This month in Maryland and the state of Washington, an extraordinary dynamic is playing itself out: Two Catholic governors are prodding legislators to pass bills legalizing same-gender marriage. Like Govs. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Pat Quinn in Illinois — whose states recently legalized same-sex civil unions — Govs. Martin O’Malley and Christine Gregoire are acting against the strongly expressed opposition of their church’s bishops.
As Catholics who are involved in lesbian and gay ministry and outreach, we are aware that many people, some of them Catholics, believe that Catholics cannot faithfully disobey the public policies of the church’s hierarchy. But this is not the case.
The Catholic Church is not a democracy, but neither is it a dictatorship. Ideally, our bishops should strive to proclaim the sensus fidelium , the faith as it is understood by the whole church. At the moment, however, the bishops and the majority of the church are at odds. A survey published in September by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 52 percent of Catholics support marriage equality and 69 percent support civil unions.