WASHINGTON –– A highly contentious national election cycle in 2012 came with its share of issues of concern to the Catholic Church.
Measures on statewide ballots regarding same-sex marriage, benefits for immigrants, assisted suicide, abortion and health care were among the issues that were a focus of advocacy by local churches.
For the most part, Catholic leadership kept a low profile when it came to public comment related directly to the presidential race, except for offering Catholics guidance for election decisions as outlined in the quadrennial statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
As a bloc, Catholics voted pretty much like the general public in supporting President Barack Obama’s re-election: 50 percent of Catholics voted for Obama compared to 48 percent for GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Among all voters, the percentages were 51 percent for Obama and 48 percent for Romney.
Just as the breakdown among white voters overall swung more for Romney, by 59 percent, to 39 percent for Obama, exit polls also showed it was the same among white Catholics, with almost the same outcome: 59 percent of white Catholics for Romney and 40 percent for Obama.
Exit polls don’t separate Hispanics by religion, but they were a boon to Obama, with more than 71 percent of Latinos voting for him. A majority of Latinos in the U.S., about 68 percent, are Catholic, and Latinos account for about a third of U.S. Catholics. The wide margin of Latinos who voted for Obama led to post-election declarations by both Republicans and Democrats that they would quickly work to pass immigration reform legislation. The issue was cited by Latino voters as a major reason they supported Obama.
In June, the Obama administration launched Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a stopgap program to defer deportation and give work permits to certain young adults who qualify. The move led to hopes that in a second Obama term immigration reform will come about.
On ballot issues, Catholic bishops and parishes and other faith institutions actively urged the public to vote to support traditional marriage as four states considered ballot measures related to same-sex marriage. Voters in Maine, Washington state and Maryland approved proposals to legalize same-sex marriage, while in Minnesota, voters rejected a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as only a union between a man and woman, clearing the way for the state Legislature or courts to move to permit such marriages.
The Catholic bishops in each state had urged voters to uphold the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman and warned that legalizing same-sex marriage could threaten the religious freedom of churches that reject such unions on moral grounds.
The U.S. bishops say that “the attempt to ‘redefine’ marriage to include two persons of the same sex denies the reality of what marriage is,” a “lifelong union of a man and a woman.” The church teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.
Thirty other states have laws prohibiting same-sex marriage or constitutional amendments banning those marriages unions. Before the November election, six states and the District of Columbia had allowed same-sex marriages through legislative action and court rulings.
In California, voters rejected an initiative to end the use of the death penalty, and in Massachusetts voters defeated an attempt to legalize assisted suicide.
Maryland voters approved a bill long sought at the federal level — a measure that will allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to attend state colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.
But in Montana, voters went the other direction, approving a referendum to deny some state-funded services to undocumented residents by 79 percent to 21 percent.
The measure has been challenged in court by the state teachers’ union and the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, who say it puts too much of a burden on people to prove U.S. citizenship, when they need not do so for other reasons. The law requires people to present proof of citizenship before they can obtain unemployment insurance, get certain state licenses or work for the state government, among other things.
Montana voters also approved a referendum to require parental approval for minors to get abortions and passed a measure saying the state and federal governments may not mandate the purchase of health insurance.
In Florida, voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited public funding of abortion services or insurance coverage that covered abortions. It also would have allowed legislation to restore parental consent for a minor less than the age of 16 to have an abortion.