National Catholic Register


The Maine Event

Church Instrumental in Marriage Win

BY Joan Frawley Desmond


November 15-21, 2009 Issue | Posted 11/9/09 at 12:04 PM


PORTLAND, Maine — The defeat of same-sex “marriage” at the polls in Maine Nov. 3 suggests that Portland Bishop Richard Malone’s “commonsense” message resonated with the state’s relatively secular voters.

Now, advocates for traditional marriage are expected to advance this argument in future marriage battles, from Washington, D.C., to Washington state.

Earlier this fall, Maine emerged as a key political battleground on same-sex “marriage.” Bishop Malone was the most visible spokesman for a public campaign that underscored the dire social consequences of redefining marriage. Now, at the conclusion of his hard-fought campaign, however, Bishop Malone is far from complacent; not only did he choose to absent himself from the election night victory celebration, he is now starkly aware of the great catechetical challenge that faces every Catholic ordinary in the country.

“This has been brutal, yet I experienced the great grace of my vocation as a bishop,” he said.

The most difficult moments of the campaign came when he confronted “a terrible onslaught by dissenting Catholics who twice put a statement in local papers challenging my leadership.”

Just a year ago, the passage of California Proposition 8 marked the culmination of a winning political strategy designed to heighten awareness about the negative impact of same-sex “marriage” on children and the exercise of religious freedom. Mormon and Catholic leaders led a statewide campaign that drew strong backing from Hispanic and black voters, but also stirred support from nonbelievers.

In Maine, after the state’s legislature legalized same-sex “marriage” earlier this year, opponents of the practice initiated a petition campaign that obtained double the 55,087 signatures required to bring the issue to a vote in this year’s off-year election.

While same-sex “marriage” is legal in five states, when the issue has been put to a popular vote, it has failed to win approval. Thirty states have passed constitutional amendments upholding traditional marriage.

Testifying before the state’s legislature in August, Bishop Malone described same-sex “marriage” as “a dangerous sociological experiment that I believe will have negative consequences for society as a whole.”

“Children will be taught in schools that same-sex ‘marriage’ and traditional marriage are simply different expressions of the same thing, and that the logical and consistent understanding that marriage and reproduction are intrinsically linked is no longer valid. These are profound changes that will reverberate throughout society with tragic consequences,” he continued.

Bishop Malone’s statement reflected the tough Christian realism that permeates Catholic moral and social doctrine. But his public stance also repeated the central theme of the California Yes on Prop 8 campaign.

Indeed, when Marc Mutty, director of the Portland Diocese’s office of public affairs, took a leave of absence to head Stand for Marriage Maine, the political action committee leading the repeal effort, he hired Sacramento-based political consultants Schubert Flint Public Affairs, which had directed the Yes on Prop 8 campaign.

Catholic Vote Key

Stand for Marriage drew strong support from Maine evangelicals and established a tight collaboration with the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage, which poured $1.8 million into the repeal effort.

“We will probably be outspent two to one, but Bishop Malone has fought hard and deserves credit for his great determination,” reported Maggie Gallagher, a marriage expert and author who founded the National Organization for Marriage after Massachusetts began allowing same-sex “marriage” in 2007.

Catholics constitute less than 20% of Maine’s population, but Gallagher contends “the Catholic vote remained key, and gay ‘marriage’ advocates understand that. In Maine, they ran ads featuring Catholics who question the teaching authority of the bishops.”

Brian Souchet, Stand for Marriage Maine’s parish-outreach coordinator, participated in public debates that showcase both the importance of natural-law arguments for secular voters but also expose the poor formation of many Catholic voters who attack the Church’s stance.

“We say that kids need moms and dads. We speak about practicalities. The opposition argues that marriage is just a benefits package,” said Souchet. “But the debates reveal the Church divided: We have so much work to do.”

Orchestrating a rapid-response strategy that defended Bishop Malone’s teaching authority and emphasized the moral responsibility of Catholics to resist same-sex “marriage,” Stand for Marriage also consistently repeated its most effective argument: A redefinition of marriage could require public schools to present same-sex unions and traditional marriage as morally equivalent.

Maine’s attorney general publicly challenged that prediction, contending that legalized same-sex “marriage” would have limited impact in the classroom. But days before the election, the bishop’s warning was lent additional credence after a public school guidance counselor — quoted in a campaign ad that warned of homosexual “marriage” being pushed on children — was the target of a formal complaint, by a school employee, seeking to revoke his professional license.

Fending Off Harassment

Stand for Marriage won that round, but it lost another campaign skirmish: when a Maine judge rejected its federal lawsuit designed to block the public disclosure of its donor base, a legal requirement in Maine.

In California, homosexual activists publicly targeted a handful of Yes on Prop 8 donors, leading some to resign from their jobs. Stand for Marriage Maine worried that a similar pattern of harassment could have a chilling effect on its fundraising effort. Traditional marriage advocates in Washington state raised similar concerns and successfully blocked the disclosure of petition signers as a potential threat to First Amendment rights. That legal victory is expected to have a ripple effect in future same-sex “marriage” battles.

In a departure from the Prop 8 campaign playbook, religious freedom issues received less attention in Maine, an implicit acknowledgement of the state’s relatively secular culture. However, in the District of Columbia, where a same-sex “marriage” victory is already a foregone conclusion, a robust religious exemption has already emerged as a key concern of Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

“We will have to wait to see what unfolds, but any legislation that doesn’t recognize religious freedom and the right of conscience is profoundly flawed,” said Archbishop Wuerl, who has joined forces with local religious groups to raise concerns about the social fallout of legal same-sex “marriage.”

The bill in question, strongly supported by the majority of District of Columbia City Council members, will come up for a final vote in December. Mayor Adrian Fenty has vowed to sign the bill, which will then go to Congress. There, it is likely to receive the necessary backing from a sympathetic Democratic majority.

In the meantime, Archbishop Wuerl, like Bishop Malone, is working hard to strengthen archdiocesan catechetical programs designed to reach the young, and he welcomes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ upcoming pastoral letter on marriage as an especially timely statement.

“The polling suggests that people see same-sex ‘marriage’ as a civil-rights issue, not a faith issue,” concluded Archbishop Wuerl. “In the archdiocese, we are trying to speak with as much clarity as possible to this young secular group precisely about marriage and how it undergirds the whole social structure.”

Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.