Catholics Support Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill in Maryland

February 7, 2014

Catholics were among those who spoke out in favor of a Maryland Senate bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit throughout the state. The bill, designated as SB212 and named the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act,” is more commonly referred to as the “transgender anti-discrimination bill.”  In addition to Catholic lawmakers, Catholic advocates from the National Coalition of American Nuns and New Ways Ministry were also at the Annapolis hearing to support the bill.

Delegate Heather Mizeur testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Michael Key/Washington Blade.

According to The Washington Blade, the bill was introduced by State Senator Rich Madaleno.  Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who successfully campaigned to pass marriage equality in the state in 2012, submitted written testimony to support the bill.  Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a gubernatorial candidate, was present to testify for the bill.  The Blade reported:

“Heather Mizeur pointed out during her testimony that the Baltimore County Council passed a trans rights bill after two teenagers attacked Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s in 2011.

“ ‘This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,’ said Mizeur. ‘Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.’ ”

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, also a Catholic, submitted written testimony in favor of the proposed law.

The Blade also noted the presence of representatives of two national Catholic organizations:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns, also testified in support of SB 212.

“ ‘We need to incorporate the vulnerable members of our society into our laws and our customs,’ said Gramick.

The complete texts of DeBernardo’s and Gramick’s testimony can be read below.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, representing the bishops of the state, did not send a representative to testify, but submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill.  The Blade  quoted from their testimony:

“ ‘The church firmly opposes undue harassment or discrimination against any person,’ said the group. ‘That principle does not, however, warrant creating a new class of protected individuals in the state’s anti-discrimination statute, especially when the extension of the law would presumably apply to only a small number of individuals.’ “

TESTIMONY OF FRANCIS DeBERNARDO,

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW WAYS MINISTRY

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Good afternoon.  My name is Francis DeBernardo, and I serve as Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry that attempts to build bridges of justice and reconciliation between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the Catholic Church.  Our offices are in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and we represent the majority of Catholics in the U.S. who support equality for transgender people.  Therefore, I am here today to support the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, SB212.

It is important to recognize that Catholics support equality for transgender people because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it.  Our Catholic faith compels us to promote the human dignity of all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Our faith tells us that we must support transgender people not only because of their inherent human dignity, but because they are a vulnerable population.  They experience a shocking amount of discrimination, and violence.  This bill would send a powerful message that we in this state do not support such discrimination and do not support the denial of basic human rights.

Sometimes the transgender experience is compared to the gay and lesbian experience, and there is good reason to do so.  In Catholic thought, however, while there is much official teaching on gay and lesbian issues, there is none on transgender topics.   So while you may be aware of criticsm of lesbian and gay issues coming from church officials, please remember that no such body of statements exists for transgender people. It is not the same issue.

While in past decades, the Vatican and the pope have issued harsh statements on issues dealing with sexual and gender minorities, Pope Francis has ushered in a new openness and dialogue in regard to sexual and gender minorities. His many public statements reveal that gender and sexuality should not be the defining characteristics of a human person, and that all people need to be respected.

Though he has said nothing explicitly on gender identity issues, we do have a precedent from Pope Francis that we must pay attention to.  At the end of December 2013, a transgender woman in Rome was beaten and killed.  Her family would not claim her body for burial.  Yet Pope Francis’ Jesuit Catholic parish church in Rome did provide funeral services for this woman who was so terribly mistreated.  This action speaks volumes about the Catholic  support for non-discrimination coming from the highest level of the church.

Can the state of Maryland do any less?  Can’t we build a community where transgender people will be respected and valued as equals so that they do not experience the terrible fate that this Roman woman did?  Though Catholics support transgender equality from a faith perspective, it is a perspective which is rooted in an idea that is basic to the American way of life:  that ALL people are created equal.

I urge you to vote for the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.  Thank you.

TESTIMONY OF SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK

EXECUTIVE COORDINATOR, NATIONAL COALITION OF AMERICAN NUNS

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

I have been a Roman Catholic nun for more than 50 years. I reside in Prince Georges County. I taught in Baltimore in grade and high schools and at Notre Dame of Maryland University. I have worked for the poor and marginalized, and have served in a pastoral ministry of advocating for justice for LGBT persons for many decades. I serve as a National Coordinator for the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

I speak here today as a person of faith and on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns, who support the human rights of all people. 

