Maine Catholics Urge Others to Vote Their Consciences on Marriage Equality Referendum

October 30, 2012

As we come into the final week before Election Day, Catholics in Maine are becoming more public about their support for the state’s referendum to legalize marriage equality, while the Catholic bishop there is becoming more vocal about his opposition.

Catholics for Marriage Equality, the state’s organization of Catholic in favor of the referendum, took out quarter-page ads in three Maine newspapers this past Sunday urging people to vote for marriage equality.  100 Catholics across the state put their names to the ad to show their support.

In a Boston Globe news story, Anne Underwood, the lead organizer of Catholics for Marriage Equality, explained the background for the ad statement:

Anne Underwood

‘‘ ‘The premise is we support marriage for same-sex couples because it’s a matter of conscience,’’ said Underwood, an attorney from Topsham. ‘’And Catholics have an obligation to form their own consciences, especially on political issues and issues of morality.’ ’’

(You can view a video clip of an interview with Underwood by clicking here.)

The same news story quotes former governor of Maine, John Baldacci, a Catholic who is a strong supporter of marriage equality:

‘‘While we’re tremendously respectful, we also recognize that God gave us the ability of free choice and to be able to follow our hearts. When we see people who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, that’s something we should be praising and supporting.’’

Baldacci recently hosted two spaghetti dinners to raise awareness for the marriage equality referendum.

Meanwhile, the state’s Bishop Richard Malone, the state’s Catholic ordinary who is governing the diocese from his new diocese in Buffalo, New York, issued a statement that any Catholic who votes for marriage equality is opposing Catholic doctrine.  He stated, in part:

Bishop Richard Malone

‘‘A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by scripture and church teachings cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the church. The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, open to the birth of children, is a matter of established Catholic doctrine.’’

In response to the bishop’s statement, a Catholics for Marriage Equality spokesperson encouraged Catholics to vote as their conscience directs them:

“ ‘Emotionally, I have to say I’m disappointed and embarrassed a little bit that he would put out a statement like this,’ Frank O’Hara of Catholics for Marriage Equality said Thursday in a telephone interview. ‘In some respect, I think the bishop is overstepping the bounds of church teaching by telling Catholics how we should vote on an issue.’ ”

“O’Hara, 62, of Hallowell said he and other Catholics who support same-sex marriage will be voting their consciences on Election Day.

“’The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “man must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience,’” O’Hara said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by Catholics for Marriage Equality. ‘Bishops cannot ask Catholics to vote against their consciences. No council has ever given them the authority to dictate obedience in matters of politics and civil government.’

“O’Hara agreed with Malone that Catholics for Marriage Equality does not speak for the Catholic church or every Catholic in Maine.

“ ‘We do, however, speak for an important group of Catholics, all of whom are part of the universal church,’ he said. ‘In this perspective, the bishop does not speak for all Catholics either, at least insofar as politics and government are concerned.’ “

In a related item, the Knights of Columbus have recently donated $100,000 to the campaign in Maine opposed to the marriage equality referendum, according to a news story in the Kennebec Journal. 

--Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Campaigns for Marriage Equality in Maine and Maryland Intensify

October 20, 2012

Seventeen days remain until voters in four states will cast ballots regarding marriage equality’s future in their respective states. In Maine and Maryland, Catholic leaders on each side of the ballot questions are intensifying their efforts to turn Catholics out.  New Ways Ministry had public roles in the campaigns in both states this week.

In Maine, where a third of the population are Catholic, former Governor John Baldacci hosted a spaghetti dinner fundraiser in conjunction with Catholics for Marriage Equality to urge Mainers to vote Yes on Question One.

Governor John Baldacci (center) with New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

Catholics for Marriage Equality, the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, and Catholics United invited New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, and Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, to speak at the dinner. The dinner also fundraised for a local homeless shelter defunded by the US bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development after the shelter came out in support for equality in 2009.

Sr. Gramick told those gathered:

“It is not just a vote for lesbian and gay couples and their right, because they do have the right to get married. It is a vote to support families. You can be a good Catholic and vote with your conscience and vote for marriage equality.”

You can watch a news video of the event, including interviews with Governor Baldacci and Sister Gramick by clicking here.

One priest in Maine has recently noted how hard it is for Catholics to speak together about marriage equality.  Fr. Seamus Griesbach of Bangor referenced the emotional damage caused by a 2009 Catholic bishops’ campaign against gay marriage that saw significant financial and staff investments. Fr. Griesbach told National Public Radio:

” ‘We have both perspectives in the church, and they’re very inclined to really get pretty nasty,’ says Griesbach. ‘So I think the church said, wait a minute, we cannot allow the Gospel to be limited to some kind of slogan.’ “

Sister Jeannine speaks at the Maryland press conference.

Meanwhile, Maryland Catholics joined with other faith communities in encouraging residents to vote for Question 6 and uphold a pre-existing marriage equality law. Religious leaders,  including Sr. Jeannine Gramick, gathered on Thursday, October 18th at an interfaith press conference to express their support for Question 6.

