Catholics must make own decision

Posted May 01, 2009, at 5:25 p.m.

I am a Republican and Catholic. I believe in Jesus Christ as the savior of my soul. I am a proud Franco-American. I am honored to have been nominated by Gov. John Baldacci and unanimously confirmed by the Maine Senate to serve on the Maine Human Rights Commission. I not only know Sen. Dennis Damon, I ran against him for the state Senate in 2006, and lost. Now, Sen. Damon has submitted LD 1020, more commonly referred to as the Gay Marriage Bill. It passed the Senate Thursday and will soon land on Gov. Baldacci’s desk.

It is widely believed by both Republicans and Democrats alike that Abraham Lincoln was one of our country’s greatest presidents, mainly because of his moral leadership during the Civil War. On the field of Gettysburg in 1863, he stated, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Implicit is his belief that our “constitutional fathers” believed that “all men are created equal.”

A century later, Martin Luther King quoted Lincoln’s famous speech in his “I Have A Dream” speech, saying that the promise of “our founding fathers” has not been realized by all Americans, specifically preaching in his “Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool” sermon that “the vast majority of Negroes in our country find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Today, both in the United States and around the world, many acknowledge that King’s call for racial equality was realized with the election of President Obama.

Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine recently stated during a legislative hearing on the gay marriage bill that “marriage as practiced in America today falls short of its ideals.” Bishop Malone is correct in framing marriage as an aspirational model of love, mutual respect and, yes, at times, forgiveness. However, as a lawyer, let me also tell you that divorce of a married heterosexual couple, particularly with children, is a harsh, cruel reality of American society today. Ask family law attorneys and they will tell you of the protection-from-abuse orders between married couples, or of the children of married couples who are placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services to protect them from harm from their own parents or the spouse who steals or spends all the marital assets of the marriage simply to deprive the other and their children of the economic wealth accumulated during their matrimony. This is not the reality of the same-sex marriages of which Bishop Malone spoke during his testimony supporting traditional marriage, yet divorce is the reality in some 50 percent of marriages in America today.

On Easter Sunday, I took my family to the local Catholic church for the traditional Easter blessings and spiritual enlightenment of the story of Jesus rising from the dead in recognition of the fulfillment of the spiritual rebirth we all seek upon our death. Unfortunately, the bulletin that was handed to my children on the way into the church spoke of Bishop Malone’s opposition to the gay marriage bill and, therefore, implicitly, all “Catholics’” opposition to that bill. In fact, Bishop Malone said very clearly in his testimony before the legislative committee: “On behalf of the diocese, and the nearly 200,000 Catholics in Maine, I urge the Legislature to support traditional marriage and vote against LD 1020.”

I consider myself able enough to listen to this debate and make a decision for myself on the merits or failings of the proposed legislation. I respect Bishop Malone and his position on this bill; however, I resent being told that he implicitly speaks for all Catholics in Maine. There is a constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and, I believe, I retain my own inherent right to decide such issues for myself.

Martin Luther King once said that blacks were complicit in their own segregation that surrounded them by doing nothing about it. I for one am proud to be a Republican and a Catholic, yet I will make my own decision on the merits of the facts on this emotional debate. President John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic ever elected president of the United States, and many had concerns about his decision-making processes as being either universally secular or as an elected Catholic taking orders from the pope in Rome.

I urge other Catholic political leaders, television commentators, newspaper owners and all Catholics in Maine to step forward and engage the community on this issue and display real leadership, not political cowardice.

Ken Fredette is a lawyer in Newport, graduate of the Muskie School of Public Service and a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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