My Church, the Catholic Church, has a large body of social justice teaching. It is based on the conviction that all persons, including transgender persons, are created by God with an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of one’s actions, appearance, or any circumstances in one’s life. Because we all share in a common humanity, all persons must be accorded equal respect and dignity.

Catholic social teaching does not single out transgender people, but it does emphasize commitment to the poor and marginalized. In his apostolic exhortation, The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis said that we must have “concern for the vulnerable” and those who are “increasingly isolated.” Pope Francis noted the need to create “new forms of cultural synthesis” (par. 209-216). That is, we need to incorporate these vulnerable individuals into the fabric of our social laws and customs.

All persons, including transgender persons, need to feel welcome in our social institutions. There is no room for discrimination in securing a job or a place to live, merely because of one’s gender identity. And there is no room for being harassed, or treated unfairly, in other public places, merely because of one’s gender identity. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. Catholics (93%, in fact) believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others.*

I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to ask the state of Maryland to support SB 212, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thank you.

* http://publicreligion.org/research/2011/11/american-attitudes-towards-transgender-people/

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Communities Featured Prominently in Two Pride Parades

June 22, 2013

PrideAround the globe, June is traditionally celebrated as Pride month in the LGBT community.  It is common for cities, large and small, to host parades, festivals, and other events to acknowledge the contributions of LGBT people and to let folks know about the supportive resources and organizations within the local community.

LGBT-friendly religious groups also take part in Pride celebrations, though having a Catholic presence in these events is a rare occurrence.  Sometimes the presence of a Catholic group sparks controversy, as happened last week in Portland, Oregon, when a St. Andrew Parish marched in the city’s Pride parade, even though their archbishop told them not to do so.

On the east coast of the U.S., another Catholic parish also marched in its city’s Pride parade:  St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, Maryland.  The parish’s LGBT ministry was lauded by the LGBT community for their presence and leadership.  The More Light Presbyterians website had these accolades for their Catholic friends:

When the Gay Pride parade kicked off in Baltimore on June 15, a number of faith communities were present – and Presbyterians were an important part of the event.  Faith Presbyterian – one of the organizers of the effort – and Brown Memorial Park Avenue– were proudly marching behind the banner, FAITH COMMUNITIES OF BALTIMORE with PRIDE – as was First & St. Stephens United Church of Christ.  But the largest number came

St. Matthew's contingent in  Baltimore's Pride Parade

St. Matthew’s contingent in Baltimore’s Pride Parade

from St. Matthews Roman Catholic church – the real instigator of the effort.  Long before we started actively recruiting walkers, St. Matthews had paid all the entry fees (Faith paid for the banner)!  Their goal was to have 100 walkers – I think the final number was 115!  Their enthusiasm was contagious as we planned the event.  Their LEAD ministries – their program to welcome LGBTQ’s – is an important part of the life at St. Matthews – and fits well with Faith’s participation in MORE LIGHT Presbyterians.  Faith and St. Matthews are long-time friends – both are active participants in the events of the Loch Raven (Blvd) Ministerium.  In fact the two churches are planning to do anti-bullying workshops together in the fall.  And we’re already talking about Gay Pride 2014!

Dignity/Washington's contingent in the Capital Pride Parade

Dignity/Washington’s contingent in the Capital Pride Parade

In nearby Washington, DC,  another Catholic community was also celebrated in their city’s Capital Pride Festival.    Dignity/Washington, which marked 40 years of service last year, received the Festival’s “Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride.”   The  Capital Pride Festival’s website details Dignity/Washington’s many contributions to the local community, particularly their contributions to Pride celebrations:

“Dignity/Washington has participated in every LGBT March on Washington. Dignity/Washington was one of the earliest organizations to take part in the local Pride celebrations and has been a Capital Pride participant for over three decades.  Dignity/Washington became a Capital Pride Community Partner in 2007, even before the Capital Pride Alliance came into existence.  In 2008, Dignity/Washington was one of the organizations that supported the decision to award the Capital Pride Alliance the right to produce the celebration.  Dignity/Washington donated free space at the Dignity Center to the Capital Pride Alliance in the first few years after the Alliance came into existence. “

Heather Mizeur

Heather Mizeur

At their Pride liturgy, Dignity/Washington hosted Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is considering a run to become the state’s governor.    Mizeur was instrumental in getting Maryland’s marriage equality law passed.

