PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine’s Catholic church teaches that marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union between a man and a woman, but that’s not stopping a group of Catholics from speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Catholics for Marriage Equality says it’s placing quarter-page ads in three Maine newspapers on Sunday urging residents to vote for a gay marriage referendum in the Nov. 6 election. More than 100 Catholics are attaching their names to the ad in support of allowing people of the same gender to marry, against the teachings of the church.
Anne Underwood, who co-founded the group in 2009, said most Catholics support gay marriage. In a survey conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life this summer, 58 percent of Catholics said they favored same-sex marriage, with 33 percent opposed.
‘‘The premise is we support marriage for same-sex couples because it’s a matter of conscience,’’ said Underwood, an attorney from Topsham. ‘‘And Catholics have an obligation to form their own consciences, especially on political issues and issues of morality.’’
In a statement Thursday, the head of Maine’s Catholic diocese said Catholics who support same-sex marriage are unfaithful to Catholic doctrine, and that Catholics for Marriage Equality and other dissident Catholic groups don’t speak for the church.
‘‘A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by scripture and church teachings cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the church,’’ Bishop Richard Malone said. ‘‘The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, open to the birth of children, is a matter of established Catholic doctrine.’’
Maine’s Catholic diocese, which has 187,000 members, took an active role in the 2009 campaign opposing gay marriage. That year, Mainers voted 53 percent to 47 percent to overturn a gay marriage law passed by the Legislature.
The church took up special collections during services and asked for contributions from other dioceses to help fund the campaign. A top church official took a leave of absence from the diocese to serve as campaign chairman for a group that led the fight against legalizing gay marriage.
This time around, the Catholic church isn’t actively campaigning against the referendum or contributing money to groups that are campaigning against it.
Rather, the church has been focusing on teaching parishioners about what it calls the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, a doctrine the church has been teaching for 2,000 years. Malone wrote a 24-page ‘‘pastoral letter’’ explaining the church’s position on marriage that serves as the heart of the church’s response to gay marriage supporters.
Underwood helped form Catholics for Marriage Equality in 2009 campaign because she was disappointed with the church’s activities in that year’s gay marriage campaign.
There are now Catholics for Marriage Equality groups in the four states that have same-sex marriage questions on their ballots in November, she said. Maine, Maryland and Washington have up-or-down votes on gay marriage, while Minnesota is proposing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
In Maine, the group held a spaghetti dinner in Bangor earlier this month to draw attention to its cause while raising money for homeless shelters. Former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci cooked the spaghetti and dished it out to those who attended.
Another fundraiser is being held Friday in Portland. Baldacci, a Catholic, again will be ladling up spaghetti.
Baldacci, who publicly supported gay marriage in 2009 when he was governor, said others in his faith who share his view on the issue are religious people who believe in the Catholic church and appreciate all the good it does for people around the world.
‘‘While we’re tremendously respectful, we also recognize that God gave us the ability of free choice and to be able to follow our hearts,’’ Baldacci said. ‘‘When we see people who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, that’s something we should be praising and supporting.’’