The Catholic Push For Maryland Equality

Catholics have been prominent in the Maryland push for marriage equality – on both sides of the divide. Delegate  Heather Mizeur is a Catholic lesbian who married her spouse, Deborah, five years ago – and is a lead sponsor of the legislation now making its way through the state legislature. Governor Quinn is a Catholic, who has said that  if when the legislation is passed, he will follow his conscience – and sign. Polling evidence shows that collectively, Maryland Catholics are more supportive of marriage without discrimination than the state as a whole. New Ways Ministry, the nationwide organisation founded in 1976 by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent to promoteg sound pastoral care for LGBT Catholics and their families, and providing reliable information about sexual orientation to the Church as a whole, is based in Maryland.


Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo speak at the day-long conference

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry hosted a day-long conference?, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach,  to promote equality.

Several speakers voiced support for marriage equality for Roman Catholic gay and lesbian couples during New Ways Ministry’s all-day conference in Pikesville on Saturday — a view not shared by the Vatican.

But the 70 attendees were buoyed by the hope that the amended version of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, approved by a Senate committee Thursday and headed to the full Senate for debate, would soon make Maryland the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriages.

New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based national Roman Catholic organization, proclaims that it works for justice and equality for lesbian and gay people.

Keynote speaker Del. Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat, said, “Marylanders are fair-minded people, and they will stand up with us, and truly make Maryland the Maryland Free State.”

Mizeur, a Roman Catholic lesbian who married her spouse, Deborah, five years ago in California, said, “We will counter our opponents’ extremism with love, and that’s why we’re going to win.”

Baltimore Sun

This explicit Catholic support for same sex marriage will be crucially important if the legislation now under consideration is to become law. The bill now seems likely to pass the Senate vote this week. Approval by the Delegates and signature by the Governor will probably follow – but that will not settle it. There is likely to be a drive for a voter referendum, as there was in Maine in 2009, which will be held in November. As in Maine, some Catholics will join the bishops in arguing that Catholics are obliged to vote against.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, based in Annapolis, is against the legislation.

“We’re opposed to Senate Bill 116,” said Kathy Dempsey, the organization’s communications director, in an interview. “We favor marriage between one man and one woman.”

The Catholic Church’s official stance is that sexual activity between people of the same gender is not permitted and it therefore opposes same-sex marriage.

Baltimore Sun

This misrepresentation must be countered.   This may be the “official” stance of the Church as represented by the Vatican, but it is not the view of most Catholics, or even of most Catholic professional theologians, many of whom now accept that some homoerotic activities (for example, between partners in a loving, committed and monogamous relationship) are not inherently sinful. The common misconception that the official stance of the Vatican is widely shared is, far too often, the cause of queer Catholics staying away from the Church and sacraments, or of remaining in the Church, but deeply closeted. Both responses are harmful to our spiritual health – and unnecessary. As del Mizeur was able to tell the conference, very often the reaction of Catholics, even clergy, on the ground is very different to the hostility that some might expect:

During the conference at the Pikesville Hilton, Mizeur related the anxiety and pain she felt when she was in college and was fearful of telling a priest who was both a religious counselor and a close friend that she was a lesbian.

“I knew he’d go into a meltdown, and when I told him, he withdrew from me,” she recalled. “Over time and many conversations, he came back to me and apologized.

Mizeur said her priest friend said, “‘You have come into my life and you have made me a better priest.'”

She spoke of people’s fear of change and the importance of keeping or bringing back to the church “our gay brothers and sisters.”

She pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church has been slow to move on this issue.

“Much pain and suffering has been handed out by the church and there is a crisis in the church. We must stay and fight,” she said. “This is a civil rights issue. There is a choice between love and fear. Fear goes away when you pound it with love.”

Baltimore Sun

The Catholic case for same sex-marriage is strong, and must be heard. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, has just published a new book on the subject, “Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach”, which was formally launched at yesterday’s conference.

Catholics’ strong support for marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is the thesis of a new book which examines this controversial topic from theological and political perspectives.

Written in question and answer format, the book dispels the myth that Catholic lay people follow the bishops? public opposition to same-gender marriage. Quite the opposite is true, with Catholic people leading all Christian denominations in their support for lesbian/gay rights.

The book examines the particular case in Maryland, where marriage equality legislation is currently being considered by state lawmakers. With a population that is 23% Catholic (the largest denomination in the state), Maryland is a good barometer for the Catholic electorate nationally. As the author points out, a 2009 poll indicates that the strong support for same-gender marriage among Maryland?s Catholic population mirrors national statistics for Catholics as well. (A plurality of 49% of Maryland Catholics favor legislative action that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.)

In addition to statistical information, the book makes the case, based on theological evidence and church documents, that the views of lay people are authentically Catholic positions. It describes some of the ways that Catholic attitudes about sexuality have been changing over the past several decades, with an emerging consensus that same-gender relationships are holy and should be legalized.

The main text of the book is interspersed with statements from Catholic Marylanders, explaining why they have taken a positive stand towards marriage equality. Some prominent names include: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, State Delegates Heather Mizeur, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and Kriselda Valderrama, and College Park City Councilman Patrick Wojahn. Three Catholic religious Sisters also offer testimonials: Sister Hope Bauerlin, a long-time social justice advocate; Sister Jeannine Gramick, a pioneer in pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics; and Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of the National Public Radio show, Interfaith Voices. Lesbian gay couples and single people, as well as their parents, also are represented.

Windy City Times

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