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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) activity in Maryland (and elsewhere)

Part 1: Division about marriage equality
between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and laity

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This is a continuation from another essay.

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In this section, "SSM" means "same-sex marriage;"
"LGBT" means "lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons.

Although this essay describes Catholic reaction to marriage equality
in Maryland, it is probably typical of the rest of the U.S. as well.

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Catholic reaction to the marriage equality bill in Maryland:

The Maryland House of Delegates' Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee jointly approved the state's SSM bill on 2012-FEB-15. The full House passed it on FEB-17. The Senate followed suite on FEB-23, and Governor O'Malley signed it into law on MAR-01. Once it became law, a group of religious and social conservatives started to raise a petition to place a citizens' initiative on the ballot for election day in 2012-NOV. If passed by the voters, it would repeal the SSM law.

Shortly after the bill was signed into law, Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, wrote an essay on the Maryland Catholic Conference's web site titled:

"A radical redefinition of marriage. Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is inspired not by bigotry but the desire to preserve a cherished institution." 1

A massive disconnect exists between the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic laity:

  • Catholic clergy are among the most vocal opponent of marriage equality in the culture.

  • As of early 2012, five Catholic state governors have signed bills into law that have legalized SSM: Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, Governor John Baldacci of Maine, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire, Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland. 2

  • In most polls, a majority of Catholic laity say that  they favor marriage equality at a rate slightly above that of the general population. A 2011-JUL study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that:
    • 47% of American adults favor SSM vs. 47% who are opposed. (These numbers indicate much lower support and much higher opposition than other polls.)
    • 56% of White Catholics favor SSM, vs. 39% opposed
    • 53% of Hispanic Catholics favor SSM, vs. 37% opposed. 3

Catholics had a higher level of support for SSM than did white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Mormons and White Evangelicals. Only Jews, adults unaffiliated with any religion, and non-Christians had higher level of support for SSM. N = 5,450.

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Is opposition to SSM bigotry?

Unfortunately, Cardinal O'Brien's essay is too long to be reproduced here without violating copyright restrictions. So we deleted the first two thirds of his essay which dealt with the growing concern among Catholics and other religious and social conservatives that anyone who opposes the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to marry are increasingly regarded as "radicals" and "intolerant bigots."

He has a valid concern. Consider two other occasions in the past when marriage was redefined in the U.S.:

  • One occurred at the conclusion of the Civil War when African Americans were allowed to marry anywhere in the U.S. If any people today oppose such marriages, they would probably be called "radicals" and "intolerant bigots" by most Americans. The country has moved on from that level of racism.

  • Another occurred in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme court nullified the anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states and allowed inter-racial couples to marry anywhere in the U.S. Although over 40% of adults in Mississippi in 2012 still favor the banning or re-criminalization of mixed-race marriages, it is probable that most Americans outside the South would feel that anyone opposed to such marriages is a "radical" and an "intolerant bigot."

  • Currently, a growing majority of American adults favor marriage being made available to same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage is legal in all ten provinces and three territories in Canada since mid-2005. It has been legalized in the District of Columbia and eight states in the U.S. There is every likelihood that if same-sex marriage continues to spread across the U.S. that those opposed to SSM will be increasingly regarded as "radicals" and "intolerant bigots" by most North Americans.

    Fundamentalist, other evangelical, and other conservative Christian denominations are experiencing an accelerated loss of membership among older teens and young adults. A significant reason for this loss is the denominations' stance on human sexuality generally, and the LGBT community in particular. Continued opposition to SSM is having its costs, which may well intensify in the future.

In the last third of his essay, Cardinal O'Brien wrote, in part:

"Some may suggest that our society's traditional understanding of marriage has already unraveled and that redefining marriage won't harm it any further. But this radical redefinition of marriage will irreparably undermine the irreplaceable role that both a mother and father play in the life of a child and relegate their relationship to an arbitrary status among many other family arrangements.

As the Catholic Church joins with so many others its efforts to returning our law to a proper recognition of marriage, we commit ourselves to advocating for the truth in a manner that is respectful, compassionate and worthy of the love our God calls us to bring to all our brothers and sisters.

That truth, deeply embedded in our faith, cannot be dismissed as an imposition of a religious belief on others of differing faiths. It is a truth that both faith and reason have placed before us, and that encompasses a universal recognition about our human experience. To put it simply, from the very beginning of time until now, no human being has ever existed without the agency of a mother and a father.

