AUGUSTA, Maine — Next month, Maine voters will decide if the state should allow marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples.
The measure marks the first time supporters of same-sex "marriage" have proposed the question of legalization on a state ballot.
The proposal goes before voters of the Pine Tree State three years after residents passed a "people’s veto," effectively negating an effort by the Maine Legislature to legalize same-sex "marriage" earlier in 2009.
The campaigns both for and against the initiative play out in a national context this year: President Barack Obama’s position against same-sex "marriage" has "evolved" into support for it, and his Democratic Party has adopted a plank in its national platform supporting legalization.
Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s support of marriage between one man and one woman this past summer drew criticism from the Democratic mayors of several large cities, spurring grassroots support for the fast-food chain.
The Maine initiative, titled "An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom," seeks to make terms related to marriage gender neutral in civil law.
The proposed act includes distinct language to offer religious-conscience protection.
"This chapter does not require any member of the clergy to perform or any church, religious denomination or other religious institution to host any marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of that member of the clergy, church, religious denomination or other religious institution," states the proposal.
It goes on to state that a refusal of a religious institution to perform a marriage under the new marriage classification cannot be the source of a lawsuit or threaten its tax-exempt status.
However, if the measure does pass, a host of wedding-related businesses — cake makers, photographers, banquet-hall owners — could encounter a stream of same-sex couples. If a business were to refuse to serve such customers, it might be in violation of a 2005 Maine law that added sexual orientation to civil-rights protection.
According to Amy Sneirson of the Maine Human Rights Commission, these types of businesses could be considered a service industry in the broader category of public accommodation listed under the law.
It can be complicated to determine, in each case, "whether something truly is a public accommodation," said Sneirson, whose organization, a partially independent agency of the state, reviews cases.
Theoretically then, a small business owner or sole proprietor who doesn’t want to provide services for a same-sex "wedding" on moral grounds could be in a challenging legal situation. But this year’s proposed act to extend marriage licenses does not change the 2005 law already in effect.
A Catholic Proponent
Matt McTighe is the campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, the central organization supporting the effort to expand the issuing of marriage certificates. He said that his group has had 130,000 conversations with people in Maine since 2009 and that attitudes have shifted.
"It’s not always as cut and dried as ‘I was 100% against you, and now I am 100% for you,’ but people are moving closer and closer to being more supportive every day," said McTighe in an interview.
He said he fully supports and protects people’s ability to express religious beliefs in the public square as long as they are in compliance with the law.
McTighe, a Catholic, said that making a lifelong commitment to be with another person is a "stabilizing force that actually makes my family stronger; it makes all families stronger."
"It reaffirms that marriage really is, at its core, about committing to one person for the rest of your life — to love and honor and commit to somebody," he said. "To me, that’s not a redefinition — that’s us trying to honor and join this institution, not change it."
He says Catholics have changed their minds about the issue.
"It’s not something that they think is incompatible with Church teaching; in fact, a lot of them look to their faith to help affirm [their position]: the idea of just, really, like, you know, the Golden Rule."
However, the Church teaches that there are five intrinsic evils that, if a person complies with any one of them, put their immortal soul in jeopardy: abortion (includes contraception, in vitro fertilization and sterilization), euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and homosexual "marriage."
The Catechism teaches that homosexuals "do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them, it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (2358). "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (2359).
Portland Diocese’s Response
In 2009, the Diocese of Portland’s public-policy director took a leave of absence to lead a political action committee (PAC) called Stand for Marriage Maine, which had the help of evangelical Christians, Mormons and others in fighting against a measure passed by the Maine Legislature to legalize same-sex "marriage."
A provision that allows citizens to gather signatures against a state law, called a "people’s veto," ended up winning with 53% of the vote, shutting down the effort.
Then the Diocese of Portland, which incorporates all of Maine, took up second collections at Masses to support the effort to preserve marriage, and Bishop Richard Malone appealed to other bishops for financial assistance.
This year, Bishop Malone and the diocese have opted to not take part in the central PAC called Protect Marriage Maine. Instead, the diocese is focused on an education campaign centered on a pastoral letter called "Marriage: Yesterday, Today, Always." The letter and other information can be found on the site BeautyofMarriage.org.
Bishop Malone was installed Aug. 19 as the bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., but he is also the apostolic administrator for the Portland Diocese.
Though the pastoral letter coincides with the opposition’s push to change the marriage classification, it had been in the works since 2011, according to Brian Souchet, director of the diocese’s Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
In a March 2 videotaped press conference, Bishop Malone gave statements and answered questions about the letter, along with his team in the marriage office.
"I am also inspired to write this letter because so many people, in my opinion, have forgotten the unique and particular qualities that must be present to constitute a marriage," he said.
Bishop Malone said his hope is that more people will understand the "unique gift" of marriage and that "they will embrace it for their lives and allow it to form their consciences as they prepare to vote this November."
He pointed to the situation in 2009 and how many Catholics "needed a deeper understanding of the nature of marriage."
"For 30 or 40 years, and I hate to admit it, in the Catholic Church in this country, we haven’t done as good a job educating our people about some very important things," said Bishop Malone.
Souchet told the Register that the educational effort will continue beyond the November election.
"We plan on being very vocal, not just because there’s a campaign, but because this issue is so important."
Bishop Malone’s pastoral letter draws on the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World): "Children are meant to be the gift of the permanent and exclusive union of a husband and wife and are seen as the crown of marriage."
"A child is meant to have a mother and father," Bishop Malone wrote. He also calls to mind the scriptural imagery of God as a potter and that "the different elements of clay and water represent the distinct ‘elements’ of every marriage, one man and one woman, who always stand in need of the Lord’s care and assistance."
"Just as the finished piece of pottery symbolizes the unique and exclusive bond that arises from the exchange of marriage vows, so it also signifies the new reality that comes about from different and complementary elements."
The letter also includes a section that presents the institution of marriage within a natural-law framework. Pope Benedict XVI is quoted in his address to the Roman Rota in January of this year: "Thus, there is no such thing as one (kind of) marriage according to life and another according to law: Marriage is one thing alone; it constitutes a real legal bond between the man and the woman, a bond which sustains the authentic, conjugal dynamic of life and love."
Justin Bell writes from Boston.