Catholics play key roles in Maryland marriage equality debate

by Thomas C. Fox

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Catholics are playing a pivotal role in the marriage equality debate that is heating up in Maryland. While the Maryland Catholic Conference opposes the Religious Freedom and Marriage Protection Act, Catholic lawmakers and Catholic citizens are making the difference to work for the passage of this bill.

State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (D), a Catholic, is the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Numerous other Catholic state legislators have already co-sponsored the bill, including Delegate Heather Mizeur (D), a lesbian Catholic. Maryland’s Catholic governor, Martin O’Malley, has stated that he will sign the bill into law if both houses of the legislature pass it. Twenty Senators have already pledged to vote for the bill; 24 votes are needed for passage in the Senate.

A vote will likely happen before the end of February.

The bill, SB 116, was the subject of a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on Tuesday, February 8, in Annapolis. Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Maryland resident and long-time pastoral minister and advocate for lesbian and gay people, testified at the hearing, stating:

“The political definition of marriage needs to be fair and free from discrimination. As someone who has spent my life in pastoral ministry, I know the devastating effects of discrimination on people’s lives. If heterosexual marriages are recognized by the state, then not recognizing same-gender marriages is discriminatory. Such unfairness is politically wrong and it is morally wrong.”

New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based national Catholic ministry of justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, is distributing a book to Maryland Catholics, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach. “The book shows how faithful Catholics are supporting marriage equality,” said Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, the book’s author. “Catholic lay people have a different approach to the question of marriage equality than their bishops do.”

The book cites a November 2009 poll conducted by Greenberg, Quinlan, and Rossner, showing that Catholics in Maryland support marriage equality legislation. Some important statistics from this survey illustrate this claim:

1. A 49 percent plurality of Maryland Catholics favor legislative action that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, while 42% are opposed. Compared to all Maryland voters, Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality. Of all Maryland voters, 47 percent support legalizing marriage between same-gender couples while 44 percent oppose it.

2. Geographically, Maryland’s largest population centers have large numbers of Catholics who favor marriage equality legislation. In Baltimore and Baltimore County, 52 percent of Catholics are in favor versus 39 percent who oppose. In Prince George’s County, close to 50percent of Catholics are in favor of marriage equality.

New Ways Ministry is sponsoring a day-long conference about Catholic support for marriage equality on February 19, 2011, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., at the Hilton Pikesville Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. For information, visit New Ways Ministry or call 301-277-5674.

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