obtain civil marriage licenses.

It wasn’t until this year, however, that Washington’s bishops went the final mile and are, for the first time, openly calling for special rights for heterosexuals. The following statement was first presented in a January 2012 open letter signed by Washington’s four bishops (more on the letter here) and later read verbatim by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain during his testimony before the Washington state Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee.

Were the definition of marriage to change, there would be no special laws to support and recognize the irreplaceable contribution that these [heterosexual] married couples make to society and to the common good by bringing to life the next generation. 

The thing of it is, the special rights for heterosexuals that Washington’s bishops and other opponents of civil marriage equality are calling for don’t bolster heterosexual couples’ willingness to have children or their ability to responsibly rear their children (if they have any).

The real effect of barring access to civil marriage for same-sex couples is that it undermines family security and stability for same-sex couples and their children. But perhaps most tragically, it sends a direct message to the children of same-sex couples that they aren’t worthy of society’s full embrace.

With those ugly effects, it is perhaps not surprising that most of those who oppose lifting Washington’s ban on access to civil marriage licenses for same-sex couples refuse to admit that they are defending special rights for heterosexuals. What’s shocking is that the bishops do.


  • Washington’s Catholic Hierarchy Attempts a Secular Argument Against Marriage Equality
  • Washington’s Bishops: Repealing Domestic Partnerships is “Justified Discrimination”
  • “Redefine Marriage” is a False Catchphrase
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