The U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign, designed to try to convince people that religious freedom is under attack in our nation, ended on July 4th. LGBT Catholics and supporters gathered on that day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC, to protest the campaign. The Washington Blade reports:
“ ‘We’re here as a non-partisan group of Catholics to say we don’t want our church involved in these kind of politics,’ Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation, told the Blade as he and other protesters stood in front of the basilica on Michigan Avenue, N.E. ‘We want our church leaders to be pastoral leaders particularly concerned with the poor and the vulnerable, the gay and lesbian community, women and the equal rights of all people rather than the partisan politics they seem to be playing.’ ”
“Members of Catholics United, Dignity USA, Nuns on the Bus, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and other organizations took part in the protest that coincided with a Mass that marked the end of the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched last month in Baltimore. Protesters sang hymns and held a banner that read ‘Bishops: We need pastors, not politicians. Your antics are hurting the church’ on the sidewalk in front of the basilica as the faithful arrived. . . .
” ‘I’m here today because I think our bishops are on the wrong track,’ said Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and the National Coalition of American Nuns. ‘They’re using religious liberty as a political tool to be against the president, when in reality the people whose religious liberty is being denied are the people who work at church-related institutions. Freedom of conscience is for the individual.’ . . .
” ‘They [the bishops] want equality only for heterosexual people and so they’re using the argument of religious freedom,’ stressed Gramick. ‘It’s the freedom of the individual that’s being denied. No church or religious institution is going to be forced to perform gay weddings and this is what our bishops are leading Catholics to believe, which is false.’ ”
“The Catholic hierarchy is trying to fundamentally change the legal understanding of individual liberties, weighting the supposed rights of religious institutions more heavily than individual rights. At New Ways Ministry, we think there are good secular and religious arguments for not twisting the law into a tool for discrimination. Last fall, the Catholic bishops created the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to protect against a host of alleged threats, with five of the six predictably having to do with sexuality. The committee opposes same-sex marriage and endorses ‘ministerial privilege,’ which sets different employment standards for religious groups, allowing discrimination that is illegal for other employers. In addition, religious institutions should not have to cover contraception in employee health plans; Catholic charities should continue to be awarded federal funds to serve victims of human trafficking while refusing to provide a full range of reproductive services; and international HIV prevention programs should not require condom distribution. . . .
“The LGBT community has suffered under the law, both by discriminatory statutes and from a lack of recognition for dimensions of our lives that don’t fit within existing legal norms. But our faith in the law and our respect for religious differences are what have many of us invested in the painstaking process of nurturing good, rights-affirming policies while uprooting injustice. Our fundamental objection to the bishops’ religious freedom campaign is that it’s a misuse of the law — an attempt to create new rights for religious institutions while trampling on the rights long-guaranteed to all individuals.”
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.
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.)
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
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.
(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
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.
ALLEN ROSE, President, Dignity/Washington
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.