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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Part 2: Division about marriage equality
between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and laity

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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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This is a continuation from another essay.

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Catholic theology and same-sex marriage (Cont'd):

A 2003 document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican group headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, states:

"Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race. The possibility of using recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction, beyond involving a grave lack of respect for human dignity, does nothing to alter this inadequacy."

"Homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the conjugal dimension, which represents the human and ordered form of sexuality. Sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open to the transmission of new life."

"As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."

"This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case." 1

As of early 2012, the state laws that legalize same-sex marriage have all contained religious exemptions that allow denominations, congregations, and individual clergy to opt out of marrying same-sex couples while enjoying imunity from prosecution. However, the laws have different requirements regarding:

  • Individuals who own companies or are employed by companies that provide marriage-related services. These include wedding photographers, jewellers who sell engagement and wedding rings, printers of marriage invitations, bakers of wedding cakes, retail outlets that sell wedding dresses and other marriage-related clothing, etc. Some give immunity from prosecution under human rights legislation when they want to exercise religious freedom to discriminate against same-sex couples; others do not.

  • Organizations affiliated with religious denominations who rent halls and other facilities for wedding receptions. The Knights of Columbus are often in this situation and also want the freedom to discriminate against same-sex couples.

  • Agencies that are affiliated with religious denominations and want to discriminate against same-sex couples in adoption.

The Vatican document continues:

"Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil."

"In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection."

The entire document is well worth reading because it very clearly explains the position of the Catholic Church in 2003 -- a position that has not changed since. 1

Unfortunately Cardinal Ratzinger did not cite any sources for his statement that "as experience has shown" children in families led by same-sex parents are hindered in their "full human development." Many recent studies have shown that children thrive in two-parent families where there is love and committment, and that the sex of the parents does not impact on their development.

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Beliefs of an Anglican bishop, in comparison:

In contrast, the Anglican Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland and Washington issued a statement saying:

"The Episcopal Church, following the teachings and example of our Lord Jesus, respects the dignity of every human being -- including those on both sides of this issue. We, like many other Christian bodies who base their decisions on Holy Scripture, tradition and reason, are not of one mind about the marriage of same gender couples. Many of us are rejoicing that we in Maryland will be able to provide the church’s blessing upon these committed relationships in marriage, but also many Episcopal clergy in good conscience cannot perform same gender marriages. For those who have discerned that such committed relationships have met the church’s standards of holy matrimony, this bill will permit them to do so, and I am giving them my consent to perform these marriages." 2

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Response by other Catholics:

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the Catholic LGBT-supportive New Ways Ministry, was present at the signing of the bill into law by Governor Martin O'Mally who is also a Catholic. She said:

"I was so proud that our Catholic governor relied on our faith’s tradition of equality and justice for all people, including lesbian and gay people. It was an honor to participate in this moment, and I’m glad I was there to show the strong support that Catholics have for marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples." 3

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, suggests that the major disconnect between the Catholic hierarchy and the laity is because the bishops are:

"... consulting their books, but not consulting human experience. ... What’s happening among the laity is that they are looking at their own experiences as LGBT people or with LGBT people and finding that God is active in these lives and in these relationships. The more that Catholics have these experiences, the more they’re going to become accepting of lesbian and gay people. ... The lay people in the church see this as a social justice issue. They see this as an issue about human beings and about how our society protects or treats families. They’ve seen that discrimination exists if families headed by lesbian and gay couples are not treated the same as other families." 3

When DeBernardo testified at a hearing in the Maryland Legislature, he told them a story about a Catholic parish in the state that wanted to welcome LGBTs as members. He recommended that the parish first study the matter. A man in the parish was against them becoming a welcoming congregation but did organize a study. DeBernardo checked back some time later. He said that the man:

"... told me, 'I thought we were doing this to help other people, but now I see we had to do this to help ourselves become free of prejudice.' I asked that the delegates support the bill not just for gays and lesbians but to help all Marylanders appreciate the dignity of all human beings." 3

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Two Maryland cradle Catholic parents comment on SSM:

The following You Tube video features Pat & Jenny, parents of the Nugent family, in support of their gay son and marriage equality.

It was published by Marylanders For Marriage Equality:


Viewers voted 69 likes and 0 dislikes.

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A group of young, presumably Roman Catholic, adults comment on SSM:

They call for a defeat of Question 6 and retention of marriage inequality. They clearly are in favor of traditional marriage. However, what they are really saying is that they oppose marriage by loving, committed same-sex couples. They give no reason for their position.

It was published by mdcathcon.


Viewers voted 28 likes and 73 dislikes.

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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. Joseph Cardinalo Ratzinger, "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2003-JUN-03, at:
  2. 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:
  3. Candace Chellew-Hodge, "Maryland Voters Split on Marriage Equality, So Far," Religion Dispatches, 2012-MAR-05, at:
  4. "The Nugent Family Story," You Tube, at:
  5. "Maryland young adults: Don't redefine marriage," You Tube, 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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