Catholic Voices for the Freedom to Marry in Maryland, and Nationwide

As the Maryland House considers the marriage bill passed by the Senate last week, an issue that often comes up is religion. Faith can be used as a reason to oppose marriage for gay couples, but it can just as easily be a source of support for the freedom to marry.

Earlier this week Catholic church leaders voiced opposition to Maryland's marriage bill. Their arguments, some of which are often used by non-religious marriage opponents, were countered in a Washington Post piece by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

There is no evidence of any sort that allowing same-sex couples to marry will lead to a further erosion of the two-parent household. Indeed, many of these couples already live in two-parent households with their children, only without the legal protection that the law bestows on straight couples.

Likewise, the notion that marriage is intended primarily for procreation finds no support in Catholic theology, and conflicts with the Church's own willingness to marry couples who cannot have biological children.

The most disturbing of the bishops' arguments is that the bill currently before the state's House of Delegates impinges on the religious freedom of those who oppose same-sex marriage on theological grounds. Catholics manage to live untroubled lives in a society that permits its citizens to purchase birth control and to remarry without the benefit of an annulment. Our political leaders frequently pursue actions at odds with Catholic teaching without much protest from the hierarchy. Yet, we are to believe that making civil marriage available to same-sex couples violates the bishops' freedom of religion. How?

Indeed, no clergy would ever be forced to perform a ceremony they did not want to take part in, and such protections are spelled out in the bill. In the states where marriage discrimination has ended, there have been no complaints of less religious freedom. And in fact, those places now have more religious freedom because churches that do want to marry gay couples are able to do so without being stopped by the government.

DeBernardo gets to the heart of the matter when he talks about terms that are often used by the opposition: family and values.

Most Catholic voters in Maryland support marriage equality – not in spite of our faith, but because of it. We do not seek to change the definition of traditional marriage; we simply want to expand the definition of who may participate. In this we are influenced by Catholic social teaching which requires that people be treated with dignity, regardless of their state in life or their beliefs. Our moral tradition values increased access to health care benefits, the protection of children and dignity in end-of-life choices. All of these values would be expanded if marriage equality were written into law.

In my work with Catholic parishes, schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and many other institutions, I have learned that there is a tremendous concern about the protection of same-gender couples among the "middle managers" of the church – principals, pastors, leaders of communities of priests, nuns, brothers – in spite of what you hear from the hierarchy. It is clear to them, as it is to me, that without marriage equality, families that are headed by lesbian or gay adults will never have the full protection of the law. And what is more Catholic than wanting to protect families and children?

Another Catholic voice, Father Joe Palacios, made similar points last month at an interfaith meeting on the Maryland marriage bill organized by Standing on the Side of Love. Palacios, an openly gay priest, is a Georgetown professor and founder of Catholics for Equality. These arguments make sense not just for Maryland, but all of America.

Watch Palacios speak here: