Archbishop Timothy Dolan

Timothy Dolan

October 3, 2011

WASHINGTON — The president of the U.S. bishops' conference has told President Barack Obama that his administration's fight against the Defence of Marriage Act will undermine marriage and create a serious breach of Church-state relations.

The law, known as DOMA, defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

In a Sept. 20 letter to the president, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan objected to the Obama administration equating opposition to the redefinition of marriage with "willfully ignorant racial discrimination."

He predicted the administration's actions in relation to the Defence of Marriage Act would "precipitate a national conflict between Church and state of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions."

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Dolan said the Church recognizes "the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction."

"We reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person."

But he called for dialogue with the president on the Defence of Marriage Act and the "definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman."

The administration's decision last spring not to defend DOMA in court was "problem enough, given the duty of the executive branch to enforce even laws it disfavours," he said.

But now the Justice Department "has shifted . . . to actively attacking DOMA's constitutionality."

There was no immediate response from the White House to a Sept. 22 request from Catholic News Service for comment on the archbishop's letter.

In addition to the two-page letter, Dolan sent Obama a three-page analysis prepared by staff of the bishops' conference on "recent federal threats to marriage." The analysis cited:

  • The Department of Justice's July brief in Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which argued that the Defence of Marriage Act "should be struck down as a form of sexual orientation discrimination."


  • A White House official's comments in May indicating that Obama supports imposition of a federal mandate to "ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation."
  • Moves reported in June to require all federal employees to undergo a sexual orientation "sensitivity training" program. That program describes support for DOMA as an actionable form of "heterosexism" and pressures federal employees opposed to redefining marriage "to ignore their moral and faith-based convictions," the analysis said.
  • A directive in April from the Office of Navy Chaplains requiring access to Navy chapels for same-sex wedding ceremonies. The Navy suspended the directive in May, "but did not reject it outright," the analysis said.

"The administration's efforts to change the law — in all three branches of the federal government — so that support for authentic marriage is treated as an instance of 'sexual orientation discrimination,' will threaten to spawn a wide range of legal sanctions against individuals and institutions within the Catholic community, and in many others as well," the analysis said.


"Society will suffer," it added, if religious institutions are compelled to end participation in the social service network due to their duty not to compromise on basic moral principles.

The analysis noted that Obama himself had commented on "the indispensable role of both mothers and fathers" in his 2011 proclamations for Mother's Day and Father's Day. Those comments "appeared to affirm on the president's part that neither a mom nor a dad is expendable."

Quoting from the proclamations, it said, "These stated commitments to the importance of both a mother and a father cannot be reconciled with a policy that supports adoption by same-sex couples, which are always missing either a mother or a father."

Dolan told Obama his letter "reflects the strong sentiments expressed at a recent meeting by more than 30 of my brother bishops" and shared by "hundreds of additional Catholic bishops throughout the nation."