Friday, October 23, 2009

The Maine Campaign to Remove Right of Marriage from Gay Citizens: Catholic Bishops' Troubling Assault on Moral Foundations of Democracy

Have I said this lately? I don’t think so, or, at least, not quite so pointedly. The attack of the Catholic bishop of Maine, Richard Malone, on the rights of gay citizens of Maine is disgraceful.

It’s important to see clearly what’s going on here. The right to same-sex marriage has already been recognized in Maine. Same-sex marriage was enacted in the state of Maine this past May by a majority vote of the state legislature. On 5 May 2009, Maine’s House of Representatives voted 89-58 to enact same-sex marriage, and the following day, Maine’s Senate affirmed the vote of the House. The governor then signed the legislation into law.

Through Bishop Malone and his henchman Marc Mutty, the Catholic church is attacking legislation legally enacted by a majority vote of a democratically elected state legislature. In the past, anti-gay forces have maintained that they are fighting to uphold the will of the majority against activist courts that are imposing same-sex marriage on some states against the will of the people.

The case of Maine puts the lie to the claim of religious bodies opposing same-sex marriage that they are concerned to see the will of the people in a democratic society safeguarded. What is happening in Maine demonstrates that there are religious groups in American society willing to remove rights from citizens, and, in doing so, to contravene the vote of a democratically elected majority of a state’s legislators. To overturn the work of a democratically elected state legislature to impose on a state and its citizens practices and beliefs peculiar to some religious bodies . . . .

And to do that in a morally repugnant way, through well-funded propaganda campaigns in which these hate groups seek to play on the basest and most unfounded fears of citizens by disseminating lies about a vulnerable minority group, in order to achieve a bare popular majority vote that strips this minority of rights . . . .

As Joe Sudbay notes at Americablog Gay, Malone and Mutty’s attempt to remove a right from a targeted minority and their willingness to overturn the vote of a majority of democratically elected legislators in the process are not playing well among Maine’s Catholics. Sudbay’s parents live in Maine.

He reports that they and many of their friends, who are Bishop Malone’s “target market,” are extremely upset at their church’s assault on the human rights of gay persons and on their state’s democratic institutions. They see the behavior of Bishop Malone and Marc Mutty as a violation of core Catholic moral principles.

There may have been a time in the history of the assault of some religious groups on gay persons when it was barely possible to assume that this movement is a misguided but high-minded attempt to return the nation to its foundational moral principles. What’s happening in Maine challenges that interpretation.

These homophobic religious operatives can no longer claim to be fighting to protect citizens against activist courts. They are now fighting to protect citizens against themselves. They’re assaulting the will of a majority of state voters as represented by their chief legislative bodies and duly elected governors.

And the tactics to which they’re willing to resort in this crusade reveal their crusade as morally reprehensible in the extreme. Two days ago, Bishop Malone’s ally in his assault on the rights of the gay citizens of Maine, the National Organization for Marriage, sued the state to prevent disclosure of NOM’s financial wheelings and dealings in Maine.

NOM (presided over by Catholic Maggie Gallagher) is under investigation by Maine for possible violations of the state’s laws requiring full disclosure of donors to political campaigns. NOM is now contesting the constitutionality of Maine’s campaign finance laws.

On the same day, an unregistered political action committee calling itself the Family PAC, which is an affiliate of Focus on the Family, sued the state of Washington for the very same reason. In the next election, Washington voters will vote on referendum 71, which proposes to extend some benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Groups opposing this measure have been fighting very hard to keep the names of donors and supporters concealed. The current lawsuit moves their battle against Washington’s political disclosure and finance laws to the courts, as it mounts an attack on state laws in these areas.

These are not morally admirable crusades. Political objectives pursued by such ethically compromised means cannot be admirable. Morally admirable objectives are pursued in the light of day, not by cover of darkness.

When religious groups have to resort to lies and trickery to attain goals they have defined as moral, and when they do so in violation of the moral consensus of citizens in a pluralistic democratic society as they seek to impose their peculiar religious beliefs and practices on those citizens, something is radically awry at a moral level. The way to moral influence in a pluralistic democratic society is through open discussion in which all the pertinent facts are on the table and everyone has a voice in the discussion, with no one trying to impose his or her will by fiat.

Catholic leaders and groups intent on assaulting the human rights of gay persons, which are willing to subvert the democratic process as they do so, are not morally admirable agents. They are doing evil, not good. And it continues to grieve me that so many of my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center apparently do not see or are not perturbed by this, as they remain completely silent while the humanity of their LGBT brothers and sisters is under attack by the leaders of their church.