Catholic layman takes issue with Tennessee Bishops’ stance on marriage amendment

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The former executive director of the Catholic Public Policy Commission of Tennessee and former editor of a statewide Catholic newspaper has taken issue with Tennessee three Catholic bishops for their support of the proposed Constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

"Along with a number of other Catholics, I am very disappointed that the states Catholic bishops have called for inserting discrimination into the Tennessee Constitution," said Joseph Sweat, a Nashville writer and a practicing Catholic and communicant at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. "I would urge all people of faith to follow their conscience and vote against this discriminatory amendment or, at the very least, not vote on that particular ballot question.

"This proposed amendment violates the Catechism in its assault on the dignity of gay people since marriage is really not at stake. Tennessee already has a law prohibiting same-sex marriage. It might be different if the amendment truly decided marriage."

Sweat served as Editor of the Tennessee Register, than a statewide Catholic newspaper, from the late 1960s until the mid 1970s and then help found the Catholic Public Policy Commission of Tennessee, a group which presents the Catholic Churchs position on public policy matters to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government. He served for over two decades as the commissions executive director, stepping down from that post in 1997.

"It would be one thing for the bishops to assert that the Church is not ready at this time to bless same-sex marriage," Sweat said, "but it simply runs against the grain of the loving and compassionate tenants of Christianity to come down so harshly in erecting unnecessary barriers for the possibility that in more tolerant times two human beings, who happen to be of the same gender, might make some sort of civil commitment to a monogamous and loving relationship.

"It is in the interest of society to have two persons in a loving relationship make a formal, binding commitment to that relationship. And certainly when two people do that it will do nothing whatsoever to diminish the same sort of commitment I made to my marriage when I stood before a Catholic priest."

Sweat predicted that one day in the future not only will our society allow same-sex commitments, but the Catholic Church will bless such unions, adding:

"There is an old saying that the Church always arrives 50 years late and out of breath."

Sweat, a contributing writer to the Nashville Scene, was recently elected to the National Executive Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union and serves on the state board and as a volunteer lobbyist for the ACLU of Tennessee. He has been a member of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project since its founding, serves on the Metro Nashville Emergency Communications Board and the Metro Nashville District Energy Board. He is married and the father of four grown children.

Additional resources: There has been no polling on the views of Catholics in Tennessee on the proposed marriage amendment. A recent Washington Post poll of Catholic voters in Virginia on that state’s proposed marriage amendment revealed that a majority oppose the amendment. See the results here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postpoll_101506.htm .