Congratulations to both St. Matthew Parish and Dignity/Washington for being recognized for their wonderful and important contributions!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Will Maryland Have a Catholic Lesbian Governor?

November 16, 2012

Heather Mizeur (right) poses with her wife, Deborah Mizeur (left) in their Maryland home.

Heather Mizeur, Maryland’s only Catholic lesbian Delegate, is considering running for governor of this state which just affirmed the marriage equality law that she worked so hard to pass.

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Blade, a gay publication, Mizeur discussed her thoughts about a 2014 run:

“I’m taking a very serious look at it. I can’t say for sure what 2014 is going to bring but … I know that I would make a good chief executive. I have good ideas for keeping Maryland moving forward.”

The Blade article also commented on the historical significance of such a possibility:

“A run by Mizeur would mark another key milestone in the LGBT rights movement. If successful, she would be the first to win election as an openly gay candidate for governor in the country.”

The recent elections, she stated, are what have moved her to state her hopes publicly:

“ ‘Right now we’re taking stock of what happened in the last election,’ she said. ‘It was incredible to see a big win with Tammy Baldwin being elected the first openly gay senator and Kyrsten Sinema making history in Congress. It really has inspired us to keep pushing forward. So, yes, I’m seriously considering running for governor because we need more diverse voices at that level of government.’ ”

Mizeur was instrumental in helping to get the marriage equality law introduced and passed, as well as affirmed by referendum.  She has been particularly influential with Catholic audiences, having spoken at New Ways Ministry’s marriage equality conference day in 2011, as well as having written a testimonial for the book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach.
Additionally, she engaged in a Catholic vs. Catholic debate on the marriage equality law with another Maryland delegate.  Bondings 2.0 reported on this debate and the post can be viewed here.

She frequently speaks about how her Catholic faith inspires her public service work.  The Blade article noted:

“Mizeur talks openly about her Catholic faith but said she did not encounter any anti-gay sermons over the marriage issue this year because she goes to parishes run by Jesuits who are more progressive. Despite the Catholic Church’s prominent role in funding anti-gay causes around the country, Mizeur contends it’s important not to abandon the church.

“ ‘We have to fight for change from within,’ she said. ‘If all progressive Catholics left, there’d be no reason to live up to the church’s potential.’

“Mizeur was raised in a tiny farming community in rural Illinois called Blue Mound, population 1,100. She’s from a fifth generation farming family, but her father was a factory worker and UAW member his entire career. She spent time with him on picket lines, which helped inspire her pursuit of public service.

“The experience of walking picket lines “taught me the value of sacrifice and hard work and standing up for the courage of your convictions,” she said. “Catholic teachings on social justice also inspired me.”

In July of this year, The National Catholic Reporter identified Mizeur as one of  “12 Catholic Women Under 40 Making a Difference.”

Maryland became one of the first states which voted in marriage equality by a referendum.  Will it also become the first state with not only a lesbian governor, but a Catholic lesbian governor?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Says: “Vote FOR Marriage Equality!”

October 3, 2012

New Ways Ministry‘s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, has been busy across the nation working for marriage equality and LGBT equality.

In Maryland this past week, Sister Jeannine spoke at a Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland community forum, where participants gathered to discuss ways to mobilize the Catholic vote FOR marriage equality in the upcoming referendum in that state.   At the end of her talk, Sister Jeannine waved a lawn sign which she has in front of her home:

Sister Jeannine Gramick sends a message to Maryland’s Catholics

Earlier in September, Sister Jeannine was part of a weekend-long program in Phoenix, Arizona, entitled “Faith in the Voting Box,” sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program.  Sister Jeannine was joined by other LGBT-equality religious leaders, including Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church.

