Bishops and Vatican React to This Week’s Marriage Equality Electoral Victories

It is understandable that certain Catholic bishops would be disappointed in Tuesday’s ballot victories for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.  All the bishops in those particular states were vocal in trying to defeat marriage equality initiatives.

Bishop Richard Malone

In Maine, Bishop Richard Malone attempted to be reconciliatory in his statement following the vote.  While noting that he was “disappointed” in the outcome, he also showed some awareness that Catholics who supported marriage equality did so out of a sense of justice, though he disagreed with their motivation:

“I trust that those who voted for such a radical change did so out of concern for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Respect and acceptance of all people regardless of sexual orientation is not a point of controversy. It is a teaching of the Church, but so is the authentic meaning and definition of marriage. That is why the Catholic Church will continue its commitment to work for the basic human rights to which all people are entitled, while remaining devoted to preserving and strengthening the precious gift of marriage.”

Although Bishop Malone needs to learn that not all gay and lesbian people “struggle” with their sexuality–indeed, many see it as a gift from God and celebrate it as such–it is commendable that in this statement he reaffirms his dedication to human rights.

Archbishop William Lori

In Maryland, Archbishop William Lori responded to the vote for marriage equality in his state by continuing to speak as if the campaign were still ongoing, instead of a settled affair.  In The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, quotes from Archbishop Lori’s response:

“ ‘I think that vote will prove not to have been for the common good of our state,’ Archbishop Lori said. . . .

“The election results on same-sex marriage should serve as a ‘wake up call’ for Catholics, Archbishop Lori said, demonstrating ‘our need to redouble our efforts to defend marriage, to preach about what marriage is, and to help people understand it as a unique relationship that does not discriminate against anyone, but is for the good of children and for the good of our society.’ ”

Lori’s comments differed greatly from those of Ryan Sattler, a Catholic layman who was profiled by The National Catholic Reporter for his work on marriage equality in the state, and who was sought for his reaction to the election’s outcome.  Sattler stated simply:

“On Election Day, Maryland voters chose justice. They chose equality. They chose love.”

Similarly, Karin Quimby, deputy faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, praised the work of Maryland Catholics like Sattler:

“I think the work of Catholics on Question 6 here in Maryland shows that the social justice teaching in the Catholic church is alive and well. Lay leaders did a great job at the grassroots level, making their voices heard, and their fellow Catholics responded. Catholics clearly believe, very strongly, that every person has dignity, every person should be treated fairly, and every person deserves the same rights.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

In Minnesota, the Archdiocese of St. Paul, led by Archbishop John Nienstedt, also emphasized the idea that it is time to move forward from the rancor of debate:

“Although the defeat of the amendment is a very serious concern to us, it will not deter us from continuing to serve this community and the whole state in pursuit of the common good.”

Father Michael Tegeder, who publicly opposed Archbishop Nienstedt during the marriage debate, called for the Ordinary’s resignation in a letter to the Star Tribune:

“As a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, I would ask our archbishop, John Nienstedt, to prayerfully consider stepping down from his office. It would be healing for our state and our church and would show some magnanimity on his part. His misguided crusade to change our Constitution, spending more than a million dollars and, more importantly, much goodwill, has been rejected. Elections have consequences.”

Archbishop Peter Sartain

In Washington State, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle also seemed prepared to continue the debate about marriage.  In a statement, he said:

“I am disappointed that so many voters failed to recognize marriage between a man and a woman as the natural institution for the permanent, faithful covenant of love for a couple, for bringing children into the world, and for nurturing and educating those children. This change in civil law is not in the best interest of children or society.”

More joyous in response was Washington State’s Catholic Govern Christine Gregoire, who had signed the marriage equality legislation into law.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted her reaction to the vote:

“ ‘Washington has made history and I couldn’t be prouder,’ said Gregoire.  ‘Voters stood up for what is right and what is just and said that all Washington families are equal under the law . . .

“ ‘This is a day history will look back on as a turning point for equality.  It is a day I will look back on as Washington state leading the nation.  And it is a day that I will carry with me forever.’ ”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Commenting on all four successful votes, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, also seemed intent on putting a negative spin on the outcomes in his statement:

“Yesterday, November 6, was a disappointing day for marriage, as the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage.

