Anti-Gay Rhode Island Catholic Bishop Shows Narrow View Of Religious Liberty

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Yesterday’s issue of The Rhode Island Catholic featured a specious attack on the rights of LGBT Rhode Islanders, penned by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Providence Diocese. His “Five Problems with Homosexual ‘Marriage’ [sic]” presents a laundry list of familiar arguments against equality: we’ve always done it the other way, we mustn’t endorse immorality, a “social experiment” might have unpredictable and scary outcomes, and even considering the idea would be a divisive distraction for the legislature. The Bishop pledges that, should the Rhode Island General Assembly consider any attempt to embrace full marriage equality, his diocese will be “fully engaged in the battle.”

Tobin’s concern is odd, given that Rhode Island has already granted many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples through civil unions and the state recognizes out-of-state same-sex civil marriages. An Ocean State couple may make the short trip to neighboring Connecticut or Massachusetts for a legally-binding wedding, but cannot hold their wedding in-state.

Most ironic, though, about Tobin’s screed is his attempt to couch his opposition to legal recognition of same-sex marriages in terms of religious liberty.

The establishment of same-sex marriage will pose yet another threat to religious liberty. This fear been constantly pointed out, and indeed already realized, even before the invasive Obama HHS Contraceptive Mandate was foisted upon us, a development that confirms that the full-frontal assault on religious liberty in our nation is well underway. We’ve already seen that if you oppose same-sex marriage, even for personal or religious principles, you’ll quickly be labeled an intolerant bigot. And while proponents insist that religious communities will not be required to officiate at same-sex ceremonies, there are other impositions upon religious institutions and private citizens that have already been realized. The truth is that the homosexual lobby that seeks tolerance for itself isn’t quite as generous in extending the same courtesy to others.

Indeed another top story on the publications website quotes Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, saying “The need to defend citizens’ rights of conscience is the most critical issue before our country right now,” and that “Religious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person.”

But apparently, Tobin believes religious liberty should only apply those those who share his views. While no civil marriage law in the U.S. has ever required the Catholic Church or any other religion to marry any particular kind of couple. These include Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutherans, Unitarian Universalists, Reform Jews and many others. Tobin does not address why the state of Rhode Island should discriminate against all of these religious groups by refusing to recognize the unions they bless, following their own consciences. And, despite the bishops’ concerns, a new poll shows most Americans do not believe that religious liberty is under any attack.

If there is a case to be made that religious liberty is under assault, it is conniving rhetoric like Tobin’s leading the attack.


Rev. Gene Dyszlewkski, chair of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition in Support of Marriage Equality released a statement condemning Tobin’s remarks, noting “I don’t pretend to be an expert in Catholic dogma, but I’m a Christian, and proud of it. In my faith, we adhere to Jesus’ command to love, as I have loved you. I think Bishop Tobin would do well to remember that. These continued attacks on our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters only further perpetuate the notion that some religious leaders are out of touch with members of their faith. No Christian I know believes in discrimination.”

Share Update