Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maine are mischaracterizing the reasons that Catholic Charities of Boston stopped brokering adoptions in 2006, according to Peter Meade, the organization’s former board chairman, who spoke with reporters in Maine on Wednesday.

During an episode of MPBN’s MaineWatch last week, and at other times during the campaign, supporters of a group called Protect Marriage Maine have alleged that among the consequences of granting same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced to stop performing adoptions after Vatican officials learned that at least 13 children had been placed with same-sex couples.

The claim is repeated on Protect Marriage Maine’s website on a page headlined “Consequences of Redefining Marriage.” Meade said the situation that unfolded in Boston was driven by 1989 anti-discrimination laws that were on the books for more than a decade before same-sex marriage was legalized in the Bay State in 2004.

“Religious groups like Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington, D.C., have had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or acquiescing to this new definition of marriage,” reads Protect Marriage Maine’s website. “They have, for example, been forced to close their charitable adoption agencies.”

According to Meade, who along with six members of Catholic Charities of Boston’s 40-person board of directors resigned in the wake of the decision to stop performing adoptions, opponents of same-sex marriage in Maine and elsewhere are mischaracterizing the motives behind the church’s decision.

“This is just frankly not true at all,” said Meade during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. The call was organized by a group called Mainers United for Marriage, which favors legalizing same-sex marriage in Maine. “I’ve heard [campaigns using the Boston Catholic Charities example] and frankly presumed because it was incorrect that people would straighten it out. That is certainly not what happened. I know in campaigns that people sometimes stretch credulity, but this is going way beyond that. Opponents of the freedom to marry in Maine have tried to rewrite history to create fear and uncertainty among voters.”

Catholic Charities of Boston formerly held a state-issued contract funded by taxpayer dollars to provide adoption services, and placed 13 children with same-sex couples between 1989 and 2006. The work was done in accordance with a Massachusetts anti-discrimination law that requires taxpayer-funded services to be provided equitably and without regard to sexual orientation, among other things.

Meade said that the Vatican demanded in 2006 that Catholic Charities end its adoption service, despite a unanimous vote by the charity’s local board to continue adoptions.

“Frankly, the only criteria for us was what was in the best interest of the child and we thought the Vatican was changing that,” said Meade. “People are suggesting in the campaign that it had something to do with the [same-sex marriage law] that allowed for marriage equality. That’s not correct.”

Messages left with the Christian Civic League of Maine, which is one of the primary organizations working against the Nov. 6 same-sex marriage ballot initiative, were not returned on Wednesday, though Protect Marriage Maine, which has office space at the Christian Civic League in Augusta, is campaigning vigorously.

In a press release circulated Wednesday, Protect Maine Marriage chairman Bob Emrich blasted a decision by the Portland City Council to endorse the initiative to allow same-sex marriage. The press release repeated the disputed claims about Catholic Charities of Boston’s adoption service.

“We are disappointed by the city council’s decision, but not surprised,” said Emrich. “Many people mistakenly presume that all marriages can simply coexist, including those of the ‘same-sex’ variety. However, if Question One passes, marriage would be redefined for everyone, gay or straight. This redefined version of marriage would be the only legally recognized definition of marriage for anyone in Maine.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.