Baldacci to ladle up sauce again in support of same-sex marriage

Former Gov. John Baldacci will be ladling out the sauce again next week in Bangor and Portland at events sponsored by Catholics for Marriage Equality and the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination.

The money raised at the events will be donated to organizations that support the homeless in Bangor and Portland rather than to Mainers United for Marriage, the campaign to allow same-sex marriage in Maine. The events are designed, however, to raise awareness about Question 1, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot. It will ask voters to allow marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples.

"I’m very committed to this issue because I believe in civil same-sex marriage," Baldacci said Monday in a telephone interview. "I know how important it is for Mainers to stand up against discrimination. My way to get involved was with these fundraisers. All I asked was that all the proceeds go to charity so that we put others before politics."

Baldacci’s spaghetti suppers were a staple of his campaigns for the Legislature, Congress and the governor’s mansion. The money always went to a local charity, not into the campaign coffers. The suppers helped raise Baldacci’s profile and that of the family restaurant. Momma Baldacci’s, which closed in 2006.

Three years ago, the Maine Legislature passed and Baldacci signed into law a bill that allowed same-sex couples to marry in Maine but included a religious exemption. It was repealed the following November in a statewide referendum, 53 percent to 47 percent.

After the loss at the ballot box, EqualityMaine began gathering signatures in August 2011 to put a question before voters again. The Maine secretary of state’s office announced in February that enough valid signatures had been turned in to put the question on the ballot.

Baldacci said Monday that his decision to sign the gay marriage bill into law was rooted in the Maine Constitution, not his Catholic upbringing.

"We grew up with President Kennedy running for office where he had to draw a very strict line between church and state," the former governor said. "[Protestant] ministers felt the pope would dictate policy. When I assumed office, I represented all people, regardless of their or my religious backgrounds."

In his weekly radio address that aired shortly after he signed the bill three years ago, Baldacci cited the Maine Constitution, which says that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against."

The last spaghetti supper Baldacci hosted also was prompted by the battle over gay marriage in Maine. It drew more than 900 people

in April 2010 to the Italian Heritage Center in Portland, according to a story published in the Portland Press Herald. It was organized to raise money for the Preble Street Resources Center in Portland after the Catholic Church withdrew funds for the center’s Homeless Voices for Justice program because staff at Preble Street publicly opposed the repeal of the same-sex marriage law.

Homeless Voices for Justice is a statewide social change movement, organized and led by people who have struggled with homelessness, according to information on its website. One of its goals is to help disenfranchised people become empowered and gain leadership skills to organize and advocate for institutional change.

The organization lost nearly $50,000 when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Washington-based Catholic Campaign for Human Development alleged that Homeless Voices for Justice violated the terms of its grant by opposing the repeal of the same-sex marriage law.

Many Catholics, including Baldacci and Anne Underwood of Topsham, disagree with the church’s stand on the issue of gay marriage. They have been more vocal this year than they were in 2009.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the diocese, said early in this year’s campaign that the diocese would not give money to Protect Marriage Maine, the group opposing the referendum, or lend staff to the campaign.

Three years ago, the diocese gave $500,000 to the repeal effort and lent Marc Mutty, director of public policy, to the campaign full time.

Malone moved to New York in August after he was named bishop of the Diocese of Albany. He remains administratively in charge of Maine’s Catholics until a new bishop is named. Malone said earlier this year that he would use the ballot question to educate his flock on the church’s policy on marriage but the diocese would not contribute to or be part of the 2012 campaign.

Underwood helped found Catholics for Marriage Equality three years ago after Malone pulled the Preble Street funding. An attorney who is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Portland, Underwood said in a telephone interview Monday that her support of same-sex marriage is rooted in the social justice tradition of the Catholic Church.

Raised a Presbyterian, Underwood said she converted to Catholicism in 1996. What attracted her to the faith was the liturgy.

"The liturgy forms for me a spiritual foundation to go forward with my social justice work," she said. "What I really loved when I converted was that, especially in the 1990s, the Catholic Church was such a wonderfully big tent. I could testify against [other Catholics] in Augusta on Wednesday and take communion with them on Sunday. We transcended all that political stuff."

Malone’s activism in the 2009 campaign spurred her and other Catholics to action. She said Monday that her decision to go against the official teaching of the church was made after searching her conscience.

"The undergirding of Catholic intellectual history is the primacy of the conscience," she said. "There is an obligation on the part of Catholics to form one’s own conscience based on one’s own reading and one’s understanding of the Gospel and church teaching. If one’s conscience says I can’t do that, then one is obligated to follow one’s own conscience.

"How we live within the institution enriches us but also challenges us," Underwood continued. "If we go against the church, we must do so carefully, conscientiously and prayerfully. It is the duty of a Catholic to inform his or her conscience and follow it."

The spaghetti suppers will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, at Bangor High School, 885 Broadway, in Bangor and at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St. in Portland. The suggested donation is $5 person, but larger donations will be accepted.

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