CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Diocese Supported Maine Gay Rights Bill

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Dialogue Brings Diocesan Support for Gay Rights Bill

On January 5, 2000, The Bangor Daily News carried a new article with the headline “Catholics Back New Proposal for Gay Rights.”  The story was about the latest group to support a bill in the state legislature  It began:

“Maine’s perennial debate over the enactment of a state gay rights law was reinvigorated Tuesday when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced it would support an amended proposal.”

[Note:  The Diocese of Portland encompasses the entire state of Maine.]

Diocesan spokesperson Marc Mutty explained the diocese’s change of position from opposition to support:

“We believe [the amended bill] represents a reasonable and thoughtful resolution to the legitimate concerns that been raised by persons of good faith with respect to past proposals.”

By the year 2000, it was not unheard of for Catholic dioceses to support bills which protected basic rights of lesbian and gay people.  What was more noteworthy in this case, though, was the process that the diocese engaged in to arrive at this position of support.  The news article explained:

“Members of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance and legislative supporters worked with the Diocese to find common ground to back the proposal.”

While not unheard of, it was still a very rare occurrence for a diocese to dialogue with a gay equality organization to negotiate a solution.

Not everyone, not even all people of faith were happy with the diocese’s decision.  Michael Heath, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, opposed the bill (and an earlier gay rights law which they overturned through a referendum) commented on the Catholics’ announcement:

“This is a sad day for Maine and it is a sadder day for the church.”

Joining Mutty at the press conference announcing the diocesan position was Father Michael Henchal, former diocesan chancellor.  Henchal supported the idea of not having another referendum if the bill passed. He praised the process the diocese had taken with the gay rights group:

“Maybe people sitting down and talking together can actually do a much better job in resolving a question than can be done through a citizens’ initiative or referendum.”

Gay rights activists were similarly pleased with the dialogue that took place with church officials.  David Garrity, president of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance, stated:

“We have always believed that the Roman Catholic Church would be a natural ally in this fight against discrimination.”

I’m sure that many regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will agree that it does seem natural for the Catholic Church to be an ally, not an opponent, of LGBT equality.  And, as Fr. Henchal noted, that talking together is a very effective way for disparate parties to find agreement.  These are lessons that church leaders in 2017 would do well to remember.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 28, 2017



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