Parishioners of St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C., form a prayer chain in front of the church May 6 to voice support for the proposed statewide constitutional amendment to protect marriage. A few hours before voters in North Carolina were to go to the polls May 8, Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte prayed with his brother bishops for the courage always to defend the Gospel during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. CNS photo/George Hoffman Jr., Catholic News Herald

Catholics urged to affirm traditional marriage in North Carolina vote

By  Patricia L. Guilfoyle, Catholic News Service
  • May 8, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - North Carolina voters headed to the polls May 8 to decide whether to define traditional marriage in the state constitution -- an issue on which the state's two Catholic bishops have been vocal in urging people in their dioceses to support.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh and Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte have spent months educating the faithful about church teaching on marriage and encouraging people to vote for the constitutional amendment, ever since the measure was placed on the ballot by the Republican-led state legislature last fall.

The for/against ballot question reads: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

Marriage is already defined that way in North Carolina law. Supporters say the constitutional amendment would shield marriage from being redefined by judges or legislators over the public's objections, because the constitution could only be changed by another vote of the people.

Thirty states, including every Southern state except North Carolina, already define marriage in their constitutions as being between one man and one woman.

Bishop Burbidge and Bishop Jugis coordinated their efforts through Catholic Voice North Carolina, the public policy institution of the state's two bishops. Also working for passage is Vote For Marriage NC, a coalition of local and national organizations and churches including the Christian Action League, NC Values Coalition, African-American pastors, N.C. Baptists and the National Organization for Marriage. Opponents are being led by the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families, which has received funding from the Human Rights Campaign.

The bishops say the vote presents an opportunity to explain the importance and sanctity of traditional marriage in the church and in society.

In a joint letter being read at all Masses May 5-6, the bishops wrote, "We are for marriage, as we believe it is a vocation in which God calls couples to faithfully and permanently embrace a fruitful union in a mutual self-giving bond of love, according to his purposes. It is not only the union itself that is essential to these purposes, but also the life to which spouses are called to be open, the gift of children. Children have the right to the indispensable place of fatherhood and motherhood in their lives as they grow, are loved, nurtured and formed by those whose unique vocation it is to be a father and a mother through the bond of one man and one woman in marriage.

"While our state already has a law that prohibits same-sex marriage, as we are well aware by what has taken place in several other states, such laws can be overturned by judicial or legislative action," they continued. "This is why it is so important for us to vote to protect traditional marriage and pass the amendment to make this definition of marriage part of our state constitution."

The May 8 ballot features Democratic and Republican primaries for the North Carolina gubernatorial race as well as several key congressional contests, but the nonpartisan ballot measure on the marriage amendment has become the most visible, most expensive battle of all, statewide media have reported.

Supporters and opponents have raised a combined $3.2 million so far, according to their first-quarter finance reports, mostly from in-state donors but also from national groups that did battle in California's Proposition 8 fight in 2008. That's more than any other race on the ballot.

In addition, opponents have been outspending amendment supporters by nearly 2 to 1. The Charlotte and Raleigh dioceses each contributed $50,000 to Vote for Marriage NC for an advertising blitz in the final two weeks of the campaign.

As the campaign intensified, Bishops Jugis and Burbidge used a variety of communication tools to inform Catholics about the issues involved.

They jointly produced a series of four YouTube videos explaining church teaching on marriage, they disseminated information through their diocesan print and online news organizations, and they sent letters to pastors and postcards to the faithful encouraging people to vote for the amendment.

Diocesan communications staffs participated in forums, appeared on radio and TV programs, and distributed educational materials to parishes. The bishops preached about it during their homilies, and even put out yard signs in their own yards and invited pastors to do the same at parishes across the state.

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