Sister Jeannine will be a featured speaker at another Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland community forum on Saturday, October 6, 2012, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Montgomery County Executive Office Building Auditorium, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville, Maryland, 20850.  Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur will be the keynote speaker.  For more information, click here or contact New Ways Ministry, 301-277-5674, info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Maryland Catholics–Including the Governor–Show Their Support For Marriage Equality

September 15, 2012

Catholics in Maryland will have two opportunities to learn how to show support for marriage equality as the debate about that state’s upcoming referendum begins to heat up.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland is hosting two community forums to help people learn more about the upcoming ballot initiative and to discuss ways that they can get Catholic supporters to the polls in November.  Details about both events can be read below.

Maryland passed a marriage equality bill in February, and it was signed into law on March 1st by Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic.  Opponents collected enough signatures to put the bill’s future up to a referendum this fall.

Photo of Governor Martin O’Malley by Michael Key, The Washington Blade

O’Malley spoke at a fundraiser for Maryland campaign for marriage equality, where he cited his Catholic heritage to support the issue.  His remarks were quoted in The Advocate:

” ‘There is a deep strain in Catholic thought since Thomas Aquinas of Catholic responsibility to contribute to the common good, and the common good is a pluralistic good,’ he said. ‘It is a combination of many, many different faiths and many different people coming together, but the bedrock belief, I believe, of all Catholics who are involved in the civic life of their community is a belief in the dignity of every individual, and so it doesn’t surprise me that Catholic public servants would discern that.’ ”

Maryland’s marriage equality supporters are being encouraged to vote FOR question #6 at the polls in November.

In an interview with WFMD radio, Francis DeBernardo, a coalition member, explained the role of Catholics in this issue:

” ‘There’s a strong majority of Catholics across the country, polls have showing,  are in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples,’ says Francis DeBernardo with the group.

“DeBernardo says these Catholics support it because of their faith, not despite it. ‘They favor it because they favor equality and fairness for people. They favor it because their Catholic social teaching has taught them to respect the dignity of every individual, and work for justice for those individuals,’ he says.”

DeBernardo answered questions concerning civil unions and religious exemptions:

“During the debate over the bill [in the springtime], opponents expressed concerns that it would lead to requirements that all churches and religious institutions, even those which oppose marriage for gays and lesbians, perform weddings for same-sex couples. But DeBernardo says that’s not correct. “‘The law that was passed in the spring, and the referendum question that’s being proposed for November, both protect the rights of religious institutions to decide who they want to marry,’ he says.”

“Instead of marriage, some states have civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. But DeBernardo says they don’t offer the same legal protections for a couple as marriage. ‘We don’t think that we should separate one group of people into  a separate category with  separate laws,’ says DeBernardo.”

Both forums will feature New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

Barbara Johnson

The first forum also features Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who this past winter was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass in Maryland.

The first event will be held:

 Saturday, September 29, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Greenbelt Community Church
Crescent Road and Hillside Road
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770

Heather Mizeur

The second forum features Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a Maryland State Delegate.

The second event will be held:

 Saturday, October 6, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Montgomery County Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Participants can pre-register by emailing: info@NewWaysMinistry.org   or calling: 301-277-5674.  Registrations will also be taken at the door.  Both events are free.

Suggested Reading before the events:  Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, available as a free PDF by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics for Marriage Equality Events in Three Separate States

August 15, 2012

 

In the fall of this year, four states across the nation–Minnesota, Washington State, Maryland, Maine–voters will participate in ballot initiatives concerning marriage equality this fall.  Catholic voters will play a key role in each of these contests.

Catholics supportive of marriage equality initiatives–which we know is the majority of Catholics–can participate in several upcoming events in three of those individual states:  Minnesota, Washington State, Maryland.

MINNESOTA

Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota is sponsoring a gathering on Wednesday evening, August 15, 2012, 7:00-8:30 pm to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption and to inspire Catholics to speak the primacy of their conscience.   The gathering will take place in Loring Park, 1382 Willow St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403. The event will premiere a music video in which over 300 Catholics and friends sing a “For All the Children,” a hymn of love and inclusivity written by David Lohman.   More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page. (DignityUSA is a partner for this event.)
WASHINGTON STATE

Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, and Francis DeBernardo, executive director, will be speaking at two separate events to promote Catholic support for marriage equality.