“The meaning of marriage, though, cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature. No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union. It is either this, or it is nothing at all. In view of the fact that every child has a mother and a father, our society either respects the basic right of every child to be raised by his or her mother and father together and so supports the true and unique meaning of marriage for the good of children, or it does not. In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined. I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage.”

In L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, tried to place the Catholic hierarchy’s position in a positive cast, even in the face of such resounding defeats.  A Religion News Service story offers the following summary:

” ‘You could say that the church, on this level, is bound to lose,’ writes [Lucetta] Scaraffia. ‘But this is not the case.’

“According to the historian, the church’s fight on moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion has drawn support and admiration’ from many non-Catholics.

“By opposing legislation allowing gay couples to adopt in the United Kingdom or fighting the birth control mandate in the U.S., the church ‘made it clear for everyone that this is not about progress’ but about ‘the loss of one of the founding freedoms of the modern State, religious liberty.’ “

In all these cases, where Catholics have been working on both sides of the marriage question, it will be incumbent on the local bishops to work toward reconciling these factions in the church so that there are no lingering senses of animosity or alienation.  This will be particularly important where the bishops have been particularly politically involved on the marriage question, and thus have risked alienating marriage equality supporters.  Now that the electorates have spoken for justice and equality, the work of reconciliation must begin in earnest.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend–and Other Maryland Catholics–Speak Out for Marriage Equality

At the press conference: Jenny and Pat Nugent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Karin Quimby (of Marylanders for Marriage Equality), Erma Durkin, and William Cole IV (Baltimore City Councilperson).

Catholics took center stage in the debate on marriage equality in Maryland yesterday.   Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the state’s former lieutenant governor and the eldest child of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was the featured speaker at a press conference on Catholic support for marriage equality.  The event was sponsored by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition working to insure that the state’s marriage equality law, passed and signed in the spring, will be approved by voters in a referendum this November.

An Associated Press story in The Washington Post quoted from Townsend’s press conference statement:

“All people, gay or straight, should have the opportunity to marry the person they love and raise the family that they want to raise.”

Also speaking at the press conference was Erma Durkin, a Maryland Catholic mother of a gay son, and Patrick and Jenny Nugent, a set of Maryland Catholic parents who also have a gay son.  The Associated Press quoted Durkin:

“I cannot understand how my gay son getting married to the person that he loves can do harm to anyone else’s marriage.”

Durkin’s open letter to the Maryland Catholic bishops was featured in a Bondings 2.0 blog post in December 2011.

The Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Politics blog noted Townsend’s references to her uncle, President John Kennedy,  and her father:

“Townsend, the eldest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, invoked her famous family’s long held views that church and state should be separate. She recalled Tuesday that her uncle, John F. Kennedy, once told Texas ministers that he was ‘not the Catholic candidate for president’ but ‘the Democratic party’s candidate for president who happens to be Catholic.’

” ‘He brought with him the understanding that the church can’t tell you what to do, but the values of the Catholic church, the values of love and faith, can influence what you do,’ she said.

“Also, she referenced an article about apartheid that her father wrote after returning from a trip to South Africa. Entitled ‘Suppose god is black,’ the 1966 piece made a case against that country’s segregated political system.

” ‘I could have said this time,’ Townsend said. ‘Suppose God is gay?’ “

Townsend was a featured speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in March of this year, where she first publicly declared her support for marriage equality.  She eventually turned her Symposium talk into an article about   marriage equality as a civil rights issue, which appeared in The Atlantic.

The Owings Mills-Reisterstown Patch carried further elaboration of Durkin’s comments:

“Durkin, 83, a self-described ‘cradle Catholic,’ said she was there to urge her fellow Catholics to vote their conscience and support same-sex marriage.

” ‘To vote to uphold the civil marriage law, for all loving, committed gay and lesbian couples, we should be acknowledging in everyone, including my gay son, the inherent dignity and fairness due them as human beings,’ Dirkin said.

“She said the church, her long service in ministering to the home-bound and as a scripture study leader taught her the importance of the ‘golden rule,’ which should be applied to same-sex marriage.

