Richard Malone, the Bishop of Portland (Maine), was on the faculty of St. John’s Seminary College when I was a student there in the early 1980’s. Fr. Malone was not only an instructor in theology, the college’s academic dean, and my own faculty advisor; he was also one of about ten resident priests who shared daily life with the seventy or so seminarians in resident at the college commonly referred to as “St. Clement’s.” Fr. Malone was generally very well-liked and respected, an excellent teacher, and — at the time — considered by most to be open and progressive.
Because Bishop Malone has been in the forefront of efforts to undo the legislative action which expanded the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples, I felt compelled to write to him to express an alternative perspective. Here’s my recent letter:
October 18, 2009
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, Th.D.
Bishop of Portland
510 Ocean Avenue
Portland, ME 04104
Dear Bishop Malone,
You may not remember me, but I was one of your students when you were on the faculty of St. John’s Seminary College. In fact, for one year at least, you were my faculty advisor and helped me to make the most of the educational opportunities provided at St. Clement’s. When you were appointed Bishop of Portland, I was pleased that a man I had known to be intellectually gifted, theologically balanced, personally affable, fair, reasonable and pastoral would be receiving the miter and crosier and would be in a position not only to shepherd the good people of Maine, but might also have an impact on the wider Church, perhaps counterbalancing the actions of some of your more reactionary brothers in the episcopate.
Earlier this year, however, I was saddened to see a story in The Pilot that highlighted your homily of November 16, 2008. In that homily, you took issue with Protestant leaders of Maine who publicly support the right of God’s gay and lesbian children to enter into unions that are legally recognized and that guarantee the rights that married heterosexual couples receive. While I was pleased to read your reiteration of the position that homosexual persons should be respected in their full human dignity, and that homosexual couples should be allowed hospital visitation rights and the right to share health insurance benefits, I’m sure you’re well aware that same-sex couples do not currently have such rights and no mechanism exists to ensure them. Insurance companies, hospitals, state and federal governments, and even family members who “disapprove” of their relative’s same-sex relationship are all huge obstacles to ensuring that the rights you recognize are respected and honored.
By most estimates, there are approximately 1,400 specific rights that are automatically accorded to married couples in the U.S. All of these accrue automatically the moment any 18-year old opposites-sex couple says “I do” in a Las Vegas wedding chapel and their marriage is civilly and universally recognized. Unfortunately, the 80 year old gay or lesbian couple who has lived in a committed and faithful relationship for more than half a century has no such rights. Because they have been denied the rights that come with civil marriage, millions of gay and lesbian couples have been forced to consult expensive attorneys to craft legal documents stipulating their legal wishes in very detailed contracts. Sadly, the bigotry against God’s gay and lesbian children that you claim to disavow has also given rise to attempts in some states to make even such contracts as these illegal.
I am writing to you now because the vote to reconsider the legislation in Maine allowing same-sex couples to marry is coming close. While I harbor no illusions that you will change your mind and come to realize that there is no conflict between your understanding of the official Church’s position on “homosexuality” and the civil law at hand, I nonetheless feel compelled in conscience to ask that you consider doing just that. There is nothing in the legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry that undermines families, that infringes on religious rights, or that hurts society in the way claimed by so many who trade in fear, hatred, and ignorance.
I urge you as the good man I know you to be to consider the grave harm that would be done to God’s gay and lesbian children under your pastoral care if the voters of Maine rescind the legislation that has been a beacon of light for the rest of the nation. At the core of his ministry, Jesus never sought to exclude, but rather included all those whom society or religion had otherwise discarded. Please follow His example by not being an obstacle for God’s gay and lesbian children to participate fully in the fundamental human right to form relationships and establish families as they believe God is calling them to do.
In Christ’s Peace,