The first event will be held on Tuesday, August 21, 2012,  7:00-9:00 pm, The United Churches of Olympia, 110 – 11th Avenue SE, Olympia, Washington, 98501.  This event is co-sponsored by Call To Action–Western Washington and The United Churches of Olympia.
The second event , sponsored by Call To Action–Western Washington, will be held on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 7:00-8:30 pm,  St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (Bloedel Hall), 1245 10th Avenue East,  Seattle, Washington 98102.  Washington State Senator Ed Murray, a Catholic will join them at this  event.
Complimentary copies of New Ways Ministry’s book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, will be available at each event.
MARYLAND

Heather Mizeur

Catholics for Marriage Equality–Maryland is sponsoring a voter education program and two community forums.

The voter education program will take place on Sunday, August 26, 2012, St. Matthew Parish, 6:00-8:00 pm, 5401 Loch Raven Boulevard  Baltimore, Maryland 21239. Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic, is a speaker at this event.
The first community forum will be held Saturday, September 29, 2012, 10:00 am-1:00 pm, Greenbelt Community Church, corner of Crescent and Hillside Roads, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770.
The second community forum will be held Saturday, October 6, 2012, 10:00 am-1:00 pm, Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Greenbelt, Maryland 2085o.  Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic, is the featured speaker at this event.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
 

 


Lesbian Heather Mizeur Makes List of ‘Catholic Women Making a Difference’

July 4, 2012

Heather Mizeur

The National Catholic Reporter has profiled “12 Catholic women under 40 making a difference.”   Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, an openly lesbian woman, has made the list.  Here’s what the article had to say about her:

“Even at a young age, Heather Mizeur knew that she wanted to serve others. She now serves as a delegate representing the 20th legislative district in the Maryland General Assembly, a position she’s held since 2007.

“She has a passion for service, connected to her love for Christ and the social justice teachings of the church. As a teenager, she was respected by elders and given leadership roles as a eucharistic minister and lector, chair of the Altar and Rosary Society, and member of the parish council. She keeps a commitment to the Catholic beliefs of love, peace and social justice.

“As a delegate, she has helped extend health coverage to thousands of low-income women and children, amputees and young adults. She has been a leading proponent to repeal Maryland’s death penalty and improve transitions for the incarcerated. Mizeur, herself a lesbian, was a leader in the debate over same-sex marriage in Maryland. In March, the bill to legalize same-sex marriage passed. For four years Mizeur was the domestic policy director for Sen. John Kerry, during which time she was the principal architect of his 2004 presidential campaign’s health care reform agenda.

“Media such as The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Nation and NPR have profiled her work.

“ ‘Build a church with open doors, not folded arms,’ she says. ‘A church as enlightened as its Creator. A church whose greatest commandment is to love thy neighbor as thyself.’ ”

We at New Ways Ministry have enjoyed Heather’s friendship for many years.   When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States, she and her wife Deborah spoke at New Ways Ministry’s press conference “If I Had Five Minutes with the Pope,” at the National Press Club.   She was also the keynote speaker at a conference day on marriage equality which New Ways Ministry sponsored when we released our book Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach.

Delegate Mizeur was featured on this blog back in February when she debated Maryland’s marriage equality bill with another Catholic delegate.   You can view the debate here.

Congratulations to Heather Mizeur!  Her faith-filled advocacy on so many social justice issues is bettering our world.  Her deep love of the faith and her willingness to speak so honestly about it is bettering our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Scenes from the Signing of Maryland’s Marriage Equality Law

March 2, 2012

At the signing ceremony: Governor Martin O'Malley (center) is flanked by Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (left) and House Speaker Michael Busch (right). Catholic lesbian Delegate Heather Mizeur is smiling behind Brown.Both O'Malley and Brown are Catholic, and Busch was raised Catholic, (Photo by Sister Jeannine Gramick)

On March 1st, 2012, Maryland became the eighth state (plus the District of Columbia) to enact marriage equality legislation for lesbian and gay couples.  Governor Martin O’Malley became the fifth Catholic governor to sign a marriage equality bill, joining Washington State’s Christine Gregoire, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, Maine’s John Baldacci, and New Hampshire’s John Lynch.

Among the religious and civic leaders attending the signing ceremony was New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.  “I was so proud that our Catholic governor relied on our faith’s tradition of equality and justice for all people, including lesbian and gay people,”  Sister Jeannine said. “It was an honor to participate in this moment, and I’m glad I was there to show the strong support that Catholics have for marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.”

