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


Maryland Governor Hosts Marriage Equality Victory Celebration

December 15, 2012
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (center) poses with New Ways Ministry's Sister Jeannine Gramick (right) and Francis DeBernardo (left).

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (center) poses with New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick (right) and Francis DeBernardo (left).

Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley hosted a buffet dinner reception at the governor’s mansion in Annapolis to celebrate the state’s recent marriage equality referendum victory and to thank those who worked on the ballot campaign.

Among the invitees were New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, and Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, pictured here with Governor O’Malley.

Also attending was Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who was outspoken in his support for marriage equality in the state, despite criticism from some fans and other football players.  Below, DeBernardo poses with Ayanbadejo at the reception.

Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo (right) poses with Francis DeBernardo of New Ways MInistry at Governor O' Malley's marriage equality victory celebration.

Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo (right) poses with Francis DeBernardo of New Ways MInistry at Governor O’ Malley’s marriage equality victory celebration.

Maryland was one of three states this fall to pass marriage equality at the polls.  Washington State and Maine also were successful in their quests for equality.  Both Maryland and Washington State have Catholic governors who signed the marriage equality legislation.  When Maine’s legislature passed marriage equality in 2008, a Catholic governor signed the bill into law.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Maryland Catholics Spread Marriage Equality Message

September 29, 2012

Maryland Catholic parents and the state’s Catholic governor are spreading their message of support for marriage equality in the state’s upcoming referendum via the traditional press and YouTube.

Erma Durkin

Erma Durkin, who describes herself as an 83-year old “cradle Catholic” penned an op-ed piece published in The Baltimore Sun, in which she cites her Catholic faith as the reason she is voting for question #6 in the fall:

“We should be acknowledging in everyone — including my gay son — the inherent dignity and fairness due them as human beings. As a cradle Catholic, my parents and my church taught me to treat everyone as I wanted to be treated. I have tried to live according to this teaching. . . .

“Both my head and my heart tell me that each child in our family should enjoy the same opportunity to be married. It is only right to treat everyone fairly and equally in the public square. I cannot understand how my gay son getting married to the person he loves can do harm to anyone else’s marriage.”

Ms. Durkin, who is a regular reader and frequent commenter to the Bondings 2.0 blog, acknowledges that for some, acceptance of marriage equality is a journey, but she is hopeful that others will arrive at the same place that she is:

“I do understand that, for many people, to come to a point where they can say they support marriage for gay couples will be a journey. And there are many lay Catholics on this journey now. In fact, a majority of Catholics in pews across the country support marriage equality. But we all come to this issue at our own pace, and that’s fine. . . .

“I hope Catholics in this great state vote their conscience on election day and support Question 6.”

Pat and Jenny Nugent, of Cambridge, Maryland (who are also frequent readers and contributors to this blog), are featured in a two-and-a-half minute video, explaining how their Catholic faith, plus the experience of having a gay son, have motivated to support this issue of justice and equality.

The Nugents, who have been married 48 years, and have seven children and eleven grandchildren, relate their moving story of how their faith and family experience molded their views.  You can view the entire video here:

In the video, Jenny states:

“I want him to have the same sense of security and fidelity in a relationship, where you know there’s one person you can always rely on.

“I also want for him to be able to say, to the world, this is who I love, this is who I’m committed to, and this is who is committed to me. And that they can do that publicly, like all of our other kids.”

And Pat adds:

“I’m going to vote my conscience and vote for QuestionNo. 6 in November.”

Another Maryland Catholic, Governor Martin O’Malley, was the subject of a ReligionDispatches. org essay this week, and author Peter Montgomery highlighted the governor’s argument about the strong religious protections in the law:

“Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is actively campaigning for voter approval of a marriage equality law he signed earlier this year, said Monday night that his support for equality under the law is “very much informed” by his Catholic faith and his commitment to protecting the human dignity of every person in Maryland. . . .

“O’Malley said that expansive religious freedom language in the law was important to its passage and in keeping with the traditions of the state of Maryland. The referendum language makes clear that the law protects clergy from having to perform any ceremony that violates their beliefs, guarantees each faith control over its marriage doctrine, and ‘provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.’ ”

You can watch a video of O’Malley’s other comments here:

Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori also spoke out about marriage equality this week,  opposing the referendum question.  His comments are not available, however, since the event at which he spoke was closed to the media.

–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


Pelosi, Theologians, Lay Catholics Agree: Support Marriage Equality

May 16, 2012

The message that American Catholics support marriage equality is one that cannot be emphasized or repeated enough.  Since the Catholic bishops oppose marriage equality so vocally and vociferously, it is important to keep reminding people that the hierarchy’s position is not reflective of the Catholic population.  Some recent news stories highlight this fact.

