In announcing her strong support for marriage equality, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) joins not only a majority of Washington voters but a supermajority of American Catholics who support civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Roman Catholics make up about 16% of the population in Washington state, many of whom live in the Puget Sound region which heavily supports LGBT equality and sends pro-equality legislators (and governors!) to Olympia.

From Catholics for Equality:

Governor Chris Gregoire

Catholics Applaud Gov. Gregoire’s Strong Stand for Marriage Equality

Group Calls the Catholic Governor’s Position Consistent with Catholic Social Justice Teaching and in Agreement of the overwhelming majority of American Catholics

WASHINGTONCatholics for Equality, a national organization of Catholics who put their faith into ethical and effective political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families, joined the overwhelming majority of Catholics across the country in applauding fellow Catholic, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire (D-WA) for her announcement this week that she will push for marriage equality this year in her state.

In a press conference Wednesday, Governor Gregoire joined fellow Catholic Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Martin O’Malley of Maryland in leading efforts in their state to allow committed and loving same-gender couples to apply for legal marriage certification and recognition from their state.

“Governor Gregoire’s support for marriage equality represents not only the will of the majority of Washingtonians, but the will of the majority of Catholics throughout the state and the country,” said Catholics for Equality Executive Director Phil Attey. “Governor Gregoire follows not only the recent examples of Catholic leaders like Governors Cuomo and O’Malley, but the legacy of President John F. Kennedy in reaffirming that American Catholics can be trusted in our political system to be faithful Catholics, while being champions of the Constitution and legal equality for all citizens.”

[More below the fold.]

An independent poll by Strategies 360 shows that 54% of Washington voters support marriage equality. Though this poll did not identify religious affiliation, in most recent national polls, a supermajority of American Catholics support civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

In a recent interview, Gov. Gregoire addresses how her decision to support civil marriage equality in Washington mirrors that of many American Catholics coming to the understanding the difference between religious/sacramental marriage and civil/legal marriage and the role of the state. The proposed marriage bill guarantees religious freedom, protecting religious institutions from performing marriages contrary to their faith. Indeed, even if no such provision were contained in the bill clergy and faith traditions would still be protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Governor Gregoire eloquently expressed her evolution on the issue: “I’ve struggled with this for seven years, but every year, I’ve tried to take a step towards equality when it comes to recognizing gay and lesbian couples in Washington State.”

“… I was very thoughtful and very appropriate. I talked to my own priest who was very supportive, recognizing that in my church it’s a sacramental union that I respect. And the church can decide what it wants to do, but that as governor, in issuing a license I can’t discriminate. I just can’t. So the time had come in Washington State for us to step up to the equality of our gay and lesbian couples.”

“By supporting civil marriage equality Governor Gregoire is exercising her conscience to actually practice her faith’s social justice vision,” says Catholics for Equality Foundation Director Joseph Palacios. “Governor Gregoire’s support of same-sex civil marriage provides young gays and lesbians the possibility to realistically hope and dream that they can have full and loving relationships, have families, and build their futures as all other Americans who are provided those possibilities through civil marriage. The possibilities afforded through civil marriage are fully reflective of the Catholic social justice principles of human dignity, human development, and social solidarity for all people regardless of their faith.”