The Maryland Catholic Conference has called upon its followers to stand up for “religious liberty” by opposing efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in the 2012 legislative session. In a statement released this week, the bishops suggest that marriage equality conflicts with “nature” and “infringes upon religious liberties”:
For all the changes, for better or for worse, that marriage and the family have experienced in recent decades, one factor has remained constant: Marriage is between one man and one woman. It is based not on a social prejudice, but rather on the recognition that the union of a man and woman is the only possible source – and their married relationship the best possible environment – for the children who will become society’s next generation. Efforts to alter society’s longstanding definition of marriage distort this important reality. Moreover, and despite protestations to the contrary, they infringe upon the religious liberties of individuals and institutions that acknowledge heterosexual marriage not only as a fact of nature but also as an article of faith.
The bishops cite three examples of such “infringement”: 1) the New Mexico photographer who was sued for not photographing a same-sex ceremony, 2) the New Jersey Methodist pavilion that lost its tax-exempt status for not renting to a same-sex couple for their wedding, and 3) DC Catholic Charities, which voluntarily shut down rather than provide adoption services to same-sex couples. These are the only examples they have, and religious conservatives use them over and over even though they’ve been thoroughly debunked: none of them have to do with marriage equality. In all three cases, unlawful discrimination was taking place based on people’s sexual orientation. Both the Methodist Pavilion and DC Catholic Charities were subsidized by the state but expected that they could still treat same-sex families as second-class citizens in public services. They have the right to believe what they will about same-sex couples, but they do not have the right to perform state-sanctioned discrimination.
Marriage equality is all about giving same-sex couples the opportunity to openly declare their love and commitment to each other and be recognized by society the same way all families should be. No Catholic will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage or participate in one either. Rather than trying to support same-sex families, Catholic leaders would prefer to use the same self-victimizing tactics as the National Organization for Marriage to try to garner sympathy while they proliferate stigma. If polling of Catholics at large is any indication, it won’t work.