By Maria Wiering
Maryland’s Catholic leaders are making a final push to galvanize support for the state’s DREAM Act and opposition to same-sex marriage, two referenda measures on this year’s election ballot.
“As important the economy is, not every decision facing us is economic in nature,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. “There are issues relating to the common good of society, and to what kind of society we’re going to be. Those are the things that have a much more long-term impact on ourselves, our families and what kind of world we’re bequeathing to our family.”
Among those issues, he said, are same-sex marriage, the DREAM Act and national religious liberty concerns.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which includes the Maryland Catholic Conference, launched a new series of online, radio and television ads last month to oppose referendum Question 6, which seeks to redefine marriage.
“In these last couple weeks, now that our message is getting out there, you can feel the shifting dynamics,” said Kathy Dempsey, spokesperson for the MCC, which advocates for public policy on behalf of the state’s bishops.
Polling suggests a tight race on same-sex marriage. A month ago, numbers trended toward voters affirming the measure, but a recent Baltimore Sun poll of 801 voters showed voters evenly split. The shift is a good sign, Archbishop Lori said.
Advocates on both sides of the issue caution using polling data to draw conclusions on public opinion. Historically, polling numbers on the issue have not reflected voting booth reality – people tend to poll in favor of same-sex marriage, but vote against it, MCC executive director Mary Ellen Russell has told the Catholic Review.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance is working to combat the notion that altering marriage’s definition does not affect all marriages. In an ad released last week, the MMA features David and Tonia Parker, parents from Massachusetts who objected to their second-grade son being taught about same-sex marriage, and whose public school refused to notify them when the subject was addressed, ignoring their parental rights, they say.
“Don’t make the same mistake and think that gay marriage won’t affect you,” Tonia Parker says in the ad.
If the measure passes, Maryland will be the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by public vote. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Additional concerns about same-sex marriage and First Amendment rights have risen locally after Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., put its chief diversity officer Angela McCaskill on paid administrative leave after it became known that she signed a statewide petition to bring Maryland’s same-sex marriage law to popular vote. Leaders on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate called the decision unjust and support her reinstatement.
Catholic leaders have also expressed concerns about how the measure could affect religious liberty, and urge people not to be fooled by the ballot language, which implies the measure offers religious liberty protections for churches. The protections do not extend to church-affiliated programs that receive government funding or individuals, and opponents fear the law could lead to cases where people who hold religious beliefs against same-sex marriage are legally penalized for expressing them.
“It is very misleading to say that religious liberty is protected because priests won’t have to preside at same-sex marriage ceremonies. That is certainly the least of it. This has to do with the freedom of the church to fulfill its mission,” Archbishop Lori said, adding that it could lead to Catholic agencies losing licensure.
In other states, some Catholic adoption agencies have discontinued services rather than comply with laws forcing them to place children with same-sex or unmarried couples.
Archbishop Lori is also concerned about Catholic institutions’ facility rentals, hiring practices and Catholic school accreditation, he said, should same-sex marriage prevail.
Maryland’s same-sex marriage supporters were recently affirmed by President Barack Obama, who backs Question 6. The president also endorsed referenda to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State and Maine. Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which is spearheading the campaign to support the law, launched a new radio ad featuring the president voicing support for same-sex marriage.
Running counter to the president’s message is Dr. Alveda King, niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who is featured in a radio ad sponsored by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which includes the MCC.
In the ad, King suggests she rejects comparisons between the civil rights movement and gay marriage, as well as some religious leaders’ support for the law.
“Some preachers are saying that gay marriage is inevitable, and they want to be on the right side of history. Well, I believe that we are on the right side of history, and the right side of eternity,” she said.
Although the Catholic Church has theological reasons for marriage remaining an institution exclusive to a man and a woman, the MCC frames its argument for traditional marriage with the important role played by a mother and father in rearing children, and the biological nuclear family’s benefit to society.
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk took that approach in an Oct. 27 Baltimore Sun op-ed, where he argued that society has an interest in preserving traditional marriage because it is good for children.
“We know the roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable or genderless,” he wrote. “Each brings something distinct yet complementary to the family unit. Mothers and fathers play with their kids differently, discipline differently and love differently. Children need and deserve a wholeness and completeness that comes from both a mom and a dad.”
The content and tone were similar to a September op-ed published in Minneapolis’ Star Tribune. A Catholic and father of six, Birk played for the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Ravens in 2009. Minnesota is voting on an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Birk also appeared in video advertisements in both states.
The view of marriage as a union between one man and one woman is not a rejection of anyone’s God-given or constitutional rights, Archbishop Lori said. It is also consistent with the Catholic Church’s social teaching, Archbishop Lori told a gathering of young adults in October, because “it looks to the dignity of the individual and the common good,” he said. “We see the family as one of those intermediate structures that is essential for human flourishing.”
Archbishop Lori has worked to coalesce ecumenical and interfaith support for both traditional marriage and the DREAM Act.
The Baltimore Sun poll showed DREAM Act supporters polling slightly ahead, with 49 percent in support and 47 percent opposed, with a margin of error of 3.5 points. The measure would allow undocumented students who meet certain criteria to attend a state college or university at in-state tuition rates.
The DREAM Act affirms the benefits of education, Archbishop Lori.
“It’s really about helping deserving young people have a chance to develop their potential. I think that’s in their interest, and the interest of society.”
The same-sex marriage law and DREAM Act reflect issues of concern listed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a 2011 introduction added to its 2007 document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
In addition to efforts to redefine marriage and creating just policies for immigrants, the bishops describe concern about “Renewed efforts to force Catholic ministries – in health care, education, and social services – to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need,” pointing to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring most Catholic institutions to provide – without co-pay – contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, which violate the church’s moral teaching.
As chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Lori has been a national leader in the bishops’ work to overturn the mandate. Thirty-seven lawsuits with more than 110 plaintiffs have been filed against the federal government. Seven of the suits were filed in October.
The “Faithful Citizenship” introduction also calls attention to abortion and protection of all human life; the economic crisis; and war, terrorism and violence, noting that some of the issues “(involve) opposition to intrinsic evils and other (raise) serious moral questions.”
Maryland also faces a third statewide contentious ballot referendum, Question 7, which seeks to expand casino gambling within the state. The MCC presented testimony against the measure during the special legislative session last summer, citing concern “not so much for the casual gambler but more so for those with lower incomes who may become addicted to gambling and thus more heavily in debt and more likely to bring financial ruin to themselves and their families.”
Early voting began Oct. 27 and was to end Nov. 2, although some voting days were expected to be cancelled as Hurricane Sandy made landfall Oct. 29.
Archbishop Lori urges Catholics to vote and to form their consciences well. He also said prayer is “primary” during the election season, and he encourages Catholics to go to Mass or eucharistic adoration Election Day, Nov. 6.
“As we enter upon this time of national and local decision making, I pray that we will be united as a community of faith, and we will think about what really binds us together, because the very things that bring us together as a Catholic community are also very good for society and culture,” he said.