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Dignity/Washington, DC President Testifies on Maryland Marriage Equality Bill

Allen Rose, President of Dignity/Washington, DC, the largest Chapter of DignityUSA,  testified on the Maryland Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012 on February 10, 2012. Below is a transcript of his testimony.

Thank you, Chairman Vallario, Chairman Hammen and the members of your respective committees, for the opportunity to testify today in support of The Civil Marriage Protection Act of  2012.  This legislation is right and just.

My name is Allen Rose.  I am the president of  Dignity/Washington.  25% of our members live in Maryland.  We are a community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Catholics, our families and friends.  Dignity/Washington serves the spiritual and religious needs of LGBT Catholics in a manner that affirms God’s love for LGBT people, by providing a variety of activities, including a Gay-affirming Catholic Mass every Sunday.   

I am here today to testify on behalf of 45 citizens of Maryland who are currently unable to marry the person they love.  Some of our members have been in committed relationships for 15 or 20 years, and see in this legislation the opportunity to receive the same rights, benefits and recognition of their relationship that their parents, married siblings and married friends in opposite-sex relationships were easily granted when they decided to marry.   I look forward to the day when any of these 45 citizens who so choose, will be able to marry just like any other loving couple.  Our members in Maryland live in Takoma Park, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and many other places around the state.

Since I am here representing a community of LGBT Catholics, I want to speak in support of civil marriage equality from a Catholic Perspective.   We are disappointed that the Catholic bishops of Maryland are opposed to this legislation, We know they do not speak for all of the Roman Catholics in Maryland.  As a matter of fact, on this issue, they do not even speak for most of the Catholics in Maryland.  More Catholics support marriage equality than oppose it.  Polling also tells us that Catholics trust a Gay or Lesbian family member or friend to find out information about LGBT issues more than they trust priests and bishops.

You will not see many priests, bishops or Catholic officials speaking here today in support of this legislation.  While 63% of American Catholics support marriage equality,there is no allowance within the current culture of the Catholic hierarchy for a public discussion of such issues by priests and bishops. Those who do step forward are taking great professional risks.  Therefore, it is generally up to those of us who have no ordained standing within the Church, but who claim our Catholicism by virtue of our baptism, and who draw strength and support from Catholic traditions and practices, to do our best to attempt to represent those many Catholics who support marriage equality.  A large majority of American and Maryland Catholics now see marriage equality as an issue of social justice.

Some will tell you that gay marriage will hurt children and weaken marriage, family and society at large.  As more and more states are legalizing same-gender marriage, we are now seeing evidence that giving Gay and Lesbian couples the ability to marry, strengthens marriage, family life and society. Simply put, any married couple probably owns a home or condominium, pays taxes, participates in civic groups, and if they have children, they participate in their children’s upbringing and education. They are a family and do the things that typical families do. Society benefits as a result of the publicly acclaimed marriage. The couple, and their family, is strengthened by the marriage.

Jesus demonstrated his support of marriage in Gospel story of the wedding feast at Cana.   While it is possible to view this story from various points of view, I believe that it points to the importance of public support for a couple’s relationship and of the ways in which a publicly proclaimed couple contribute to their community. The point being that this act of public acclamation, this marriage ceremony and celebration, is crucial to creating a healthy family and society.  Jesus did not take this opportunity to say that it is fundamental that marriage be between one man and one woman.  The more we celebrate family, the healthier society will be.  Gay families are families, too, and need to be celebrated.    

Since I have been speaking as a Catholic in support of civil marriage equality, I have been talking freely about religion and religious belief. This bill, however, is about civil marriage, not religious marriage. It would extend the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage which are provided by the government of Maryland to same gender couples. It is a civil rights bill. I know that there are people of good will who disagree with this statement, but this legislation is consistent with our history of expanding rights to new groups of people over time. This process has frequently been difficult as new groups of people have been given more freedom, but we find that as we give more rights to a wider variety of people, we all benefit.

This bill has strong provisions that protect religions, so that they are not required to marry same gender couples.  We at Dignity/Washington agree with, and strongly support this provision of the bill.  This provision protects private church ceremonies and pactices, but requires churches to behave as any other organization in the when they are acting in the public square.   For example, if, after this bill becomes law, another man and I were to walk into The Baltimore Basilica and demand that a priest marry us, the church can, and certainly will, legally refuse to perform our marriage.

We have seen in other jurisdictions that have passed marriage equality that different Catholic organizations have reacted in different ways.  Georgetown University and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, for example, offer health benefits to same sex couples.  The Archdiocese of Washington stopped providing adoption services and stopped giving health insurance to all family members of new hires beginning the day that marriage equality became law in the District of Columbia.  Other Catholic organizations around the country have stopped providing adoption services, as well. 

Other non-Catholic religious organizations have quickly stepped in to take the place of Catholic organizations in places where they have chosen to stop providing adoption services when new laws required that adoption agencies stop being biased against LGBT families when proving these services.  Evidence tells us that children in Gay families are just as successful and loved as children in Straight families.

When Catholic organizations withdraw from the public square and stop providing service to the poor and marginalized in our society because they are required by law to treat LGBT families and Straight families equally, they are making a choice.  Their actions are telling us that their fear of Gay men, Lesbians and the families LGBT people form is more important to these Catholic organizations than serving the needy.      

Part of our mission at Dignity/Washington is to speak truth to power by giving prophetic witness to the truth that we are all born in the image and likeness of a loving God, and that Gay men and Lesbians are a natural part of God’s plan for humanity.  We preach this message to our own church’s leaders and to society at large.

It is in legally recognizing the full expression of same sex relationships that, society, civic and religious communities, and individuals gain the most benefit.  Society and the individual both lose when Gay men and Lesbians are encouraged to hide significant parts of who they are under a bushel basket or in a closet.  Civil marriage equality is a big step in honoring all families in Maryland with the respect that every family, LGBT or Straight, deserves.

Dignity/Washington urges the members of these committees, and all of your colleagues in the House of Delegates, to support The Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012.  It is right and just.

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