Catholics Are Not the Problem in Maryland—And Neither Are African-Americans

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An article in today’s MetroWeekly, a gay news magazine in the DC region,  focuses on the upcoming legislative battles on marriage equality and gender non-discrimination in Maryland.  The article begins:

“Despite large socially conservative Catholic and African-American populations, heavily Democratic Maryland was seen by many at the start of 2011 as primed for marriage equality.

But the bill to legalize same-sex marriage died without a vote in the House of Delegates in March. . .”

Unfortunately, these lead paragraphs propagate the popular myth that Catholics are opposed to LGBT equality.  Not true—particularly in Maryland.  Catholics did not impede the passage of the marriage bill in Maryland in 2011.  During the spring of this year, I spoke with numerous Maryland legislators–Catholics and those with large Catholic constituencies–and only one said that Catholic faith played a role in his decision to oppose the bill.

In fact, it was a Catholic who introduced the bill in the Senate: Robert Garagiola, the majority leader.  In the House of Delegates, many Catholics were in the forefront of the bill:  Heather Mizeur, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and Kriselda Valderrama, among them.  Even the more traditionally-minded Catholic delegate Anne Healey, who is the former editor of The Catholic Review (Archdiocese of Baltimore’s diocesan newspaper), and who is married to a permanent deacon, spoke out in support of marriage equality from the House floor.

While it is true that the Catholic hierarchy in the state opposed the bill, the Catholic people did not.  A 2009 Greenberg, Quinlan, and Rossner poll revealed that a 49% plurality of Maryland Catholics favor legislative action that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, with only 42% opposed.  Given that this poll is now almost three years old, and that support for marriage equality keeps increasing, especially among Catholics, the statistic of support from that poll has most likely increased.

In February, 2011, New Ways Ministry published a book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, which explains the reason for such growing support among Catholics.  It includes personal testimony from 28 Catholic Marylanders, including former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.  You can order a free copies of the book or download a PDF from New Ways Ministry’s website.

And while the press identified African-American opposition to the bill as a reason for its downfall, this explanation does not do justice to the amazing amount of support for marriage equality among African-Americans.  If you have any doubt about this, visit the website of the Maryland Black Family Alliance.

The same problem plagues both Catholics and African-Americans:  while some leaders of these communities are vocally and stridently opposed to marriage equality, the grassroots folks are strongly supportive.   It’s up to these supportive throngs to contact their legislators to let them know that they support marriage equality–whether it is as a Catholic, an African-American, or both.  Legislators–and the media– need to learn that the leadership of these communities do not speak for the base.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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