Trying to Repeal Marriage Equality Laws in Maryland and Washington State

April 2, 2012

Maryland and Washington State both recently legalized marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples. In both states, the laws were signed by governors who are Catholics. However, both states now are experiencing campaigns to repeal these two laws through voter referendums.  In both states, the Catholic hierarchy is heavily involved in collecting signatures to put the repeal of these laws on the ballot.

According to a local television station (WJLA) report in Maryland:

“The [Maryland]Catholic Conference and the Maryland Family Alliance are leading the effort to get the 56,000 signatures needed to take same sex marriage to a ballot referendum.”

What makes this news even more disturbing is that meetings to train people to lead the campaign were not open to the public:

“At a Hyattsville [Maryland] Catholic Church, the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Catholic Conference are hosting what will be one of at least 25 training sessions for volunteers—most of which will be done behind closed doors.”

Why the secrecy?  If the Maryland Catholic Conference believes that what it is doing is right, why aren’t they allowing the public to be part of the process?  Why aren’t they allowing the press to witness their deliberations?

In Washington State, bishops allowing parishes to collect signatures after Sunday Masse for that state’s anti-marriage equality referendum.  In a letter to Catholics, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle stated:

“Because we believe that this issue is critically important, we support Referendum 74 and have approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months. Your pastors have received from us information regarding the signature drive, and we requested that they not collect signatures on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. After Easter, signatures may be gathered on Referendum 74.”

If the archbishop believes that this signature-collecting effort is the right thing to do, then why not allow it to happen on Palm Sunday and Easter?  If the effort is a good one, it should be proper to do on any Sunday.

According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post, Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Washington, is also allowing signatures to be collected at parishes.  The blog post quotes a letter from the bishop on the diocesan website:

“We will . . . provide every opportunity for parishes throughout our state to participate in gathering signatures for Referendum 74 in order to place it before voters in November.

“Should the referendum qualify for the ballot, parishes also may support the referendum to overturn the law.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference has made petitions to repeal the law available on their website.  The petitions are produced by an organization named “Preserve Marriage Washington” which is identified on the Catholic Conference website as “an entity created by the National Organization for Marriage.”

Referendum campaigns are won or lost depending on which side is more capable of turning out the vote.  These incidents illustrate how the Catholic hierarchy has a strong advantage because of the huge communications infrastructure they have with parishes.   Marriage equality supporters will have to find creative ways of getting their message of equality and justice to what we know is the overwhelming majority of Catholics who want to protect marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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