Yesterday, marriage equality was made the law of the land in three states–Maine, Maryland, and Washington State–and a proposed constitutional ban against marriage equality in a fourth state–Minnesota–was defeated.
Catholics played a significant role in all four states. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the original laws that were upheld by the referendum were all signed by Catholic governors. In those states and Minnesota, active groups of Catholics for Marriage Equality worked tirelessly to get out the vote.
What makes the efforts of these Catholics for Marriage Equality so significant is that they have worked against incredible odds. In each case, Catholic bishops have worked against marriage equality, and their power and influence is formidable when it comes to election campaigns.
It’s not the moral authority that the bishops have. Indeed, due to the sexual abuse crisis among other things, their moral authority has seriously decreased in the last decade. What they do have though is a vast communication infrastructure: parishes, sermons, letters, mailing lists, bulletin inserts, schools–these are incredibly powerful tools to mobilize voters to vote the way the bishops instruct. Despite these advantages, the bishop failed.
The lesson of this election for Catholics interested in LGBT equality is that lay organizing is becoming more powerful than the bishops’ organizing. Despite that lay organizers do not have the access to Catholics that the bishops have, they have found a variety of methods to get their message across: public vigils, YouTube videos, community forums, and newspaper advertisements, to name only a few.
We’ve also seen that having courageous priests and religious who are not afraid to speak out for equality are emerging. Their witness gives us hope that others will soon step forward to urge people to form and follow their consciences with regard to marriage equality.
May the victories today inspire Catholics to continue to work for justice and equality for LGBT people.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry