UPDATE (4:07 p.m.)—Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend—the eldest daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy—joined other Catholics in announcing her support for same-sex marriage in Maryland.
Townsend, of Towson, cited the famous speech made by her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association prior to the presidential election in 1960, where he explained his Catholic faith would inform his decisions but that he wouldn’t be beholden to Rome.
"But he brought with him the understanding that while the church can’t tell you what to do, the values of the Catholic Church, the values of love and justice that we learn from our faith can influence what we do, and that’s what we’re doing here today," Townsend said.
Baltimore City Councilman William H Cole IV; Erma Dirkin, of Glen Arm; and Pat and Jenny Nugent, of Cambridge, joined her at a Marylanders for Marriage Equality news conference on Tuesday highlighting Catholic support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which will be voted on in Maryland on Nov. 6.
A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute reported that nationwide 52 percent Catholics support gay marriage. A poll of 504 residents conducted by Hart Research in late-July for Marylanders for Marriage Equality showed that 54 percent of voters favor same-sex marriage and 40 percent are opposed.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore emailed a statement from Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, saying the church will not be swayed by polls, and claimed those who oppose same-sex marriage are subject to "intolerance and intimidation."
"Fortunately, as has been shown time and again, we fully expect that the majority of Marylanders will uphold the true nature of marriage when they are free to voice their opinion in the privacy of the voting booth, depsite what the polls say," Russell said in the statement.
Dirkin, 83, a self-described "cradle Catholic," said she was there to urge her fellow Catholics to vote their conscience and support same-sex marriage.
"To vote to uphold the civil marriage law, for all loving, committed gay and lesbian couples, we should be acknowledging in everyone, including my gay son, the inherent dignity and fairness due them as human beings," Dirkin said.
She said the church, her long service in ministering to the home-bound and as a scripture study leader taught her the importance of the "golden rule," which should be applied to same-sex marriage.
"What we’re debating here in Maryland is whether gay couples can go to the court house and get a marriage license. What churches decide to do, which marriages they decide to solemnize or not is up to them, and that’s the way it should be," Dirkin said. "I can guarantee you my late husband and I would not want anyone telling us we could not marry. It’s the golden rule again coming up, we should treat other people the way we wish to be treated."
Jenny Nugent said she and her husband had never paid much attention to gay or lesbian people before she started to take care of them as a nurse. She then saw gay people who had no support and had been ostracized by their families. She said seeing that had reinforced something she knew as a mother—that every child is special and deserves to live a full life, including marriage.
"I never want our son or any of our children to be alone in sickness or in health. I want each of them to have the security and joy of a family that they create, and for that family to have the legal protections that come with civil marriage," Jenny Nugent said. "That’s why, for myself as a Catholic, I’m going to vote my heart and my conscience and support marriage equality."