Ben Rosenfeld

An open letter to the archbishop


Dear Archbishop George Niederauer:

On Dec. 3, in the face of a national outcry against the passage of Proposition 8, you defended the role you played in its passage, which included giving a video interview to the pandering Web site, in which you intoned that "the successful, millennia-long model of marriage is between a man and a woman…. And the introduction of another model seems to us to go against the success of that model."

But beyond just words, you directly persuaded the Mormon Church to join the fight, which that church said it would not have done absent your encouragement. As San Francisco’s highest Catholic prelate, what you say and do matters, not only to the loving members of your flock whose lives you have disrupted, but to voters throughout the state. Now, adding insult to injury, you are crying "victim."

Please do not pretend that your own right to free expression is at stake because we are protesting your actions. No one denies that you have a constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy, just as we have the right to protest your hurtful conduct. Your statement that we should just agree to disagree over gay marriage, and stop hurling obloquies like "bigot" and "pervert" at one another, is the very essence of sanctimony. You did not agree to disagree before you acted to invade the bedrooms of consenting adults whose partnerships in no way impinge on your own rights. Your entreaty now for respectful discourse is simply a crusader’s demand for surrender and conversion.

You stated in your interview to "Societies, nations, states do not create marriage; marriage is antecedent to that … The society, the government comes along later, and is not meant to revise or redesign marriage."

What sanctimony. You have designed marriage politically in exactly the manner you pretend to eschew. If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one. Teach against it until your voice runs out. But have the ecumenical restraint not to legislate your morality. And please do not profane the sacrifices of abolitionists and civil rights activists by falsely equating their efforts to expand people’s rights with your efforts to restrict them.

You may bridle at the term "bigot," but there is no better term to describe the prejudice you tapped to help repeal the hard-fought gains of same-sex couples. Assuring yourself that you are "tolerant" does not make it so. The Catholic Church behaved ignobly in failing, until 1967, to take a firm stand in support of interracial marriage. You have advanced no argument against gay marriage that people did not also advance against interracial marriage. It pains us to have to call you — our homophobic friends, family members, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and clergy — bigots. But let the term fester in your ear until you are delivered from your bigotry — or we are.

This is not a polite debate. Nor is it a mere culture war. It is a war for fundamental rights and human dignity. We will fight until we win. And you will be left to explain once again why you were on the wrong side of history.

Ben Rosenfeld

Ben Rosenfeld is a civil rights lawyer in San Francisco.