The Massachusetts Catholic Conference began its first statewide voter registration drive to put pressure on state legislatures who agree with gay marriages and or civil unions, March 25, 2004.
The new strategy, launched in The Pilot, the official newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese, was most likely timed to coincide with Monday’s Constitutional Convention, where legislatures will resume the consideration of the proposed amendment banning gay marriage. At the last convention, held early March, lawmakers agreed to a compromised proposal, which would block gay marriages, but allow civil unions.
"A lot of people are frustrated; they felt they wanted to have a say in this," said Maria Parker, associate director for public policy at the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the advocacy arm of the church in this state. "The feeling is mushrooming throughout the state, and some feel politically homeless because they feel neither party reflects their views and values. They are not being listened to, and this frustration has led people to say, `You know what, I need to participate more in the political process.' And of course that's fine with us, because in the Catholic tradition, participation in the political process is a moral obligation."
Although 67 percent of the Legislature claims to be Catholic, only a few follow the voice of the church. Therefore, the Catholic Church started the effort on a statewide scale for the first time.
"Legislators who decide to vote to harm the institution of marriage -- either by allowing same-sex marriage to stand unchallenged or by creating civil unions -- will feel a backlash in November," The Pilot said in an editorial yesterday.
Gerald D’Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference said the controversy over homosexual marriage has sparked an intense interest in politics among Catholics. Through the drive, D’Avolio expects to send thousands of new Catholic voters to the polls this fall when voting for their legislators.
"It hasn't happened on a large scale, where we ask each of the dioceses to do voter registration," he said. "I think we have many more Catholics interested in issues that are of a public policy nature. Laws are going to be made, and they want to participate in it."
D’Avolio also emphasized that the effort would not only make Catholic voices heard on gay marriages, but also on other issues pertaining to the Catholic faith, including abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research and casino gambling. However, their focus in placed on the gay marriage issue.
"Our intention is to have them become responsible citizens on all issues of interest to church and society, and we have a right to do that," he said. "It just so happens this issue is at the forefront, and in our view it is the most important one of the day, and we had to respond to it."
Dan Avila, associate director for policy and research at the Catholic Conference said the drives will be made through individual parishes, so that the large number of parishioners who have not yet registered to vote may turn out.
"Churches typically serve the most underrepresented populations in terms of the rate of voter registration," Avila said. "Parishes are among the few institutions that can reach groups that are notably under-registered, racial and ethnic minorities, new citizens, youth."
Since roughly 50 percent of Massachusetts is Catholic, the drive against homosexual marriages and civil unions will undoubtedly influence the state’s 199 lawmakers, 67 percent of whom are also Catholic.
At the last Constitutional Convention, the amendment allowing civil union won preliminary passage with an overwhelming 121-77. Devout Catholics do not agree morally with such an amendment.