At the signing ceremony: Governor O'Malley hands the pen he signed to Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a lesbian. Sister Jeannine can be seen cheering in the white box .

O’Malley prefaced his signing of the bill with a statement which reverberated with Catholic social teaching:

“For a free and diverse people, for a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the human dignity of all.

“Religious freedom was the very reason for our state’s founding, and at the heart of religious freedom is the freedom of individual conscience.

“If there is a thread that unites all of our work here together, it is the thread of human dignity, the dignity of work, the dignity of a job, the dignity of every child’s home, the dignity of every individual.”

On behalf of Catholics, New Ways Ministry thanked Governor O’Malley and the Maryland legislature in ad appearing in today’s print edition of The Baltimore Sun:

Equally Blessed, the coalition of Catholic groups that support equality for LGBT people in the church and wider society, released this statement today on the signing of marriage equality legislation in the state of Maryland:

“We are deeply gratified that Governor Martin O’Malley has joined fellow Catholic governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Christine Gregoire of Washington in signing marriage equality legislation into law.

“These governors represent the sentiments of Catholics in this country far better than the church’s hierarchy, which has spent millions of dollars in an increasingly futile campaign to prolong the era in which secular governments actively discriminate against same-gender couples and their families.

At the signing ceremony: Sister Jeannine Gramick poses with Catholic couple Dave Kolesar and Patrick Wojahn. (Photo by Dan Furmansky)

“We applaud Governor O’Malley and the state legislators who recognized that every human being, regardless of sexual orientation, is created in God’s image, and must be treated with dignity and respect by their neighbors and their government, and we pray that some day such an understanding will take root among the bishops of our church.

“As a coalition we were honored to work of behalf of marriage equality in Maryland by placing an op-ed in The Washington Post making the Catholic case for same-gender marriage. In addition, three coalition members, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, and Allen Rose of DignityUSA testified before the House of Delegates.

“We are particularly thankful to Governor O’Malley, who distributed copies of Mr. DeBernardo’s booklet, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, and who will be attending New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, March 15-17 in Baltimore.

“It is fitting that Sister Jeannine, one of the most effective advocates for LGBT people in the church, will be participating in today’s signing ceremony.”

For more news on the signing ceremony, check out these articles:

The Baltimore Sun: “Governor signs same-sex marriage bill”

The Washington Post: “Md. becomes eighth state to legalize gay marriage”

The Washington Blade: “O’Malley signs marriage bill”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Out in Full Force to Support Maryland’s Marriage Equality Bill

February 11, 2012

The House of Delegates joint-committee hearings for Maryland’s marriage equality bill went on until 11:40 p.m. yesterday, February 10, 2012. Catholics were prominent in the discussion, including New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, and Dignity/Washington’s Allen Rose, President.  The transcripts of their testimony appear below.

Martin O'Malley

The first speaker in defense of the bill was Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic.  A good summary of his comments can be found in the Washington Blade’s report of the proceedings.  O’Malley’s comments stressed the religious exemptions and religious liberty protections that the bill contains.  (A report on O’Malley’s earlier testimony to the Senate committee hearings can be found by clicking here.)

Heather Mizeur

Maryland Delegate Heather Mizeur, along with her wife, Deborah Mizeur,  also gave testimony, and each touched on how their faith lives of Catholics were intimately connected to their lesbian identities.  The Washington Post‘s account of the hearings cites Heather Mizeur as a nationally recognized leader on the question of marriage equality. The Baltimore Sun’s report of the proceedings leads with a note about Delegate Mizeur’s emotional testimony. (You can watch video of Heather’s debate on marriage equality with another Catholic delegate by clicking here.)

A separate Baltimore Sun preview report of the hearings which appeared on February 9, notes that the fate of the bill rests in a handful of undecided delegates.  This report quotes Catholic Delegate Pam Beidle, who describes that she is torn between the testimony she hears from parents of lesbian and gay people in support of the bill and messages she receives from Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore to oppose the bill:

“Beidle finds that her meetings with the parents of same-sex couples are persuasive. ‘If I had a child who was gay, who had a lifelong partner, I’d want them to be happy,’ she said. ‘It is not my job to judge someone else’s moral decision.’

