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Bishop faces tough question on difference between interracial, same sex marriage

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During testimony in Congress yesterday, the bishop placed in charge of the U.S. bishops' new ad hoc committee for religious liberty faced a series of tough questions about when government workers should be allowed to excuse themselves from their work because of issues of conscience.

His answers seem to flesh out a little of the bishops' thinking on the subject, and how they view such large concepts as "religious liberty" and "conscience protections." At particular issue in the back and forth exchange was same sex marriage, and how one individual's opposition to it could or should be considered different from another's opposition to interracial marriage.

In testimony before the House of Representatives' subcommittee dealing with issues of constitutional rights Wednesday, Bishop William Lori said the bishops want to call congressional attention to "grave threats to religious liberty" that are "grim validations of the bishops' recognition of the need for urgent and concerted action."

Lori, head of the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese, was announced as the head of the bishops' new committee Sept. 30.

After delivering his testimony, Lori faced the repeated questioning from Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the ranking minority member of the subcommittee. A video of the exchange is available at the Judiciary Committee's website.

Relating the story of a Louisiana man who was fired from his job as a county clerk after he refused to marry an interracial couple, Nadler asked Lori if the bishop would argue the clerk has a right to refuse to perform an interracial marriage ceremony.

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After a quick back and forth exchange -- during which Lori was interrupted as he tried to say the bishops make "a very careful distinction" between same sex and interracial marriage -- the bishop said he wouldn't argue for that right for the clerk, as "marriage between people of two different races is an entirely different matter than same sex marriage."

So, Nadler continued: "The state has the right to expect its employees to enforce its law, which says that interracial couples may marry by issuing a license?"

Lori's response: "I would say that, in the case of interracial marriage, yes."

After more back and forth, Nadler asked, bluntly: "Why is that situation different from the other situation, other than someone's belief in the validity of one religious conviction and not the other?"

And a little later, asked: "But then why can't that person refuse to perform the interracial marriage if that's his belief?"

To that question, Lori gave his final answer to Nadler's questioning on the subject: The issue of same sex marriage "is different than relationship between a man and a woman who happen to be of two different races."

Nadler's sum-up of that response: "In other words, your religious belief is more valid than another. That's what you're saying."

Nadler didn't leave time for Lori to comment further, and then asked a question on a separate subject.

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