February 10, 2012
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the Catholic bishops serving Maryland from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington. We submit this testimony in opposition to House Bill 438, which would undo current state law defining marriage as the relationship between one man and one woman.
Our opposition to redefining marriage rests on an understanding of the nature of marriage shared across time, religions, cultures, and societies. That understanding – that marriage by its very nature must be limited to the relationship between men and women – is based on the simple recognition that only a man and a woman are capable of bearing children through their sexual union. The nature of the marriage relationship between men and women precedes the status given it by religious institutions and governments alike.
The religious recognition of marriage coincides with government’s on this point: 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. As the Maryland Court of Appeals commented in its ruling upholding the state’s marriage statute, “In light of the fundamental nature of procreation, …safeguarding an environment most conducive to the stable propagation and continuance of the human race is a legitimate government interest.”
The suggestion that we can find a means to redefine marriage and still "protect" those faith communities who believe marriage cannot be redefined presumes that opposition to this measure is only a matter of religious belief. But this is not the case. To be sure, the belief that marriage can only be defined as the union of one man and one woman is profoundly integral to the beliefs of the Catholic Church and many other faith communities. The reason why our state laws should maintain this definition, however, transcends the beliefs of any specific religious sect. As a society, we operate on the presumption that our laws, to the greatest extent possible, should be grounded on moral truths that can be recognized across a plurality of beliefs and opinions. In this instance, the truth we believe our laws must uphold is this: Regardless of our faith, regardless of our personal opinions, there is not a person on earth who has ever existed without the agency of both a father and a mother.
The primary reason for preserving the legal recognition of marriage as existing only between a man and a woman is not for the sake of the couple, but for the sake of children and their elemental desire to know, and ideally to be raised and loved by, their biological mother and father. Erasing from law the distinction between the relationship between a man and a woman and any other relationship would deny to future generations a recognition of our natural origin that lies at the very core of who we are as human beings.
The prospect of passing a law that conflicts with such a fundamental understanding about our human nature raises critical questions about the inevitable infringements that would be imposed on individuals and religious institutions if marriage were redefined. The provisions in House Bill 438 that supposedly "exempt" religious institutions from recognizing marriages in violation of their beliefs cannot possibly encompass the host of situations where conflicts will arise. Further, the exemptions do nothing to protect the freedom of individuals to act in a manner consistent with their deeply held beliefs about marriage. But again, and most importantly, the attempt to "fix" this legislation by including religious exemptions fails to address concerns already raised about the impact that redefining marriage would have on all society.
Those who seek to overturn the state’s definition of marriage claim that same-sex couples, and in some cases, the children they are raising, are unjustly denied the same rights and benefits available to married couples. Yet Maryland’s legislature has already chosen to provide many of these benefits through domestic partnership laws. If there are legitimate needs of two individuals or alternative family relationships that merit extending certain rights and benefits ordinarily limited to married couples, we urge you to consider a means for doing so that does not require altering the definition of marriage.
Again, we urge you to uphold the institution of marriage between one man and one woman in Maryland, by rejecting House Bill 438.