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.”
Inside and outside the church, the debate on marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples has provided some interesting discussion about the institution of marriage generally. Two recent articles by prominent Catholic thinkers and observers, Garry Wills and Jamie Manson, are two exceptionally good examples.
In “The Myth About Marriage,” published in The New York Review of Books, Wills focuses on whether or not marriage has any religious significance:
“Why do some people who would recognize gay civil unions oppose gay marriage? Certain religious groups want to deny gays the sacredeness of what they take to be a sacrament. But marriage is no sacrament.”
In examining the scriptures used to support a religious view of marriage–such as the Creation story, Jesus’ comments on divorce (Mark 10:8), and the wedding at Cana (John 10:1-11)–Wills finds no evidence of the institution of marriage as a Christian sacrament. He quotes Fr. Raymond Brown, the renowned Scripture scholar on the Cana story:
“Neither the external nor the internal evidence for a symbolic reference to matrimony is strong. The wedding is only the backdrop and occasion for the story, and the joining of the man and woman does not have any direct role in the narrative.”
Wills also relies on Joseph Martos, who wrote the classic text on the history of the sacraments, Doors to the Sacred, for a history of the sacrament of marriage, which begins only in the 12th century, and culminates in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. (An accessible summary of Martos’ scholarship on marriage can be found in Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, chapter 8.) Wills concludes his argument:
“Those who do not want to let gay partners have the sacredness of sacramental marriage are relying on a Scholastic fiction of the thirteenth century to play with people’s lives, as the church has done ever since the time of Aquinas. The myth of the sacrament should not let people deprive gays of the right to natural marriage, whether blessed by Yahweh or not. They surely do not need—since no one does—the blessing of Saint Thomas.”
While I appreciate Wills’ point, I think he is throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Marriage does have both civil and religious dimensions to it. Many marriage equality advocates strongly support this dual dimension to the institution, but equally as strongly advocate for a separation of the dimensions to their proper authorities: the secular, political realm governs civil marriage, while the religious realms govern religious marriage.
Wills is accurate in relating Martos’ history of marriage, however, I came away with a different perspective from Martos than he seems to have done. In my reading, Martos’ history shows that, indeed, marriage is an institution which has evolved over time. It changes with different understandings of human beings, their relationships to one another, their sexuality, and the “contract” that society has with its members in terms of conferring rights and responsibilities.
Marriage also changes with evolving religious understandings of love and its symbolic roles and messages. Religious people and institutions do have the right to determine those roles and messages–within the confines of their institutions. More importantly, those roles and messages, even in religious settings, evolve and change over time, as new understandings emerge.
Marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is being considered by society now precisely because our society has come to realize the value of the love and commitment between couples who share the same gender. And as polls continue to show, for many Catholics, their is a religious dimension to the quest for securing marriage equality for these couples: Catholics want equal justice for all couples whose love and commitment contribute to the common good.
Jamie Manson, in a National Catholic Reporter column entitled, “Sacramental Marriage Beyond Anatomy,” explores this religious dimension of marriage (applying it to same-gender and different-gender couples). She first recounts her personal experience, first in witnessing difficult marriages, and then witnessing marriages that were life-giving:
“It wasn’t until I attended graduate school, where many of my classmates were married, that I began to see that two people could flourish in a relationship. I realized that the same couples share a love so deep it actually can inspire hope and faithfulness to their larger community.
“Watching these couples, I began to understand what sacramental marriage means. If a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace, it follows that relationships that are signs of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and faithfulness are sacramental. These signs of grace are part of the new life that married couples are called to bring into the world, with or without children.
“I was well into my graduate studies when I realized that I was not heterosexual. I was grateful to have had so many married friends to show me the marks of a good and holy marriage. It helped me to know what to aspire to in my own relationships with women. I also met many same-sex couples during my studies and through them I was able to see that God was present in their relationships in the same way God was manifest in the relationships of my straight friends.”