“At the same time, Beidle, a practicing Roman Catholic, says she hears from Cardinal-elect Edwin F. O’Brien, who opposes the bill. He stresses to Beidle the significance of marriage to their shared religious community and the extent to which he believes O’Malley’s bill would undermine that institution.

” ‘This is a difficult issue,’ Beidle said. ‘It is truly fifty-fifty.’ “

Also testifying in favor of the bill were Fr. Joseph Palacios, an adjunct professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and Phil Attey, Executive Director of Catholics for Equality.  Speaking against the bill was Mary Ellen Russell, Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

What follows are the transcripts of the testimony of three Catholic leaders who spoke in favor of the bill:  New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, and Dignity/Washington’s Allen Rose, President.  (Both New Ways Ministry and Dignity are members of the Equally Blessed coalition.)

SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK, Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry

Sister Jeannine Gramick

 In 1971, while I was doing graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in preparation to teach at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, I met many gay people at the University. I particularly recall one lesbian couple, who were raising two children from one of the couple’s previous heterosexual marriage. I remember the love and concern they had for those children, how their schedules and decisions revolved around what would be best for their son and daughter. I thought that their affection and devotion for these children was surely as strong as the care received by children in heterosexual households.

 This experience made me think. It made me question. It made me change my view of lesbian and gay people. It made me recognize that I could enlarge my understanding of what was “normal.” I began to expand my insights about what really constituted a family. I began to see that it was love, care, and concern that mattered, not gender.

  I speak here today on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns and the majority of U.S. Catholics who favor legal marriage for same-sex couples.*   We have changed our views about lesbian and gay people and about marriage. We have expanded our positions to include Marriage Equality, which encourages and supports committed relationships and families. Marriage equality fundamentally strengthens our Catholic values by supporting all our families. Our values are based on Catholic social justice teaching which directs us to work for laws and policies that support human dignity and that nurture the capacity of individuals and families to grow in community. 

I feel sad that some Church leaders, including my own, claim that marriage must be only between one man and one woman, even though many people of faith and a majority of lay Catholics feel differently. Some churches have opened their doors to include lesbian and gay couples in the sacred rite of marriage. Some have not. We are not here to ask churches to change their theology of marriage. No religious leader will ever be forced to choose who can and who cannot be married.  Such interference in religious matters is beyond the reach of the law. 

We are here today to ask the state of Maryland to expand civil marriage for all our families, so that many of the lesbian and gay people I serve, often very religious people, have the opportunity to commit their love to each other and are able to fully support and care for their families. 

I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to proudly say that I support HB 438, the Civil Marriage Protection Act and oppose any effort that would alter the Maryland constitution to deny marriage equality.   Thank you.

*Public Religion Research Institute . http://www.publicreligion.org

(You can also watch video of Sister Jeannine’s remarks at a marriage equality prayer breakfast press conference by clicking here.

FRANCIS DeBERNARDO, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

Francis DeBernardo

A while ago, I worked with a Catholic parish here in Maryland that wanted to welcome lesbian and gay people. They began with a short program of reading and discussion.  One gentleman in the group was not as convinced as the others about this outreach.  After several months of deep conversation where he learned about gay and lesbian families, he had a change of heart.  He learned how gay and lesbian  lives had been affected by unjust laws, oppressive stereotypes, and harmful cultural practices. And he saw how he himself had often been the perpetrator of those offenses, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly.  He said to me, “You know, when we started this lesbian and gay welcome project, I thought we were doing this for other people, but now I realize that we HAD to do it for ourselves, so that we can be free of prejudices and biases that we don’t even realize we have.” He said that in doing this project, “We’re not just helping others, we’re helping ourselves.”

In this same vein, I encourage you to enact this law, not just for gay and lesbian couples, but for yourselves and for the wellbeing of all in our state.  Passing this law will help us to become a more just community and will create a more stable society where ALL families are protected.  

Marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is, in the end, about honoring the love and commitment shared between two people and supporting their families.  That is why the majority of Catholics support marriage equality laws.  Even though the Catholic hierarchy, who we respect,  may not support marriage equality, we know our faith teaches that where there is love, there is God. And where there is love, there is the basis for a more healthy and more just society.

