As Maryland politicians prepare to give final approval to a law that will redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, local Christians have pledged to bring the issue to a referendum in November.

“The Catholic Church, like others throughout Western civilization for thousands of years, has regarded marriage for its unique gifts rooted in nature,” said Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, apostolic administrator of Baltimore.

He said that the archdiocese “will eagerly and zealously engage its 500,000 members in overturning this radical legislation.”

A bill to legalize same-sex “marriage” was narrowly approved by the Virginia Senate on Feb. 23. The legislation, which has already been approved by the House of Delegates, passed the senate by a 25-22 vote after only 48 hours of deliberation.

Gov. Martin O’Malley is a strong advocate of same-sex “marriage” and has already pledged to sign the bill into law.

When he does so, Maryland will become the eighth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.

However, an amendment added to the bill to allow for its passage pushes back its effective date until January 2013. This allows time for the issue to be brought to a vote of the people through a referendum.

Marriage advocates say they will now begin collecting signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November.

Julia Vidmar, assistant director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, told Catholic News Agency on Feb. 20 that the bill was “not the will of the people.”

She said that her group would be “starting the referendum process” immediately if the bill was approved.

An alliance statement said that the bill had been “coercively passed” through the House of Delegates through the influence of “special-interest groups and activists,” including “a coalition of out-of-state organizations.”

“Thankfully, Maryland law allows for a referendum process,” it added, reaffirming its commitment to bringing the issue “to the vote of the people of Maryland.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference, which advocates for the Church’s positions on public policy, said in a Feb. 23 statement that the legislation ignores the “unique connection” between marriage and parenthood.

It noted that the legislation has generated “enormous public outcry” from residents of various “political, racial, social and religious backgrounds,” indicating the “clear need to take this issue to a vote of the people.”

“Every time this issue has been brought to a statewide vote, the people have upheld traditional marriage,” the conference said.

“When this issue reaches the November ballot, we are confident that the citizens of Maryland will join voters in 31 other states in upholding marriage between one man and one woman.”

Feb. 22 story below.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference lauded Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill recognizing same-sex “marriage” in the state, but observed that better marriage formation for local Catholics is still needed.

“The governor had always indicated that that would be his action. So we are appreciative. We support his position,” state conference executive director Patrick Brannigan told CNA on Feb. 21.

On Feb. 17, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the measure, saying “an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.”

The Republican governor encouraged the legislature to seek New Jersey citizens’ input and allow them to vote on “a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change.”

The New Jersey Assembly passed the legislation by a vote of 42 to 33, and the local Senate passed the bill 24-16. While legislators can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both bodies, such a vote is believed to be unlikely.

“There are clearly not enough votes to override his veto,” Brannigan said. “Everyone realizes that as long as Chris Christie is governor of the state of New Jersey that there’s not a chance that a bill passed by the legislature will be signed into law. So there’s a hiatus of two, maybe six, years before that.”

He added that New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses will continue to work in marriage preparation and support for troubled families.

“Marriage is a sacrament for Catholics, where we come together and work together to become one,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to teach the Church’s teaching on marriage and, hopefully, that will resonate throughout our diocese and throughout our state.”

In particular, marriage preparation “is so important, especially in our society, which is a secularized society that looks towards individuals,” he said. “In marriage, you have to look toward your spouse and your children, the family. That is countercultural today.”

Brannigan noted that the bishops’ statements on the bill all referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he said indicates “there should be no discrimination against people; that everyone is a child of God; that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, and that everyone deserves respect and dignity.”

This is important to say, he said, because opponents of same-sex “marriage” are sometimes accused of bigotry.

“One of the supporters of same-sex ‘marriage’ in the state Assembly said that if you don’t support same-sex ‘marriage’ you’re a bigot and you’re discriminating. That’s not true,” Brannigan said.

“Same-sex unions are not the same as marriage between a man and a woman,” he stressed, adding that it is not discriminatory to define something that is different as being different.

Though society aims to encourage and help single-parent families, “for government to say that you do not need a father or do not need a mother is far different.”

While it is possible for the New Jersey Legislature to call a ballot referendum on the issue, the Democratic leadership of the state Senate and the state Assembly will not likely propose it.

Brannigan said he believes this is because it will fail if put to a vote.

“I believe firmly that if the bill is on the ballot it will be defeated. We will maintain marriage as a union of a man and a woman.”

Brannigan explained that the New Jersey Catholic Conference has never called for a referendum issue.

“What the bishops have been saying is that government does not have the right to define marriage or to redefine marriage. Marriage, from the beginning of time, is a natural institution which flows from natural law that precedes government and precedes law,” he said. 

“If we’re saying that government can’t redefine it, why would we say that you can put it up for the vote and let the general public redefine it?”

The executive director also countered same-sex “marriage” advocates who say New Jersey’s civil-union act, which allows legal benefits for same-sex couples, is broken. He said that in five years there have been only 13 complaints related to the act. Ten of these complaints came in the act’s first year.

While advocates claim that there are problems for same-sex couples at hospitals, Brannigan says the New Jersey Department of Health has not received any complaints, and same-sex “marriage” advocates do not make charges against any specific hospitals.

“The suggestion that hospitals are discriminating … doesn’t hold water in New Jersey. The strongest argument that people are putting forward for same-sex ‘marriage’ has no substance to it.”

Meanwhile, the recent passage of a bill to legalize same-sex “marriage” in the Maryland House has led to criticism from marriage advocates, who vow to oppose the bill as it moves forward. 

“This was not the will of the people,” said Julia Vidmar, assistant director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance.

Vidmar told EWTN News on Feb. 20 that the legislation “was passed through political maneuvering” and that the state’s representatives “are not listening” to local citizens.

The House of Delegates passed the bill by a 72-67 vote after hours of debate on Feb. 17. It will now move to the state Senate, which approved a similar bill last year.

If the measure succeeds, Maryland will become the eighth state, plus the District of Columbia, to redefine marriage.

The bill’s success in the House was possible due to the vote of two Republicans as well as numerous Democratic advocates.

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman also supported the bill, and former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly lobbied in favor of it in the days leading up to the vote.

The legislation is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a strong advocate of same-sex “marriage.”

An amendment added to the bill to allow for its passage would push its effective date back until January 2013, permitting time to put the issue up for a vote in a referendum on the November ballot.

However, Vidmar explained, the referendum process cannot begin until the law is passed.

“This is why our focus this week will be on the Senate,” she said.

Marriage advocates “would like to kill the bill in session” because the referendum process is “very long and expensive” and would draw resources away from other efforts in support of marriage and family, Vidmar noted.

“Should the bill pass, we will be starting the referendum process and are confident that we can uphold marriage in Maryland through this process,” she said.

Vidmar urged the people of Maryland to contact their senators and let their voices be heard before the senate votes on the bill.

“Every child deserves the right to a father and a mother,” she said, adding that redefining marriage also “impinges on religious freedom” by threatening the ability of organizations such as Catholic Charities “to act according to their beliefs.”

“Marriage predates civil law,” emphasized Vidmar. “It is the vital to every healthy and flourishing society and is the fundamental building block of society.”