Catholics rally for gay marriage CITING CHURCH TEACHINGS, FAITHFUL ASSERT CIVIL MARRIAGE RIGHT FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES - IN MIDST OF SIGNATURE DRIVE PUSH FOR NEW ANTI-GAY AMENDMENT PETITION ON 'PROTECT MARRIAGE SUNDAY,' OCT. 2 September 22, 2005 InNewsWeekly Gay and straight Catholics who support same-sex civil marriage in Massachusetts have scheduled a press conference for Thursday, Sept. 22, at 11 a.m. at the Omni Parker House in downtown Boston. Speakers include Charles Martel, a lay leader; Marianne Duddy, former executive director of Dignity/USA, a national Catholic GLBT group; Cathy and John Shea, of St. Ignatius Church at Boston College; Charles Connors, of Jamaica Plain, and Larry Kessler, former executive director of AIDS Action Committee and a parishioner at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton. "Our desire is to state publicly that there are many Catholics in support of marriage equality who want to see civil marriage continue as a matter of social justice," said Martel, a spokesperson for the a newly formed ad hoc group. To that end, he said, Catholics are encouraged to sign a short statement available for signature on the Web page of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (www.rcfm.org), an organization in support of and advocacy for civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. RCFM also seeks "to promote understanding and dialogue within Commonwealth about the distinction between civil and religious marriage," according to the group's mission statement. "We don't want to be invisible any more," Martel said. "We want to take a public stand and take in now" in advance of VoteOnMarriage.org, an anti-gay marriage coalition, as it launches a citizens-initiated petition drive to put a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot in Nov. of 2008. Roman Catholic statement supporting marriage equality The 450-word statement of Catholic support for same-sex civil marriage draws upon: the American idea of separation of church and state: past experience of Catholics, who as an immigrant minority group faced discrimination and ridicule; the Church's social justice teaching; and a key distinction between civil and sacramental marriage. The full text of the statement reads: "As faithful Roman Catholics and citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we believe that the right of every citizen to practice freedom of religion is based on the principle of respect for the dignity of each individual. Without that guarantee, the danger of one religious tradition or doctrine dominating another threatens all and protects none. Making the equality of citizens not merely an ideal but a living truth, we wish to affirm the Goodridge decision and the granting of civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which began on May 17, 2004. We base our conclusion on the following reasons: • The American principle of the separation of Church and State was enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that no particular religious perspective would be imposed on our pluralistic society. • Remembering that Roman Catholics were once denied civil rights, treated with suspicion, ridiculed because of our sacred rituals, and questioned as to our allegiance to "foreign authorities," challenges us to remain vigilant whenever bigotry and injustice enters into public discourse. • Catholic teaching on social justice has been central to the building of a just society, creating awareness of diversity in the human family, calling us to lives of respect for one another, and not merely tolerance. • Same-sex civil marriage does not in any way coerce any religious faith or tradition to change its beliefs or doctrine. "Our experience in welcoming same sex couples into our community life is a reminder that God is a most gracious and wonderful Creator. The witnessing of these marriages is a source of joy and celebration for family and friends. We value the love and commitment that these couples have for each other and their children. While committed same-sex relationships have always existed through time, the civil recognition of these relationships provides both dignity and equality as called for in our nation's highest ideals, "the inherent natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." "As Roman Catholics, we differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage, and therefore we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church. While we respect the authority and integrity of the Church in matters of faith, our prayers and reflection have brought us to a new openness on this issue. We urge the Church to treat with respect in both word and deed same-sex couples who have entered into civil marriages. "Grateful for the gift of our faith and the ways that we have been nourished by faith throughout our lives, and also grateful for our citizenship in the USA and in the Commonwealth, we sign this statement as Roman Catholic citizens of Massachusetts." Same-sex marriage foes launch petition drive The Boston Globe and Patriot Ledger reported on Tuesday, Sept. 20, that Christian churches - Catholics and Protestants from black and Hispanic communities, among other denominations - are ramping up for Oct. 2, "a one-day signature-gathering blitz," called "Protect Marriage Sunday." With the support of the state's four Roman bishops in a commonwealth with half the population identifying as Catholic, diocesan parishes provide a unique, ready-made opportunity to collect the required number of signatures - 66,000 - to advance the anti-gay marriage ban initiative. Same-sex marriage foes hope to gather twice that number. Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley has said as much. "The parishes of the Archdiocese can be an important help in the signature drive. I encourage the cooperation of your parish in this campaign," he writes in a letter to priests, dated Sept. 1. "It is permissible for signatures to be collected at parish Masses and appropriate events, and to insert copies of the signature petition in your parish bulletins should you wish to." Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman's letter to parishioners is even more pointed. "As faithful citizens, we have a moral obligation to defend the truth, no matter how counter-cultural or unappreciated our convictions might be," Coleman wrote in a letter, dated Sept. 12, according to the Globe. "The time is upon us to take a stand and to act, lovingly but firm, to restore and defend the truth about marriage." Another Catholic group lining up behind the initiative petition is the West End-based Massachusetts Catholic Conference, or MCC (www.macathconf.org), the church's chief lobbying organization. Like the four bishops, the conference leadership has written to priests asking for assistance in signature gathering. "Many commentators feel this will be our last realistic chance to restore protection for the institution of marriage in Massachusetts," conference directors write in a letter dated August 2005, adding "The bond between a man and a woman provides the fundamental basis for society and the family. The people have a right to be heard." Signature gathering began on Sept. 21. The MCC urges parishes to begin their own efforts as early as this weekend, Sept. 24 " 25. The deadline is Nov. 23 for submission of signed petitions to city and town clerks, who must in turn certify the signatures and deliver signed petitions to Secretary of State William Galvin's office by Dec. 7. Another Catholic organization lining up behind the Church's effort is the state's Knights of Columbus, with 245 local councils. Richard Guerriero of South Weymouth told the Patriot Ledger that local councils would augment church efforts. "Every district deputy received a package with petitions, and they'll be asked to copy them and give them to the local councils to get signatures and give them back to us," said Guerriero, quoted in the Ledger. Yet another lay Catholic group, Catholic Citizenship (www.Catholicvote.org) has already sprung into action with the distribution of a flier, titled "The New Marriage Amendment," which explains the new amendment petition in some detail and asks Catholics for their signatures. Massachusetts native Sean Cahill, who now servers as director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Policy Institute, expressed sadness when he learned the flier appeared as bulletin insert in his parish, St. Margaret's in Beverly. "I am very sad," Cahill said, "It feels like a particular violation. I always felt safe and loved there." Cahill also said the flier is misleading, pointing to one paragraph, which reads in part: "Religions are legally threatened if they refuse to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies, and schools must teach our children that same-sex marriage is a public good." Noting the First Amendment in the US Constitution, which guarantees and protects religious liberty, Cahill said about the flier's assertion, "That's not true," adding "Massachusetts Catholics have a long and recent history of not listening to Church leadership regarding social issues." Gay-positive religious support for same-sex civil marriage True enough, not all faith traditions are hostile to same-sex civil marriage, including Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism, Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, Quakers, and the Unitarian Universalists. In fact, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry now boasts more than 600 clergy, congregations, and other faith-based groups from 21 different denominations - all in support same-sex civil marrige. RCFM clergy will urge their worshippers not to jump on ballot petition band wagon.