Thank you.

ALLEN ROSE, President, Dignity/Washington

Allen Rose

My name is Allen Rose.  I am the president of Dignity/Washington.  25% of our members live in Maryland.  We are a community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Catholics, our families and friends.  Dignity/Washington serves the spiritual and religious needs of LGBT Catholics in a manner that affirms God’s love for LGBT people, by providing a variety of activities, including a Gay-affirming Catholic Mass every Sunday.  

  I am here today to testify on behalf of the 45 Dignity/Washington members who are citizens of Maryland who are currently unable to marry the person they love.  Some of our members have been in committed relationships for 15 or 20 years, and see in this legislation the opportunity to receive the same rights, benefits and recognition of their relationship that their parents, married siblings and married friends in opposite-sex relationships were easily granted when they decided to marry.   I look forward to the day when any of these 45 citizens who so choose, will be able to marry the person of their choice just like any other loving couple.  Our members in Maryland live in Takoma Park, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and many other places around the state.

Since I am here representing a community of LGBT Catholics, I want to speak in support of civil marriage equality from a Catholic Perspective.   We are disappointed that the Catholic bishops of Maryland are opposed to this legislation, We know they do not speak for all of the Roman Catholics in Maryland.  As a matter of fact, on this issue, they do not even speak for most of the Catholics in Maryland.  More Catholics support marriage equality than oppose it. 

For an ordained Catholics to speak in favor of this legislation carries professional risks.  Therefore, it is generally up to those of us who have no ordained standing within the Church, but who claim our Catholicism by virtue of our baptism, and who draw strength and support from Catholic traditions and practices, to do our best to attempt to represent those many Catholics who support marriage equality.  A large majority of American and Maryland Catholics now see marriage equality as an issue of social justice.

Since I have been speaking as a Catholic in support of civil marriage equality, I have been talking freely about religion and religious belief. This bill, however, is about civil marriage, not religious marriage.  This bill has strong provisions that protect religions, so that clergy are not required to marry same gender couples.  We at Dignity/Washington agree with, and strongly support this provision of the bill.  This provision further protects private church ceremonies and practices.

Part of our mission at Dignity/Washington is to speak truth to power by giving prophetic witness to the truth that we are all born in the image and likeness of a loving God, and that Gay men and Lesbians are a natural part of God’s plan for humanity.  We preach this message to our own church’s leaders and to society at large.

Dignity/Washington urges the members of these committees, and all of your colleagues in the House of Delegates, to support The Civil Marriage Protection Act of  2012.  It is right and just.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic vs. Catholic on Marriage Equality in Maryland

January 30, 2012

MarylandReporter.com has a unique video clip on their website today:  two Maryland Catholic legislators, one Democrat and one Republican, debate the upcoming marriage equality bill, moderated by the Reporter’s Len Lazarick.

Delegate Heather Mizeur and Delegate Cathy Vitale have a very civil disagreement in which many issues are explained, not least of which are issues concerning their common Catholic faith. Watch the video for yourself, and then you can read our comments below, and add your own in the “Comments” section for this post.

I think it will be no surprise to Bondings 2.0 readers to hear that we think Delegate Mizeur won the debate. She won it not only because she had the better legal and political arguments, but because of the personal and genuine way she spoke so eloquently about her faith.

A Catholic lesbian woman, Mizeur tells of her adolescent struggles with sexuality and religion, and with coming to the realization that she, like everyone else, is “a child of God” and is equally loved by God.  She praises the church’s social justice teachings, which she states are the “core mission of the church,” and she praises the church’s teaching on the primacy of conscience.

In the area of law and politics, Mizeur acknowledges that any concerns about religious exemptions that the Maryland Catholic Conference may have are open to discussion and debate so that religious organizations can feel comfortable with the new law.  She rightly points out that it is “disingenuous” of the Catholic conference to be so concerned about legal problems with same-sex marriage while it turns a blind eye to heterosexual marriages that do not meet the hierarchy’s ideals, and to a myriad of problems that the institution of heterosexual marriage has.

Thank you, Delegate Heather Mizeur, for speaking so forthrightly about marriage equality from a Catholic perspective.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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