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THE CHURCH

O'Malley sharpens attack on court

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, accusing the state's highest court of trying to usurp the role of the Legislature, demanded yesterday that lawmakers assert control over the state's marriage laws.

O'Malley, using his sharpest language yet, said the Supreme Judicial Court's Wednesday opinion affirming the right of gay couples to wed may be even more troubling than its earlier decision opening the door to gay marriage.

"The tone and tenor of this answer clearly demonstrates the overly activist stance of the four- judge majority and is striking even in its dismissive disregard for the substantive issues raised by the justices who dissented," said a statement O'Malley released. "Clearly, the justices who issued this opinion seem determined to blur the constitutional separation of powers and to usurp the rightful role of the Legislature."

O'Malley's remarks reflect an increasingly forceful lobbying effort by the state's largest religious denomination to preserve marriage as a heterosexual institution. O'Malley and his allies are urging legislators to vote next week to put a constitutional amendment before voters in 2006 that would outlaw gay marriage. O'Malley telephoned Senate President Robert Travaglini yesterday to urge him to hold the vote.

This week, The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese, devoted 12 stories and columns to the subject of marriage. Under the headline "The people are watching," a Pilot editorial urged Catholics to contact their legislators to vote for the proposed amendment and suggested that legislators who oppose the amendment should be replaced.

O'Malley's increasingly aggressive stance is drawing criticism, too. A statewide Catholic group asked the archbishop yesterday to cancel a scheduled Sunday appearance with the presidents of two groups, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. In a letter to O'Malley yesterday, three coordinators of the Catholic Alliance for Social Justice described the groups as extremist, far-right groups and characterized the event as a "hate rally."

"By aligning yourself with these extremist organizations, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is betraying the Christian values of charity and social justice with which we were raised and encouraged to embrace as Catholics," coordinators Tom McNaught, Susan M. Schmidt, and Larry Kessler said in the letter. "We hope that you will reflect on what your appearance on Sunday will represent and that you will cancel your plans to participate in what is nothing less than a scheduled hate rally."

Separately, at a news conference yesterday at the Unitarian Universalist Association office next to the State House, more than 75 other religious leaders spoke out against the proposed amendment.

Charles G. Martel, a Roman Catholic lay leader, said his message to the Legislature was: "Do not legislate discrimination into our constitution."

Speakers from various faiths appeared at the conference, which was put on by the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. The Rev. Maureen Reddington-Wilde, cochairwoman of the coalition, said afterward: "The Religious Coalition is very pleased with the decision. We're glad that the court is taking such a strong and appropriate stand for civil rights and freedom of religion."

Rabbi Devon Lerner, the other cochairwoman of the coalition, said that allowing gays the right to marry would not affect the strength of heterosexual marriages.

"You control the depth and strength of your marriage by the love and caring you show to each other and your children," she said. "Marriage is not about gender, but about loving and nurturing relationships."

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