Manson continues this line of thought by making the sacramental dimension to marriage explicit in her argument, pointing out that anatomical gender is less important that quality of relationship as an indicator of sacramentality:
“What made my straight friends’ marriages sacramental wasn’t the fact that their anatomies matched up in a particular way or that they could procreate. As I learned from my childhood, complementing genders and an ability to reproduce in no way guarantees that a marriage will be graced or sacramental. Their marriage was good and holy because it helped both partners to grow in generosity, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness. . . .
“To make procreation and gender complementarity the criteria for marriage simply does not do justice to the Catholic sacramental imagination. To believe that a sacramental marriage cannot happen between two people of the same sex is to place limits on God’s power to work within the relationships of God’s beloved children.
“If we take seriously the Catholic notion of sacramental love, then our concerns shouldn’t be over the anatomies of a couple, but whether or not the couple, through their commitment, brings the life of God more fully into our world. Is their relationship inspiring others to greater faithfulness? Are they a sign of the power of forgiveness and unconditional love? Are the sacrifices that they make for one another an incarnation of the selfless love to which Jesus calls us? . . .
“Rather than concern over the anatomical reality of a couple, the sacramental nature of marriage should be judged by whether there is equality and mutuality between spouses, whether the relationship helps both spouses to flourish individually and as a couple, and whether their relationship brings the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God more fully into our world.”
Manson makes a convincing case for the fact that marriage does have a religious dimension to it. What I like about her argument is that her view is that the religious dimension comes from the relationship between the partners, not the anatomy of the partners. Is this a development in our understanding of marriage? YES! And a very good one! It reflects both our religious and psychological understanding that sexuality and marriage are about more than just human beings’ potential for procreation.
Manson’s view of marriage not only aids committed same-gender couples who seek recognition of their relationships, but it also can help us to take a different, more compassionate, approach to heterosexual couples whose marriages are marred by inequality, injustice, and abuse. In effect, by recognizing the importance of relationship as an indication of sacramentality, the discussion on same-sex marriage is helping, not hurting, heterosexual marriage to become a better institution in society.
On opposite coasts of our nation, two Catholic governors both named “Chris” are taking opposite approaches to marriage equality legislation in their respective states.
Governor Chris(tine) Gregoire in Washington State has just signed her state’s legislation into law, while Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey has vowed to veto the legislation in his state.
Governor Gregoire has generously offered to discuss her decision, including her faith journey on this issue, with Governor Christie, but so far, he has not responded to her offer. You can read the text of her letter in a blog post by Michael O’Loughlin on America magazine’s In All Things blog. O’Loughlin observes that Catholic governors have been tremendously supportive of marriage equality legislation. He observes that four of the five legislative initiatives
“were signed by Catholic governors: John Baldacci in Maine; John Lynch in New Hampshire; Andrew Cuomo in New York; and now Gregoire in Washington.”
These numbers increase when you add Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois who signed a civil unions bill into law in his state against the strong public appeals by Illinois’ Catholic hierarchy.
The Catholic governors who support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples are following sound ethical principles of another great Catholic governor: Mario Cuomo from New York. In a landmark 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame entitled “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective,” the elder Cuomo laid out some important principles to guide Catholic government leaders.
One principle was pragmatic: “The Catholic public official lives the political truth most Catholics through most of American history have accepted and insisted on: the truth that to assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom.”
Another principle was a realistic observation: “. . . on divorce and birth control, without changing its moral teaching, the Church abides the civil law as it now stands, thereby accepting-without making much of a point of it-that in our pluralistic society we are not required to insist that all our religious values be the law of the land.”
A third principle was that of prudence and conscience: “While we always owe our bishops’ words respectful attention and careful consideration, the question whether to engage the political system in a struggle to have it adopt certain articles of our belief as part of public morality is not a matter of doctrine: it is a matter of prudential political judgment. . . .My church does not order me-under pain of sin or expulsion-to pursue my salvific mission according to a precisely defined political plan.”
Whether consciously or not, this new generation of Catholic governors have imbibed Cuomo’s wisdom and are exercising sound religious and political judgment.
An analysis of Cuomo’s comments can be found in chapter 10 of New Ways Ministry’s publication Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach. The chapter’s title is “What is the moral responsibility of a Catholic legislator?” You can order free hard copies of the book or download a free PDF of it by clicking here.