” ‘What we’re debating here in Maryland is whether gay couples can go to the court house and get a marriage license. What churches decide to do, which marriages they decide to solemnize or not is up to them, and that’s the way it should be,’ Dirkin said. ‘I can guarantee you my late husband and I would not want anyone telling us we could not marry. It’s the golden rule again coming up, we should treat other people the way we wish to be treated.’ “

At the press conference: Pat and Jenny Nugent
At the press conference: Pat and Jenny Nugent

The Patch  also quoted Jenny Nugent:

“Jenny Nugent said she and her husband had never paid much attention to gay or lesbian people before she started to take care of them as a nurse. She then saw gay people who had no support and had been ostracized by their families. She said seeing that had reinforced something she knew as a mother—that every child is special and deserves to live a full life, including marriage.

” ‘I never want our son or any of our children to be alone in sickness or in health. I want each of them to have the security and joy of a family that they create, and for that family to have the legal protections that come with civil marriage,’ Jenny Nugent said. ‘That’s why, for myself as a Catholic, I’m going to vote my heart and my conscience and support marriage equality.’ “

In June, Bondings 2.0 reported on the efforts of Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland to organize Catholics in the state to support same-gender marriage in the upcoming referendum.  We will continue to bring you news on Catholic programs and projects in Maryland, and in other states (Maine, Minnesota, Washington State) where the issue will be on the November ballot.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Maryland Catholics Organize to Support Marriage Equality

Sixty Catholics from the greater Baltimore region gathered for a workshop Saturday, June 9th, to discuss ways to protect Maryland’s newly-minted marriage equality law from a referendum challenge in November.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, was the keynote speaker for the event, which also included a panel of speakers representing a variety of perspectives supporting marriage equality:  Rose Glorioso and Donna Senft, a married lesbian couple; Erma Durkin, the mother of a gay man who is married; Mark Clark, a gay man who had been previously married to a woman; and Karin Quimby, the field director for the Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign.

The event, which took place at Goucher College, Towson, Maryland, was sponsored by the Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland coalition which is comprised of faithful Catholic individuals and organizations, including: Baltimore Catholic Parishioners for Marriage Equality, Dignity/Washington, New Ways Ministry, Quixote Center/Catholics Speak Out, Thomas More Project, Viva House, Women-Church—Baltimore, and WATER–Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics & Ritual.

Ryan Sattler, a member of Baltimore Catholic Parishioners for Marriage Equality, who served as spokesperson for the event, described the meeting’s purpose:

“Despite negative messages about marriage equality from our hierarchy, lay Catholics support legal recognition for the committed relationships of lesbian and gay couples. Our Catholic tradition of justice requires that we support lesbian and gay couples not only to protect their families, but to strengthen the common good.”

Participants discuss strategies at Catholics for Marriage Equality–Maryland workshop.

Participants at the workshop discussed a number of strategies to support the marriage equality bill including pledging to go to the polls in November, encouraging other Catholics to do the same, raising funds to support the campaign for marriage equality, talking with their pastors about the referendum, and attending a rally in the fall for Catholics who support marriage equality.

Towson’s interviewed Sister Gramick before the event to get her perspective on marriage equality.  She stated:

“It’s a great shame that the leaders of my church—the bishops—are all out there campaigning against marriage equality. I want to be proud of my church and that makes me very ashamed.” also interviewed Catholic gay couple Dave Kolesar and Patrick Wojahn, for their opinions on the church’s involvement in marriage equality politics:

” ‘I think one thing I discovered growing up Catholic is that the institutional church doesn’t necessarily speak for the parishioners,’ Kolesar said. ‘I think homosexuality and gay marriage is one area where the church leadership and laity diverge.’

Dave Kolesar and Patrick Wojahn

“In fact, a 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 52 percent of Catholics believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

“Wojahn, a College Park councilman, said it’s not the church’s place to comment on civil marriages.

” ”m not going to tell the Catholic Church what they should or should not believe,” he said. “But our state shouldn’t discriminate.’

“Gramick said she plans to do her best to avoid just that.

” ‘What I believe the Vatican is trying to do is stamp out questioning, to stamp out dissent; to really destroy any kind of thinking that’s different,’ she said.”

Catholics for Marriage Equality—Maryland also plans two more workshops for Catholics in the state:  on September 29th in Prince George’s County and on October 6th in Montgomery County.

Information about these workshops and the coalition’s other events can be found on their Facebook page.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry