Massachusetts Showdown

BOSTON — With just weeks left before a May 10 legislative hurdle, backers of a Massachusetts marriage amendment are counting on priests and fellow Christians to rally support.

“The only way you’re going to get Catholics mobilized on this is to get it coming from the pulpit,” said C.J. Doyle, director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

If lawmakers give a green light to the ballot initiative at this coming constitutional convention and again next year, then voters in 2008 will decide the question.

Opponents are working hard to kill the Protection of Marriage Amendment, which would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That legal protection was lost after the Massachusetts Legislature ducked the issue in 2002, which led the next year to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court redefining marriage by a one-vote margin.

Pro-family advocates have faced a barrage of intimidation tactics, from harassing phone calls to being called outrageous religious bigots and likened to slave owners and Nazis in the secular and homosexual press.

Protesters picketed outside Masses at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and elsewhere last fall when a successful signature drive for the amendment began. The drive garnered 170,000 names, more than twice the number needed, and then two pro-homosexual websites posted the names and addresses of every petitioner whose name was certified.

Given intense pressure like this nationwide to legalize same-sex “marriage,” Catholics really need an informed conscience, according to Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word Father Francis Mary, a host of the EWTN television show “Life on the Rock.”

“The media ‘mainstreams’ so-called same-sex marriage and belittles as ‘homophobes’ those who would sound any warnings as to the dangers to children, families, society and the souls of men,” he said in an April 3 interview.

Father Francis alluded to an earlier homily he had given on EWTN about the need to understand how societal breakdown happens over time: from acceptance of no-fault divorce to “alternative lifestyles,” then to “gay adoption.”

“Lies are being perpetrated,” he said. “As priests, we need to lay out the reasons why Church teaching is reasonable. God’s law is always for our benefit. It’s charity in its highest degree to give somebody the truth about the moral life.”

Next Hurdle

Pro-family volunteers said they would welcome more vocal support from both lay Catholics and clergy. Cardinal Sean O’Malley and the other three Massachusetts bishops back the amendment, but cooperation from parish to parish has been spotty.

“I know some people don’t want to get involved in politics, but this is worth fighting for,” Catholic Citizenship Worcester County Coordinator Shari Worthington said. Her group is among 30 working under VoteOnMarriage.org, a coalition of 1,200 houses of worship and thousands of volunteers.

“Some priests are wonderful; they embrace the message wholeheartedly,” Worthington said. But some do not and tell her they have “bigger issues” to deal with.

Former state Sen. Edward Kirby, R-Whitman, another grassroots volunteer, had one pastor hang up on him twice. Kirby thinks some people’s reluctance to get involved comes from poor catechesis; they may have a homosexual relative and are unsure of what to do.

“There is a spiritual battle going on,” Father Francis explained. “We ourselves may need an intellectual conversion. We need to pray for the grace to transform our minds and to grow in our faith.”

Chances of the amendment surviving its next legislative hurdle are good “if it’s allowed to go to the floor without shenanigans or back-door tactics,” according to Lisa Barstow, spokeswoman for VoteOnMarriage.org. But the group’s website notes that the process “will be an uphill struggle because House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini are both beholden to the powerful gay lobby.”

Neither Travaglini nor DiMasi, both Catholics, responded to requests from the Register for comments.

Opponents from the homosexual advocacy group MassEquality.org also chose not to comment. However, spokesman Marc Solomon was quoted by the Associated Press March 31 as saying the group wants to kill the amendment “so it never gets to the ballot.”

State Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, has worked for years trying to protect marriage. In addition to backing this amendment, he has co-sponsored related bills for the Article 8 Alliance, which works for parents’ rights and against judicial activism. One current bill Travis sponsored would declare the 2003 court ruling illegal and remove the four judges responsible for it, and another would define marriage by statute.

“Our position is based on natural order, moral values, Judeo-Christian values. And I am driven to prove that,” Travis said.

Recent Ruling

Gov. W. Mitt Romney backs the amendment and applauded the March 30 judicial ruling limiting out-of-staters from marrying. Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples from other states cannot get married in Massachusetts if they plan to return to their home states.

The case resulted from eight out-of-state couples who were denied marriage licenses following Massachusetts’ acceptance of same-sex “marriage.” Massachusetts became the first state in the country to allow such unions.

Six of the seven justices made the ruling, writing that the state’s laws do not give non-residents an “unfettered right to marry.” The court also asked for a determination on whether such unions are prohibited in the states of Rhode Island and New York.

Some critics of Romney have claimed that if the governor had defied the judges in 2003, this would have prevented the ruling from taking effect before 7,300 same-sex “marriages” occurred over the following 20 months. In response to that criticism, his spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said April 3 that Romney disagreed with that court ruling and is “working within the law to overturn that decision.”

Every resident who appreciates what the civil and cultural fallout of that decision will be needs to speak up now, said Daniel Avila, policy director for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. “Regardless of whether our elected officials favor or oppose this court-made dictate, our message is this: Don’t prevent the voters from weighing in.”

Gail Besse is based in

Hull, Massachusetts.

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