A Baltimore priest who had served his parish for almost forty years, spoke out in an impassioned sermon urging Catholics to vote in favour of equal marriage in Maryland.

Reverend Richard T Lawrence, who had served as a priest at St Vincent de Paul Church since 1973, gave his sermon in response to a letter from Archbishop William Lori, who said that Catholics should vote against equal marriage in the state.

Reverend Lawrence said that, irrespective of sexual orientation, couples’ commitment to one another was the most important issue, reported Catholic Culture:

“I will continue to stand in genuine awe of all those couples — straight, gay and lesbian — whose day-to-day, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade faithfulness to each other is to me a sacrament, a believable embodied sign, of the absolute faithfulness of God to us all,”

He said he could envisage a world in which equal marriage was a reality, and said that it would be possible for supporters and moral opposers of equal marriage could co-exist regardless of that:

“We could come to recogniSe the total, exclusive and permanent union of gay and lesbian couples as part of the sacrament of matrimony,” he continued. “Even if we do not believe that gay marriage ever could or should be allowed in the Church, we could live with a provision that allows civil marriage of gay and lesbian couples.”

He did, however, go further to give his personal support for equal marriage, saying that he hoped to see a progression of the law to allow it:

“Personally, however, I would go further than that,” he said. “I personally believe that this is a possible line of future development in theology and perhaps eventually even in church teaching. And if this is even a possibility, could we not judge that civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples ought to be allowed by the state at this time?”

“Could not civil law be allowed to progress where church law cannot go, at least not yet?” Father Lawrence added. “Personally, I believe that it can and that it should.

He ended his sermon to a standing ovation from his parishioners, and said that his words reflected “the official teaching of the church and my personal reflections.”

Reverend Lawrence is not the first religious figure to stand up for equal marriage. 63 ex-Catholic priests announced their support for equal marriage in Washington earlier this month.

On 6 November, Maryland, as well as Washington and Maine voters will decide whether or not to legalise equal marriage in those states. Minnesota voters will also choose whether to make a constitutional amendment which would define marriage as only between one man and one woman.

A recent poll suggested that voters in the state of Maryland could be the first to approve equal marriage by a popular vote.