Sister Jeannine spoke at the conference and was quoted in the Washington Blade :

“As we grow in the moral right, we sometimes have to make conscience decisions that are at odds with the leaders of our religious denomination…I do respect the position of the Catholic bishops on this question, but I disagree with them and I disagree with them because my conscience tells me so. My conscience tells me that social justice teaching in my church… supports equality and dignity for every individual. And so I can apply that social justice teaching of my church to the question of civil marriage for lesbian and gay people. This is not a question of church doctrine. It’s a question of public policy. And in this area of public policy I respectfully disagree with the bishops of my church.’”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Maine’s Former Governor Serves Up Spaghetti to Raise Awareness of Marriage Equality

October 10, 2012

Maine’s former Governor John Baldacci serves spaghetti at one of his famous fundraisers.

Maine’s former governor, John Baldacci, a Catholic, will be hosting  spaghetti dinners in Bangor  and Portland to raise awareness about marriage equality and to raise funds to help the homeless.   Maine is having a referendum on marriage equality on Election Day.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, and Francis DeBernardo, executive director, will be featured guests at the Bangor event, on October 17th, co-sponsored by Catholics for Marriage Equality and the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination.

According to the Bangor Daily NewsBaldacci has been a firm supporter of marriage equality both in this campaign and in the previous referendum in 2009, when the proposal was defeated:

“ ‘I’m very committed to this issue because I believe in civil same-sex marriage,’ Baldacci said Monday in a telephone interview. ‘I know how important it is for Mainers to stand up against discrimination. My way to get involved was with these fundraisers. All I asked was that all the proceeds go to charity so that we put others before politics.’ “

Spaghetti suppers were a standard fund-raising event for Baldacci in all his political campaigns.  In the Bangor Daily News, he explains his support for marriage equality:

“Baldacci said Monday that his decision to sign the gay marriage bill into law was rooted in the Maine Constitution, not his Catholic upbringing.

“ ‘We grew up with President Kennedy running for office where he had to draw a very strict line between church and state,’ the former governor said. ‘[Protestant] ministers felt the pope would dictate policy. When I assumed office, I represented all people, regardless of their or my religious backgrounds.’

“In his weekly radio address that aired shortly after he signed the bill three years ago, Baldacci cited the Maine Constitution, which says that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.”

“The last spaghetti supper Baldacci hosted also was prompted by the battle over gay marriage in Maine. It drew more than 900 people. . . “

It’s no accident that the events are raising funds for the homeless.  The money raised will go to homeless shelters whose funds from the Catholic church were cut in 2009 because of their support for marriage equality.

Anne Underwood

Anne Underwood, the founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, is one of the organizers of the event, and she explains her activism on the marriage issue as based on the social justice tradition of Catholicism:

“ ‘The liturgy forms for me a spiritual foundation to go forward with my social justice work,’ she said. ‘What I really loved when I converted was that, especially in the 1990s, the Catholic Church was such a wonderfully big tent. I could testify against [other Catholics] in Augusta on Wednesday and take communion with them on Sunday. We transcended all that political stuff.’ ”

“[Bishop] Malone’s activism in the 2009 campaign spurred her and other Catholics to action. She said Monday that her decision to go against the official teaching of the church was made after searching her conscience.

“ ‘The undergirding of Catholic intellectual history is the primacy of the conscience,’ she said. ‘There is an obligation on the part of Catholics to form one’s own conscience based on one’s own reading and one’s understanding of the Gospel and church teaching. If one’s conscience says I can’t do that, then one is obligated to follow one’s own conscience.

“ ‘How we live within the institution enriches us but also challenges us,’ Underwood continued. ‘If we go against the church, we must do so carefully, conscientiously and prayerfully. It is the duty of a Catholic to inform his or her conscience and follow it.’ ”

Both spaghetti suppers begin at 5 p.m.   The firs one is Wednesday, Oct. 17, at Bangor High School, 885 Broadway, Bangor.  The second one is Friday, Oct. 26, at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St. in Portland. Suggested donation is $5 person, but larger donations are accepted.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Biden May Not Speak for Obama, But He Speaks for Most Catholics

May 7, 2012

Equally Blessed is a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed includes four organizations that have spent a combined 115 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families:  Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

The coalition released the following statement in response to Vice President Joe Biden’s comment on marriage equality made yesterday on Meet the Press (Bondings 2.0 reported earlier about Vice President Biden’s remarks.  For background click here.:

“While Washington insiders puzzle over whether Vice President Joe Biden was speaking for the Obama administration when he endorsed marriage equality Sunday on Meet the Press, one thing is crystal clear: Biden, a faithful Catholic, was speaking for the majority of lay people in his church.

Vice President Joseph Biden on “Meet the Press.”

“According to recent polling by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 52 percent of Catholics support marriage equality, while only 37 percent oppose it. And Catholic support for marriage equality in the Pew poll has climbed six percentage points since 2010, despite the hierarchy’s costly and divisive campaign against it.

“That poll may actually underestimate Catholic support for marriage equality. When the Public Religion Research Institute, asked Catholics if same-sex couples should be able to enter into the kind of marriages “you get at City Hall,” 71 percent said yes.

“In expressing his support for equal justice under the law, Biden joined the growing number of Catholic leaders—including governors John Baldacci of Maine, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Christine Gregoire of Washington, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Pat Quinn of Illinois—who have been willing to break with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and speak out on behalf of LGBT people and their families.

“The members of Equally Blessed salute the vice president for his willingness to risk the censure to which the Catholic hierarchy will now subject him. And we thank him and his wife Dr. Jill Biden, a longtime advocate for LGBT rights, for their courage and their support.”

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–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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