In Maine and Minnesota, Different Catholic Responses to Marriage Equality Ballot Initiatives

Both Maine and Minnesota have marriage equality on the ballot this November.  The Catholic hierarchy in both states are opposed to legalizing marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  In Maine, as we noted a week ago, the Catholic bishop has said that the diocese will not take an active part in the referendum campaign, yet at the same time, he issued a pastoral letter on the sacredness of marriage.  In Minnesota, the bishops have taken a more activist approach to try to keep marriage equality from becoming law.

So, it seems appropriate that the responses to these two different strategies will also be different.  Responses this weekend in both states highlight the difference.


In Maine,  since the bishop has cast his opposition in the form of education, a proper response came from William Slavick, a retired professor and veteran church and social reformer, who set out to educate his fellow Catholics by penning an op-ed  entitled “Bishop Malone’s argument fails to persuade” in The Lewiston Sun-Journal. (Readers of this blog may remember Slavick’s other recent contribution to the marriage debate, “Catholic Church doesn’t need to take another battering.”)

Slavick offers a comprehensive critique of Bishop Richard Malone’s pastoral letter, “Marriage. . . yesterday. . . today. . . always.”  He argues against Malone on  cultural, historical, and philosophical grounds:

“For Malone, the ‘created order of nature’ — natural law — is determinative: a single man and a single woman marry. Only in a monogamous heterosexual relationship is the unitive, complementary, spiritual bond of love between a man and woman realized, a union that bears fruit in procreation and nurture of children.

What Malone calls the ‘truth of marriage’ sounds unarguable until one remembers that, in the East, the ‘created order’ includes a long history of multiple wives or husbands. And until one takes into account the millions of fellow human beings whose gay or lesbian sexual orientation is also part of the created order of nature and who experience a love for another human being that seeks a spiritual and bodily union akin to heterosexual marriage.

Rome largely ignores polygamy and polyandry. It ignored — possibly accommodated — homosexuality for centuries. But as homosexuals came out of the closet, the Vatican weighed in: it declared respect for gays’ and lesbians’ human dignity but found them ‘objectively disordered.’ ”

Slavick also critiques Malone’s process of developing the letter’s content:

“Catholics today have become acclimated to the hierarchy singing solo. But theologians and the wisdom of the faithful are part of the Church’s teaching authority. What light does theology and life experience provide? Christian mercy? Christian charity? The informed consciences of the faithful? Malone’s letter is indifferent to these voices. Nor does he walk one step with gays and lesbians in their life journeys.

“Malone regularly ignores the complexity of reality. He recognizes two vocations, celibate service of God or a loving, fruitful marriage, ignoring centuries of priests marrying, centuries of economic or political marriages, and good reasons not to have children.”

Were I to quibble with Slavick’s critique, it would be over his phrase, “Fathers and mothers contribute distinctly to parenting, as Malone observes. . . ”   The phrasing here makes it seem like a heterosexual couple are necessary to child-rearing.  But, clearly, this is not Slavick’s intent, since he ends the same sentence with  “. . . the evidence confirms that loving same sex couples are as successful as heterosexual couples in raising children.”   I would call his word choice a stylistic infelicity; perhaps “Each parent contributes distinctly to child-raising” would have been better, not highlighting the parents’ genders.  A small point in an excellently argued essay.


In Minnesota, where the bishops have taken a more activist approach to the marriage debate, an activist response seems proper.  Catholics for Marriage Equality MN have been organizing Sunday vigils during Lent at the archdiocesan cathedral in St. Paul.  (Readers of this blog may remember reading about plans for this action in “Will Minnesota Bishops Follow the Maine Example?”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that this past Sunday, the “Gay-marriage ban protest draws 100 at Cathedral.”   Such a large turnout is evidence not only of Catholic support for marriage equality in Minnesota, but of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN’s excellent skill at organizing.  The article shows that the protest has been growing–and it likely will continue to grow–as well as offers some of the rationale for staging the protest:

“On Sunday across from the Cathedral of St. Paul, about 100 people held signs and rainbow flags and marched on the sidewalk. On the first Sunday of Lent, about 80 attended, and about 120 came out March 4, said organizer Michael Bayly of the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, which supports gay marriage.

“Bayly said organizers hope attendance will increase through Palm Sunday.

” ‘It’s an attempt by Catholic people to stand up and say no to the priority the archbishop has set in spending last fiscal year, 2011, $650,000 of the diocese’s money to promote passage in November of the marriage amendment,’ said former priest Ed Flahavan of St. Paul. ‘It comes at a time when social agencies, including Catholic Charities, are hurting for adequate resources to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.’ “

For more information about the protest and Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, visit their website and their blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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  1. […]                                                                   Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the […]

  2. […] The Manchester Diocese’s policy’ decision comes just two weeks after the neighboring Diocese of Portland, Maine, said they would not take an active political role in that state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality.  For links to stories on that decision, check out Bondings 2.0′s blog posts here and here and here. […]

  3. […] In Maine and Minnesota, Different Catholic Responses to Marriage Equality Ballot Initiatives ( […]

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