Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien was joined by Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly in voicing “strong exception” to Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler’s Feb. 24 written opinion that the state may recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
“Allowing the decisions of out-of-state jurisdictions or courts to dictate public policy in Maryland undermines the proper role of the legislature and the citizens they represent,” the bishops said in a Feb. 25 statement. Archbishop O’Brien, Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Malooly each lead dioceses that include parts of Maryland.
The bishops said Gansler’s opinion chips away at society’s foundational institution.
“The equality of men and women and the dignity of their coming together as husband and wife is not merely a fact of religious faith or an institution established by civil authorities,” the bishops said, “but a fundamental reality rooted in our human nature and experience.”
The bishops argued that marriage is “invariably reserved” to the union of a man and a woman because of their “unique ability” to have children. They underscored that Maryland law clearly defines marriage as being “between a man and a woman” – a definition that has been recently reaffirmed in the General Assembly.
“The attorney general’s opinion demonstrates a fundamental disregard for the nature and purpose of marriage and its impact on society,” they said, “as well as for the expressed will of the legislature and previous attorney general opinions.”
In his opinion, Gansler wrote that the Court of Appeals is “likely to respect the law of other states and recognize a same-sex marriage contracted validly in another jurisdiction.”
Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, was troubled both by Gansler’s opinion and by statements he made in a press conference advising that his opinion should require state agencies to provide benefits to same-sex couples from other states.
“I think the attorney general’s opinion is really circumventing the legitimate legislative process and his comments following the issuing of the opinion seem overreaching,” said Russell, whose organization is the legislative lobbying arm of Maryland’s Catholic bishops. “Until the legislature and the people of Maryland decide differently, we should not be subject to an opinion on an issue of such importance.”
Senate Bill 852, which would define in state law that Maryland’s marriage statute precludes recognition of “foreign” same-sex marriage, was expected to be considered by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee March 3.
In a Feb. 24 statement, Gov. Martin J. O’Malley said his administration “will be guided by the attorney general’s thorough analysis and legal advice on this matter.”
“I am confident that the attorney general and his office will provide all necessary advice to state agencies on how to comply with the law,” said Gov. O’Malley, a Catholic, “and I expect all state agencies to work with the attorney general’s office to ensure compliance with the law.”