NORTH WATERBORO – The Venerable Father Michael McGivney was a parish priest in New Haven, Conn., at the end of the 19th century.
He watched as his congregation struggled through the pain of anti-Catholic discrimination. His congregants toiled under poor working conditions in sweatshops, in which many were injured or killed. At the time, insurance companies would not cover Catholic immigrants, leaving many Catholic widows and orphans penniless and dependent on the charity of the church.
Father McGivney created the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal organization to alleviate the suffering this discrimination caused and to create a life insurance program to protect the economic stability and security of these families.
From 2008 to 2010, the Knights of Columbus has donated more than $3 million to weaken the stability and security of gay and lesbian families by funding campaigns to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry. I urge the Knights of Columbus to remember its history and its pro-family principles and to stop funding campaigns that write discrimination into the laws of Maine and other states.
I am the proud father of seven wonderful sons, the youngest of whom is gay. I have enjoyed nothing more than to watch them all grow into the men, the husbands, the fathers and even the Knights they have become.
I was saddened when I realized how much my youngest struggled to reconcile his Catholic heritage with being born gay. I struggled as well, but it was through love that I accepted and embraced him. This struggle made me a better man and father, and I will be forever grateful for that.
I am extremely proud of the happy young man he has become and look forward to the day when I can celebrate his marriage just as I have the marriages of his older brothers.
For 11 years, I worked for the Knights of Columbus, and before my retirement I was a vice president of the organization’s insurance division.
After years in the corporate world, I have a deep admiration for the Knights of Columbus’ nonprofit life insurance model. This model ensured that our policyholders received the best programs possible and that much of the additional revenue was returned to them in the form of dividends or donated to charitable organizations such as the Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity and to Catholic churches and charities throughout the world.
I was and still am deeply proud to see the fruits of our hard work change this world for the better. This is why I was so disheartened to learn that millions of dollars raised through our insurance programs for charity were being used to fund discriminatory political campaigns.
In 2009, the Knights of Columbus was the third-largest donor in the drive to repeal marriage equality here in Maine. The Knights of Columbus has donated more than $1 million to the National Organization for Marriage, which is now in its third year of investigation by Maine’s ethics commission for allegedly violating the state’s campaign-finance disclosure laws.
I fear the Knights of Columbus could jeopardize its charitable work if it continues to support an organization that might be breaking political laws.
It is certainly within the scope of the mission of the Knights of Columbus to uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage as an example of sacrificial love. It is also within the rights and mission of the Knights of Columbus to present in a positive light a traditional view of marriage as we have known it.
However, we should all guard against supporting political initiatives that institutionalize discrimination in any form. We must strike a middle ground that recognizes and respects differences of opinion and allows for real civil discourse.
An initiative to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry is back on the ballot in Maine this November. It appears that the initiative in its final ballot form will protect the freedoms of religious institutions in Maine. With thoughts of my son and his struggle, I will be voting for the stability and security of all Maine families by voting for marriage equality on Nov. 6.
States were wrong to allow discrimination against Catholic families in the 19th century, and they are wrong to discriminate against same-sex families now.
I strongly urge the Knights of Columbus to continue its blessed tradition of charity and not divert any more of its charitable funds toward the fight against marriage equality here in Maine or anywhere else in the United States.
Robert O’Keefe is a resident of North Waterboro.