ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Early this week, a busload of parishioners from Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda, Md., headed to the Annapolis Statehouse to register their opposition to a proposed same-sex “marriage” bill.
The 30 parishioners met with their representatives in the Maryland Senate, scheduled to consider a “marriage equality” bill for the second time in two years. Afterward, the Bethesda church group joined a throng of activists at a rally in support of traditional marriage.
During the hour-long bus ride from the parish to the statehouse, their pastor, Msgr. Edward Filardi, led the group in the Rosary. Parishioners also rehearsed the arguments they planned to air with their representatives.
Ceci Royals, a mother of eight who has launched a grassroots pro-traditional-marriage effort, helped to prep the group.
“We need to ask: Why should we care?” said Royals, who has dubbed her effort, “87 Coffees,” a reference to her goal of organizing 87 different coffees to showcase the vital role of traditional marriage and encourage her audience to oppose the bill.
Royals laid out a “non-faith” commonsense argument that hinged on a child’s right to a father and a mother.
“Our approach arises out of compassion for children,” she noted, adding that the promotion of same-sex “marriage” suggests that children don’t need a mother or father in their life.
Royals’ child-centered argument has been effectively employed by traditional-marriage supporters in states like Maine, where the effort to legalize same-sex “marriage” was defeated. While voters are increasingly tolerant of same-sex unions, polling reveals that many Americans worry about how a redefinition of marriage might affect a social institution designed to protect children.
Acknowledging this concern, leaders of the Maryland effort to legalize same-sex “marriage” have presented their cause as an effort to “support families.” The question is whether this message will calm opposition to the measure from the state’s historically black churches.
During hearings this week before a Maryland senate committee, Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, a graduate of a local Jesuit boys’ high school, presented the bill as a pro-family measure that respected religious objections.
“This bill is quite simple; it has two parts to it: It reiterates that no religious denomination will ever be required to recognize, perform or celebrate any marriage that is against its beliefs. At the same time, it provides full equality under the law for thousands of same-gender couples in our state, couples like Mark and myself,” said Madaleno, in a reference to his partner, who shares in childrearing responsibilities of their children.
According to a 2012 poll conducted by The Washington Post, “half of Marylanders favor a law allowing same-sex ‘marriage,’ an increase over the past decade. There are sharp racial differences and varying influences on opinion.” Forty percent of respondents opposed the measure, with 74% citing religious reasons for their position.
On Jan. 30, leaders of the statewide effort to uphold traditional marriage organized a rally in front of the Annapolis Statehouse. The rally was also the final destination for the busload of parishioners from Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda.
Maryland Delegate Don Dwyer, a leader in the fight against same-sex “marriage,” said that approximately 2,000 people gathered at the Capitol “to sing, pray and raise their voices in support for marriage,” though other reports placed the number at under 1,000.
While Dwyer has noted a surge of Democratic opposition to the measure since the previous year, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, has made passage of the bill a centerpiece of his political agenda, following the lead of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Catholic, who drew strong backing from party activists and donors after he led a successful campaign to legalize same-sex “marriage” in New York.
On Jan. 29, the governor made an appearance before a cheering audience of 3,000 supporters of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s National Conference in Baltimore.”
“We have just begun our 2012 legislative session, and if there is a common thread running through the issues that we are addressing, it is the thread of human dignity — the dignity of every individual and every family in our state,” said O’Malley. “The dignity of a free and diverse people who at the end of the day, all want the same thing for their children: to live in a loving and caring and stable home that is protected equally under the law.”
The state Attorney General Douglas Gansler and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, both Democrats, also support the bill.
At present, the bill would grant same-sex unions the same rights as marriages between one man and one woman. It was amended to provide some conscience protections that allowed churches to opt out of celebrating or accommodating marriages for same-sex couples.
But religious groups say the exemption is inadequate.
“The provisions in Senate Bill 241 that supposedly ‘exempt’ religious institutions from recognizing marriages in violation of their beliefs cannot possibly encompass the host of situations where conflicts will arise. Further, the exemptions do nothing to protect the freedom of individuals to act in a manner consistent with their deeply held beliefs about marriage,” said a statement issued by the Maryland Catholic Conference in anticipation of the Senate hearing.
If the bill is approved, the president of the state Senate, Thomas Mike Miller, D-Calvert, who opposes the measure, has vowed to put a referendum question on the 2012 ballot so voters can have their say.
The 90-day legislative session requires nimble action from activists on both sides of the issue.
Days after the rally at the statehouse, the same-sex “marriage” bill is poised to clear the Senate. Though Democrats dominate state government, the bill is expected to face hurdles in the House, where delegates are under pressure from black churches to block it.
Last year, prominent Protestant ministers overrode strong Democrat Party support for the measure, while Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore sought but failed to move Gov. O’Malley to oppose the bill.
During legislative hearings before the state Senate, black ministers challenged O’Malley’s contention that the bill would be a social benefit.
Same-sex unions are “not rooted in natural law,” said Pastor Robert Borger of Annapolis Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, a well-regarded lobbyist for the Church, used her Senate testimony to frame the natural-law arguments against same-sex “marriage.” She challenged efforts to establish a moral or legal equivalence between traditional marriage and same-sex unions. “We can’t equate things that are not the same,” she stated.
Father Erik Arnold, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ellicott City, part of the Baltimore Archdiocese, echoed that theme in his testimony, which rejected partisan efforts to characterize opponents of same-sex “marriage” as “bigots.”
Acknowledging efforts by the bill’s supporters to present it as a compassionate response to the practical needs and rights of same-sex couples, Father Arnold argued that the redefinition of marriage was “the wrong way to establish those rights.”
“It removes from marriage the very reason the state first recognized it in the first place: The union of one man and one woman is the only human relationship capable of creating children and nurturing them together as father and mother,” stated Father Arnold.
Black Churches Lead
For now, black Protestant leaders are leading the statewide effort to block the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” While the Maryland Catholic Conference is playing a supporting role, political commentators note that self-identified Catholic political leaders like O’Malley have rejected the Church’s natural law and religious liberty arguments against the bill.
Meanwhile, Our Lady of Lourdes’ pastor, Msgr. Filardi, and parishioners like Ceci Royals plan to stay involved in the fight. Royals has already organized 12 coffees and just sent out a slew of emails designed to increase participation in her initiative.
Royals said the response she has received thus far has inspired her to press on. “Our conversations are helping to break the barrier of silence. People fear they will be judged as hateful, and they’re happy to find the ideas are reasonable and compassionate.”
Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.