Thursday, June 29, 2006

Multifaith coalition targets O'Malley

Members support same-sex marriage
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff | June 27, 2006

In an unusual incidence of religious leaders in Massachusetts publicly criticizing one another, a multifaith coalition of clergy who support same-sex marriage plan to accuse Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and other Catholic leaders of ``religious discrimination" today.

The gay-marriage supporters plan to call on O'Malley and the other three Catholic bishops of Massachusetts to stop campaigning for a repeal of same-sex marriage, arguing that it is discriminatory to deny civil marriage benefits to gay couples whose marriages are sanctioned by other religious denominations and that it violates the principle of church-state separation to deny civil marriage rights based on Catholic teaching.

``While their magisterium teaches one thing, there are plenty of other faith traditions that don't agree," said the Rev. Anne C. Fowler, an Episcopal priest who is the rector of St. John's Church in Jamaica Plain and president of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. ``Who are the religious voices who get heard? It's the religious right, and around here it's the Catholic Church, so here is the progressive interfaith community trying to take some action."

The coalition, which has been actively campaigning, plans to hold a press conference today on Beacon Hill. It will release a letter calling on the Catholic bishops to stop campaigning against same-sex marriage rights.

``We respect the Roman Catholic Church's desire to speak in a public forum about this, but it has come to a point where their advocacy about same-sex marriage has come to impinge on our own religious practices, because not everyone believes same-sex marriage is wrong or sinful or against religious beliefs," said the Rev. Tiffany Steinwert, a United Methodist minister who is pastor of the First Church of Winthrop and of the Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, a United Methodist mission to gays and lesbians.

``What happens when the Roman Catholic Church seeks to create public policy based on their religious beliefs is that they negate other religious beliefs that might be contrary to that," Steinwert said.

The executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which represents the four Catholic bishops of the state on Beacon Hill, said the differences over marriage show that the best path is to allow voters to decide.

``In no way does the church seek to intentionally discriminate against any individual or deny anyone their legal rights," said the director, Edward F. Saunders Jr. ``But there is a difference of opinion here, and that's democracy, and what it points out [is] that this is an issue that the public should have a right to have their say on."

The marriage coalition's decision to confront the Catholic hierarchy illustrates the tension that the marriage issue has created in interfaith relations and highlights the resentment that liberal religious leaders have expressed about what they view as the inordinate attention paid to conservative religious voices.

At a worship service before Boston's gay pride parade earlier this month, Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, implicitly criticized the Catholic bishops, saying, ``Religious leaders that are local to our community . . . have been quite vocal about the need to preserve marriage as they say it has always existed. When they say this, they demonstrate either incredible ignorance or a willful duplicity."

The board of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry includes clergy from several liberal Christian and Jewish denominations and other faiths, including paganism.

Several of the board members are ordained by denominations that do not permit clergy to perform same-sex marriages, including Fowler's denomination, the Episcopal Church, and Steinwert's denomination, the United Methodist Church.

Fowler, a veteran of ecumenical dialogue about abortion, said that before speaking out, the marriage coalition attempted to initiate a private dialogue about the marriage issue with O'Malley, but that he has not agreed to see them.

She said the board felt it was important to speak out before July 12, when the Legislature is scheduled to meet in Constitutional Convention to take a first vote on whether to allow a measure that would repeal same-sex marriage to advance to the 2008 ballot. The support of 50 lawmakers in two successive legislative sessions is needed for the measure to reach the ballot.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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