Races and Initiatives Catholics Should Watch

Today, Mr. Marlin points out some bellwether contests around the country important to American Catholics. He also offers his final installment on the Catholic vote in key swing states at our other site, Complete Catholicism, with an analysis of Pennsylvania. – Robert Royal  


On Election Day, November 6, there are local races and state ballot measures that should be on the radar screens of Catholics. Here’s the rundown on the high profile ones:

New York Senate Races:  In 2011 Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island broke his pledge and permitted a floor vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. 

Four Republicans (three of whom were baptized Catholics), who had enjoyed the support of the N.Y. Conservative Party in past elections, broke ranks and provided the votes needed to pass the legislation. 

At the time, Conservative Party Chairman, Mike Long, warned legislators that when it comes to getting his Party’s endorsement, one of the real breakers is traditional marriage:  “You say ‘I’m not for traditional marriage’ you’re not going to get an endorsement.  It’s as simple as that.” 

True to his word, Long made sure that the four senators did not get the nomination in their races for re-election this year.

As a result, Senator Jim Alesi of Rochester, realizing he could not win without Conservative support, declined to run for another term.

Senator Roy McDonald of Troy lost the September Republican Primary to a candidate who received the nod from Conservatives. 

Buffalo Senator Mark Grisanti whose 519 vote margin of victory in 2010 was due to the 4,368 votes he received on the Conservative line is running for his political life in a district that is 83 percent Democratic. 

Thirty-two year incumbent Senator Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie did manage to win his GOP primary but by only 107 votes out of 10,469 cast.  His defeated opponent is running on the Conservative line and could draw enough support to provide Saland’s margin of defeat.

If the three Senators are tossed out of office over their gay marriage vote, the Republicans will most likely lose their majority status and the GOP Senate Conference may dump Skelos as their leader.

Maryland:  Governor Martin O’Malley, a baptized Catholic, signed into law on March 1, 2012 the Civil Marriage Protection Act that will permit same-sex marriages as of January 1, 2013.

The legislation, which was vigorously opposed by then-Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien was, however, supported by dissenters who call themselves “Catholics for Equality.”  This misguided group proclaimed that the bill “not only betters the lives of lesbian and gay couples and their children, but the lives of Catholic families throughout the state.”

On the November 6 ballot, voters will have an opportunity to decide whether the law will be upheld.  A vote for Question 6, also known as the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum, is in favor of keeping the new law in place and unaltered.

While the law protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs and “affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith,” the Maryland Catholic conference is urging a “no” vote, warning voters that they “should not be fooled into thinking we can redefine marriage and still protect religious liberty.”

While there are also ballot measures on same sex-marriage in Maine, Minnesota and Washington, proponents are focusing on Maryland, which is the home of America’s first Catholic See. They hope it will be the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to embrace gay marriage at the ballot box.

National figures have invaded the state to stump for passage, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. 

New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who threw around bags of money to recalcitrant Republicans who put his state’s gay marriage law over the top, is now sinking money into Maryland. He made the largest individual contribution ($250,000) to a same-sex marriage PAC.

                                                The County Election by George Caleb Bingham, 1852

Massachusetts: The “Death with Dignity Initiative” (Question 2) will appear on the general election ballot.  If approved, it would permit a patient, whose physicians have determined has less than six months to live, be given lethal drugs.

The patient would have to be ruled competent to make the decision “and would have to make the request orally twice and witnessed in writing.” The initial verbal request must be fifteen days prior to the written request and second oral request. 

The Initiative would also permit blood relatives to be involved in the suicide process.  They could assist in preparing the paperwork “providing that one of the required witnesses on the lethal dose request form not be a patient’s relative by blood, marriage, or adoption.”

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference has condemned the act insisting it would stigmatize an “entire class as not worthy of the state’s, or their loved ones’ full protection and care.” 

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley has said, “When we grow old or sick and we are tempted to lose heart, we should be surrounded by people who ask ‘How can I help you?’  We deserve to grow old in a society that views our cares and needs with a compassion grounded in respect, offering genuine support in our final days.”

Florida: Two of the eleven legislatively referred constitutional amendments that appear on Florida’s 2012 ballot should be of interest to Catholics.

Amendment 6 prohibits the use of public funds for abortion “except as required by federal law and to save the mother’s life.” 

It also states that Florida’s constitution “cannot be interpreted to include broader rights to abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution.”

Amendment 8, if approved, would repeal Florida’s “Blaine Amendment,” which forbids state revenue from being used to aid directly or indirectly any church or religious institution. 

If approved, the new language would read, “No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious indentify or belief.”

Florida’s Catholic Conference supports the passage of both these amendments.

The legislative races and referendums I’ve described deserve the attention of every Catholic who resides within those states.  Every vote will count in what could be tightly contested elections that will help shape America’s moral landscape.


George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.