Representative Nancy Pelosi

The Washington Post’s blog “Under God” recently ran a quote from Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives minority leader who is Catholic, that she made at a press conference in response to a question about religion and marriage equality.  Pelosi responded:

“My religion compels me–and I love it for it–to be against discrimination of any kind in our country, and I consider [the ban on gay marriage] a form of discrimination. I think it’s unconstitutional on top of that. So I think that yesterday was a great day for America because the president in a very personal, as well as presidential way, made history, and hopefully this will bring people together on the issue.”

She joins other prominent Catholic politicians–Washington State’s Governor Christine Gregoire, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, Vice President Joe Biden–who this past year have publicly voiced support for marriage equality.

Politicians are not the only prominent Catholics who are speaking out for marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.  A DailyBeast.com headline recently asked, “Do Most Catholic Theologians Support Same-Sex Marriage?,” and the article answers a resounding “Yes!”

One of the scholars cited is Paul Lakeland, professor of religion and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, who, in reference to the bishops’ position on marriage equality, states:

“That’s not really an argument that has a theological justification. . . .It’s an argument that’s based more on fear or repugnance.”

Also quoted is Daniel Maguire, professor of theology at Marquette University:

“Archbishop Dolan and the United States Catholic Conference are misrepresenting ‘Catholic teaching,’ and are trying to present their idiosyncratic minority view as the ‘Catholic position,’ and it is not. . . .The bishops will stand with Dolan and the U.S. Catholic Conference, but on this issue, they are in moral schism since most in the Church have moved on [to] a more humane view on the rights of those whom God has made gay.

“Most Catholic theologians approve of same-sex marriage and Catholics generally do not differ much from the overall population on this issue.”

Frederick Parrella, professor of theology at Santa Clara University, notes that there is “nothing in the Gospels” to support opposition to marriage equality.

A new Gallup poll which shows that about 50% of Americans support marriage equality,  51% of Catholics express the same support, compared to 47% of Catholics who oppose such measures.

In his latest post,  Michael O’Loughlin at America magazine’s “In All Things” blog offers some analysis of why Catholics are so supportive of marriage equality:

“As with the public as a whole, the more visible gay and lesbian people are in families, schools, and the workplace, the more likely Catholics are to support laws that they see as extending civil rights to a group of historically marginalized people. But is there something about Catholicism in particular that would lead to acceptance of same-sex marriage, even as some church leaders rail against it? I think the sacramental nature of our faith, the belief that the world is good and infused with God’s grace, and the understanding of family and community as pivotal to living out the Gospel might compel Catholics to reject the call to take up a fight against same-sex marriage. Perhaps some of the laity have taken to heart the church’s emphasis on social justice, its call to protect the marginalized, and its preached message of inclusivity for all, and are now applying these themes to a specific, modern situation. Some bishops may lament this break between shepherd and flock, but in some ways perhaps it is not so troubling? If Catholics are following what they believe to be well-formed consciences and standing up for those they see as victimized and marginalized, the Gospel message lives.”

From all quarters of the church, except the hierarchy, Catholics support marriage equality.

–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.”

#    #    #    #

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 22, 2012

Our final story about New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium includes a connection to Chuck Colbert’s Windy City Times article entitled “Catholic conference confronts marriage.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the Symposium. (Jim Brigl Photo)

This article contains a precise summary of Bishop Robinson’s talk in which he called on the Catholic church to rethink its teaching on sexuality:

” ‘If [ church ] teaching on homosexual acts is ever going to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,’ retired Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the gathering of nearly 400 Catholics at the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality.

” ‘For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is mortal sin,’ said Robinson, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.

” ‘The teaching may not be proclaimed as loudly as today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes, it has never been retracted, and it has affected countless people,’ Robinson said.

” ‘There is a serious need for a change in the church’s teaching on heterosexual acts,’ he said, adding,  ‘If and when this change occurs, it will inevitable have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.’

” ‘The teaching fostered a belief in an incredibly angry God,’ explained Robinson, ‘for this God would condemn a person to eternity in hell for a single unrepentant moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God.’

Robinson is the author of the 2007 book, Confronting Power in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, which addressed the clerical sex-abuse crisis and was controversial among his fellow bishops in Australia who faulted him for a 2008 lecture tour in the United States to speak about the issues his book addressed.

Karen Allen and Mary Jo Hoag singing at the Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Colbert’s report also contains the perspective of  “Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.

” ‘What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,’ said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.

“Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.

“In proposing the idea, she explained, ‘We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, “Where have you been?’ ‘

“The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but ‘more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.’

” ‘Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,’ she explained, while readily acknowledging, ‘struggling mightily’ with ‘clericalism and the hierarchy.’ “

” ‘The church is our church,’ said Hoag, explaining why she stays. ‘Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.’

“New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us ‘a shot in the arm’ to keep up our work in ministry.

The National Catholic Reporter posted a second article on the  Symposium, this one focusing on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s remarks there.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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