In the News 2011

Maryland bishops warn ‘religious liberty’ threatened by same-sex marriage


The Maryland Catholic Conference of Roman Catholic bishops has issued a 16-page statement claiming that “religious liberty” is threatened because the state might legalize same-sex marriages and other measures that run counter to its positions.

Those include a proposal that would require pharmacies and hospitals to provide reproductive services — in opposition to the group’s stance on emergency contraception and abortion — or lose their government funding.

The statement, “The Most Sacred of All Property: Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland,” took a year to draft, said Kathy Dempsey, director of communications for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

“We’re seeing a real erosion of religious liberty,” Dempsey said.

The statement is intended to educate Marylanders in general, including lawmakers, she said. About one in four Maryland residents are estimated to be active in the Catholic Church, Dempsey said.

“The Catholic Church as an institution has a place in the public square,” Dempsey said. “We need to let people know if they don’t step forward we’ll continue to see these threats and erosions.”

The erosion of religious liberty cuts the other way, too, and the Catholic Church really wants to impose its views on others, said Meghan Smith, domestic program associate with Catholics for Choice, an advocacy and education group for reproductive rights in Washington, D.C.

“They are correct that religious liberty is under threat, but they’re wrong on how it is threatened,” Smith said. “The only freedom the Catholic hierarchy wants right now is to be free of the Constitution.”

A 2009 survey of Catholic women in the U.S. found 98 percent have used birth control in contradiction to church doctrine, which forbids it, Smith said. The survey also found 65 percent of Catholics believe that hospitals and clinics that take taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to refuse to provide medical procedures or medications based on religious beliefs, Smith said.

“What the bishops are trying to do is since they’ve failed to convince Catholics in the pews to follow their hard-line stances is they want to impose it on people in other ways,” Smith said.

The statement from the Maryland Catholic Conference will be distributed to the 280 Catholic parishes and institutions in the state.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief,” the bishops wrote in the statement. “No one should be subject to coercion because of those beliefs.”

The bishops’ statement also said that “religious institutions and society in general are not the only ones at risk” if Maryland legalizes same-sex marriage. “Religious business owners like florists, bakers, and musicians would be forced to work at same-sex marriage ceremonies.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has pledged to push state lawmakers in next year’s session to legalize same-sex marriages in the state; the measure passed the Senate this year, but was pulled from the House.

“Everyone is entitled to profess their faith to practice their religion and to be proud of that,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. “In regard to the same-sex marriage issue, his provisions would have religious protections.” For example, church or other officials would not be required to conduct same-sex weddings if they chose not to.

This article originally appeared in The Gazette.

Catholics for Choice