A Roman Catholic priest in Maryland, one of the states that will be deciding whether to approve of same-sex marriage on Nov. 6, has told his congregation that he will continue to support such unions – right after reading out loud a letter from his Archbishop urging Catholics to vote against gay marriage.
"Could we not then say that their devotion to and support of each other . . . could be recognized by the church as a valid sacrament of God's unrelenting faithfulness to us just as much as the union of an elderly straight couple? Neither will procreate children, but both can be sacraments of God's faithfulness in the living out of their commitment to each other," the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence told his congregation at Baltimore's St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church on Sunday.
He reflected that his personal position on the issue stands directly against the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church – which he had just reminded his congregation of by reading Archbishop William Lori's letter to the faithful urging them to support traditional marriage when they go to the ballot boxes on Nov. 6.
"Each one of us – as Catholics and faithful citizens – must show up on election day and do our part by voting against Question 6," Lory's letter begins, referring to the voter referendum seeking to add same-sex couples to the definition of marriage. Maryland is one of four states, including Maine, Washington and Minnesota, that will decide on the issue next week.
While some polls show that gay marriage supporters have as much as a 10 percentage point lead in Maryland, the vote can still go either way, and both proponents and those opposed to changing the traditional definition of marriage have been reminding the public why it is important to vote on this question. While same-sex marriage is currently legal in seven U.S. territories, any state that votes in favor of it come Election Day will be the first to legalize the practice via voter referendum.
Archbishop Lori noted that voters face "the momentous choice of whether to maintain marriage as the union of one man and one woman in Maryland, or to irrevocably dismantle our state's legal recognition of the most basic unit of our society – the family unit of mother, father and child."
He further notes that couples already have domestic partnership rights, and that redefining marriage would have negative consequences for the established family unit.
"We cannot underestimate the long-term consequences that redefining marriage would have on children, on the family and on the religious freedoms of individuals and institutions who continue to hold fast to our deeply held beliefs about marriage," the letter stated.
As the National Catholic Reporter shared, Lawrence was respectful in his views and did not outright tell his congregation to reject the Archbishop's message – instead he urged them to pray and think about the argument.
The priest, who has led his church for 39 years, said, however, that he believes change might not be such a bad thing, and that including same-sex couples in the definition of marriage can still be defended by the moral standards of the Roman Catholic faith.
"It seems to me, therefore, that even if we do not believe that gay marriage ever could or should be allowed in the church, we could live with a provision that allows civil marriage of gay and lesbian couples," Lawrence said. "Personally, however, I will go farther than that."
He continued: "I personally believe that this is a possible line of future development in theology and perhaps eventually even in church teaching. And if this is even a possibility, could we not judge that civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples ought to be allowed by the state at this time."
Lawrence said that he does not have plans to officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies, even if Question 6 is approved, but said that he can be a personal witness and offer his blessing to same-sex couples.
"But could not civil law be allowed to progress where church law cannot go, at least not yet? Personally I believe that it can and that it should. So there you have it: The official teaching of the church and my personal reflections," the priest concluded.