Assigning the label of "marriage" to any relationship between two people forces all of society to forgo our most basic understanding of the natural origins of the family. No matter how sympathetic the claims of the proponents of redefining marriage may seem, they mask a fact that cannot be denied about the true nature of marriage.

It is my prayer that the people of Maryland will recognize this truth in their hearts when they go to the voting booth in November."

Marriage is certainly in difficulty in the U.S. The divorce rate is approximately 50% for first marriages. Of the marriages that survive for a lifetime. many are toxic. The divorce rate is higher than 50% for subsequent marriages. One famous movie star's marriage lasted 55 hours. Kim Kardashian's $17.9 million wedding resulted in a marriage that was terminated after 72 days. It promoted a programmer to create the Kardashian Calculator (a.k.a. Kardashian Kalculator) in which the length of marriages is measured in units of Kardashians; each Kardashian equals 72 days. 4,5

The Bachelor and Bachelorette "reality" TV programs typically end with two persons committing to marry after having known each other for perhaps 30 hours.

A case can be made that the devaluing of marriage is caused by:

  • The media's continual devaluing of marriage, and
  • The lack of compulsory pre-marital counseling courses for engaged couples.

Webmaster's note: I have been happily married for 109 Kardashians, and counting).

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Official Catholic theology and same-sex marriage:

According to the version of natural law embraced by the Roman Catholic Church, loving, committed same-sex marriage should be denied to persons of all religions and none. Also, artificial insemination and surrogate parenthood are very serious sins. Based on these foundational beliefs, the Church logically promotes only those families in which the parents are of opposite sexes, they are married to each other, and the children's DNA contains a blend of their parents' DNA.

Many religiously conservative commentators use the term "responsible parenthood" to describe this type of family. By definition, they would group as "irresponsible parenthood" families where:

  • The parents are of the same gender.
  • The parents are of the opposite sex, are infertile, and resort to artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization to conceive.
  • The parents are both female and resort to artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization to conceive.
  • The parents are both male and resort to surrogate parenthood to build their family.
  • The parents are infertile, for whatever reason, and adopt children.
  • One or both parents are a step-parent to one or more children in the family.
  • And probably other situations.

Unfortunately, by taking such a position, they are condemning married couples who adopt children, or engage in assisted reproductive techniques, in addition condemning same-sex couples. This is certain to leave themselves open to charges of bigotry by persons who believe in marriage equality.

Cardinal O'Brien apparently embraces two teachings of the Catholic Church which seem to be particularly pertinent here:

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church in §2358 states: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. ... Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

    The implication is that certain types of discrimination against LGBT persons are just. Preventing loving committed same-sex couples from marrying, whether the couples are composed of lesbians, gays, and/or bisexuals is regarded by the Church as a just form of discrimination.

  • A basic assumption of Catholic morality and ethics is that one is not permitted do perform an immoral act -- whether minor or major-- even if the overall end result would be positive.

    Thus, for example, in a case like happened recently in a Catholic hospital in Arizona, the Church teaches that a woman dying in childbirth is not allowed to have an abortion, even though it would result in her life being saved. (Being denied an abortion under this circumstance would result in the death of the woman to be shortly followed by the death of the fetus as well, with the loss of two bodies instead of one).

    Using this same criteria, the Church considers it mandatory that same-sex marriage be prohibited even though it would result in many positive effects to the family, like a lessening or elimination of promiscuity by the couple, greater security for the family, longer life expectancy, government benefits, and status for the spouses, greater protection for their children, etc. Further, the Church teaches that SSM is to be prohibited for all couples in the state and country, not just those where one or both spouses are Catholic.

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Discussion of this topic continues in another essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Edwin F. O'Brien, "A radical redefinition of marriage," Maryland Catholic Conference, 2012-MAR-05, at:
  2. "Gay marriage in Maryland: Catholic governors in five states sign legislation," Huffington Post, 2012-MAR-01. at:
  3. "Research Note | Beyond secular vs religious: Religious divides in support of same-sex marriage," Public Religion Research Institute, 2012-JAN-27, at:
  4. Mary Frances Schjonberg, "Maryland bishops respond to signing of marriage-equality bill. Two bishops says they will allow clergy to solemnize same-gender unions," Episcopal News Service, 2012-MAR-01, at:
  5. Candace Chellew-Hodge, "Maryland Voters Split on Marriage Equality, So Far," Religion Dispatches, 2012-MAR-05, at:

Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-MAR-09
Latest update: 2012-MAR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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