Maryland Governor says Support for Marriage Equality “Very Much Informed” by his Catholicism

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is actively campaigning for voter approval of a marriage equality law he signed earlier this year, said Monday night that his support for equality under the law is “very much informed” by his Catholic faith and his commitment to protecting the human dignity of every person in Maryland. Needless to say, the Church hierarchy has a different take. The Baltimore Sun reports today that Baltimore Archbishop William Lori will co-host an anti-equality event on Wednesday night; his co-host is Derek McCoy, the Harry Jackson-affiliated head of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is leading opposition to marriage equality.

Speaking to bloggers on a call organized by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, O’Malley said he was confident that the campaign would be victorious if it is able to raise $2 million to get out the word and respond to ads from anti-equality forces that are expected to increase in volume and intensity between now and the election. Maryland is one of four states with marriage on the ballot this year in one form or another, and is widely considered to have a good chance at winning, given the state’s Democratic leanings and promising polling numbers.

O’Malley said that expansive religious freedom language in the law was important to its passage and in keeping with the traditions of the state of Maryland. The referendum language makes clear that the law protects clergy from having to perform any ceremony that violates their beliefs, guarantees each faith control over its marriage doctrine, and “provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.” Josh Levin, who directs the pro-equality campaign, said it is working with several hundred clergy, and said a volunteer group of equality-supporting Catholics is doing weekly phone banks.

Levin mentioned last Friday’s press conference with equality-supporting African American clergy from Maryland and national figures including Rev. Al Sharpton. Also speaking was Rev. Christine Wiley of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Washington DC; Wiley was a co-chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, which played a visible role during the successful legislative campaign for marriage equality in DC. 

Speakers at Friday’s press conference focused on the distinction between civil and religious marriage. Said Rev. Deman Coates, senior pastor of an 8,000-member church in Clinton, Maryland: 

“For too long the issue of equal treatment under the law for gay and lesbian couples has been mired in a theological debate between those on the one hand who oppose same-sex marriage based upon their religious beliefs, and those on the other who affirm it based upon theirs. And while this is a legitimate discussion for people of faith to have, the appropriate arena that conversation is the house of worship, the seminary, the Bible study or some other religious setting.”

Anti-equality forces are mobilizing religious voices as well. A group of anti-equality pastors held a competing Friday press conference led by Rev. William Owens, whose right-wing Coalition of African American Pastors has called on black Christians to withhold their votes from Obama. Owens said President Obama “sold us out” and called the president “Judas.” He admitted that that National Organization for Marriage was paying his salary, which he said was $20,000. 

Owens denigrated clergy who support marriage equality as having faith in “something, but I don’t believe it’s God.” Owens’ penchant for religious bigotry is shared by his son, who has slammed Obama and the Democratic Party: “The God of the Bible has been rejected by this party as they have welcomed the god of another. With a record increase of Muslims in attendance, the message is clear and President Obama has raised the stakes for the fight for America by throwing in all the chips.”

Owens, Jr. is also sadly unconcerned with the truth about marriage equality, fomenting fears about churches being forced to marry gay couples: “‘You may kiss the bride,’ says the pastor as two people of the same sex lean over to kiss each other inside a Bible-believing church. Why? Because Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage would pass laws that would threaten to jail and/or fine pastors who didn’t perform these unions among a group that accounts for less than 2% of the American population.” As even most marriage equality opponents will acknowledge, this charge is utterly untrue. Which is something that may be said about a lot of anti-equality campaigning in the weeks to come.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.