Maryland citizens made a difference this past week, helping to convince the House of Delegates to table legislation that would have redefined marriage in the state. By a voice vote, that chamber sent a controversial same-sex marriage bill back to committee, effectively ending the measure for this year.
During this debate, the Maryland Catholic Conference had encouraged and thanked Catholic citizens, noting, "Your 15,000 e-mails and thousands of phone calls have been working." Earlier, a large number of Catholics from around the state had gathered in Annapolis for Lobby Night, to personally meet with legislators about the marriage bill and other key issues.
Redefining marriage is not simply a matter of expanding a social contract to more citizens. Redefining marriage undermines what has been the foundation of civilization for thousands of years, the lifelong union of one man and one woman, who bring different but complementary gifts to the raising of children. Across the ages, across religious traditions and cultural backgrounds, we know in our hearts that marriage between a man and a woman results in the best environment to raise children, who are conceived in and benefit all their lives from their mother and father's love.
Some proponents of same-sex marriage derided the House of Delegates' action, saying those who opposed the measure displayed bigotry and cowardice. The opposite is true - those delegates displayed respect for the importance of marriage and its impact on society, and they displayed courage to do the right thing despite enormous political pressure.
The Maryland General Assembly's action on same-sex marriage this term ultimately is welcome news, but not a cause for celebration. The speed with which the legislation was pushed through the Senate, where it passed by a narrow majority, and the impassioned debate by both sides in the deadlocked House of Delegates show that those who oppose redefining marriage have a lot of work to do in the months ahead.
Supporters of marriage must make a convincing case against same-sex marriage advocates' use of the terms "civil rights" and "equality." In reality, same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, and we must oppose their attempts to change radically for political reasons what we all know is the real definition of marriage.
The Catholic Church, like many other faith and community groups, has long championed civil rights, but stands against redefining marriage.
The search for equality should never come at the cost of undermining marriage. Maryland law already grants many rights to domestic partnerships. The Maryland Catholic Conference has noted, "Our focus as a society should be on strengthening marriage, not dismantling it altogether, especially when the harmful effects of the erosion of marriage are so apparent."
Opposing same-sex marriage is not a matter of opposing homosexuals, who are our brothers and sisters who share our God-given human dignity. Around the world, the Church's pastoral outreach to homosexuals suffering from AIDS demonstrates the respect and love that Catholics need to show as they oppose redefining marriage. We must always speak the truth with love.
Another fundamental challenge in the months ahead, for both Catholic parishes and individuals, is to learn what the Church teaches about marriage. Comments from some Catholic legislators and some Catholic citizens demonstrate that there are fundamental misunderstandings about Church teaching on marriage.
Through the "Marriage Matters" link on the Archdiocese of Washington's website at www.adw.org , the Maryland Catholic Conference's website at www.mdcathcon.org and on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' website www.foryourmarriage.org , we can learn the Church's teaching on marriage. To change hearts on the issue, we need to understand the beauty of this teaching, and then live it out and share it with others.
In a 2009 letter to priests, Cardinal Wuerl noted, "We (in the Catholic Church) have so much to offer society by way of the true meaning of marriage."
Proponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland have resolved to reintroduce that legislation next year. Those who oppose redefining marriage must continue to stand for marriage between one man and one woman. In building a better future for our children, we must not destroy the foundation of our society.