ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland House of Delegates “killed” a bill March 11 that sought to legalize same-sex “marriage” in the state.
The House of Delegates sent the bill back to the Judiciary Committee — a move described in The Washington Post as “an acknowledgment by supporters that it did not have sufficient votes to pass on the floor.” It was an unexpected conclusion to an intense political fight that pitted key Democratic lawmakers who are Catholic, but whose votes were contrary to Church doctrine, against the leaders of their Church.
Local Catholic pastors applauded the outcome, yet the disconnect between the public stance of the Maryland Catholic Conference and prominent Democrats like Gov. Martin O’Malley remains unresolved. Is the source of the problem a failure of catechesis or the triumph of partisan loyalties — or both? Certainly, the battle lines underscored the difficulty of changing minds and hearts in a society that increasingly views same-sex “marriage” as a fundamental civil right.
Reflecting on the lessons learned during the course of two political fights over legal same-sex “marriage” in the Archdiocese of Washington — the first in the District of Columbia and the second in Maryland — Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington acknowledged that Church leaders are on a sharp learning curve.
“When we began to address same-sex ‘marriage’ in the District, we thought we were dealing with an issue that was fairly well understood by our people — the definition of ‘marriage,’” recalled Cardinal Wuerl. “We learned we couldn’t take anything for granted in our catechesis. We have to find ways of speaking more clearly, directly and convincingly on this subject.”
Cardinal Wuerl noted that the archdiocesan website MarriageMattersDC.org provided bulletin inserts and other materials used to “educate our faithful on marriage.”
Not long ago, O’Malley, a familiar presence at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis and a graduate of The Catholic University of America, expressed a decided preference for civil unions for same-sex couples.
But once the same-sex “marriage” effort gained traction, the governor promised to sign the bill if it reached his desk. “We need to find a way to support equal rights, and that is true when it comes to committed gay and lesbian couples and the unions in which they choose to enter and raise children and all the issues that go with that,” said the governor during a radio talk-show interview leading up to the vote.
Speaker Mike Busch, a St. Mary’s High School graduate who returned to teach and coach at his alma mater before assuming public office, was more upfront about endorsing the bill.
“I believe in equal civil rights and equal protection under the law for all Marylanders. While historically I supported civil unions, I am voting for this legislation because I feel it is important to ensure that all Marylanders have equal civil rights,” Busch wrote in an e-mail responding to a request for comment.
Father John Kingsbury, pastor of St. Mary’s, located near the state Capitol and the governor’s residence, expressed frustration that Catholic legislators supported the bill.
“These individuals have been presented with the Catholic Church’s position — [Baltimore] Archbishop [Edwin] O’Brien met with the governor,” Father Kingsbury confirmed. The priest said he encouraged legislators to come to him with their questions regarding the issue. “I see their struggles, but I just can’t fathom supporting a law that violates my personal beliefs.”
Msgr. Edward Filardi, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda, Md., met with state Sen. Richard Madaleno D-Kensington, a graduate of Georgetown Preparatory School, a local Jesuit boys’ high school, and the bill’s original sponsor.
The pastor expressed real appreciation for Madaleno’s willingness to meet with him, despite their differences. In media interviews, Madaleno described himself as “married” to his same-sex partner of 10 years, but contended that the state ban on same-sex “marriage” made his partner a “legal stranger.”
Msgr. Filardi joined a large number of grassroots religious leaders speaking out against the redefinition of marriage. Just days before the critical vote, the pastor participated in a prayer vigil at the Capitol alongside Protestant ministers from black churches that beseeched their delegates to oppose the bill.
A 2010 survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute revealed that white evangelicals, and to a lesser degree, African-American Protestants, are most likely to oppose same-sex “marriage,” while mainline Protestants and Catholics were more likely to support it.
Msgr. Filardi suggested that this trend arose from a misunderstanding of what constitutes true Christian compassion. “For some, compassion is a capitulation to the demands of anyone who feels hurt. But compassion doesn’t mean compromising what is true or right.”
Earlier this year, Catholics for Equality, a liberal homosexual-rights activist group, confirmed that a number of Catholic legislators already backed the bill, including Delegate Kathleen Dumais, the new vice chairwoman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee — and a graduate and a longtime board member of St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Md.
O’Malley and Dumais did not respond to requests for comment.
Father Joseph Palacios, a priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and an adjunct professor of liberal studies and Latin American studies at Georgetown University, is a founding member of Catholics for Equality. A statement by the priest on the group’s website sought to connect early American Catholics’ experience of religious intolerance with a modern trend of support for same-sex “marriage”: “Today’s Catholics are the most socially progressive Christian denomination in the U.S.”
Catholics for Equality, and the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, which describes itself as a “gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice” and was the subject of a rare 2010 statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which clarified that it “has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church,” often receive a platform in the local media.
At present, Cardinal Wuerl is working to implement the USCCB’s new catechetical framework, which mandates a comprehensive instruction in the sacraments — including marriage.
Andrew Turner, chairman of the religious studies department at Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School — where Gov. O’Malley spent his teenage years — outlines a sequential curriculum that presents the Church’s countercultural teaching on contentious issues like contraception and same-sex “marriage.”
Msgr. Filardi welcomed the newly fortified religious curriculum. But he said that the spectacle of “Catholic” politicians acquiescing to same-sex “marriage” suggests that “book learning” might not be enough: Catholic lawmakers need real backbone to survive in today’s aggressively secular environment.
Said Msgr. Filardi, “We’re not teaching people to suffer for what they believe.”
Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.