Fortnight for Freedom Fizzles to a Close

July 4, 2013

fortnight for freedomToday,the Fourth of July, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2nd “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign comes to an end, and it looks like this effort was not any more successful than last year’s program.  The campaign, which began on June 21st, was intended to rouse Catholics to become motivated to work to protect religious freedom in the U.S.  The bishops have proposed that the freedom of Catholics to worship and govern their church is under fire, particularly because of the advancement of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in the political world.  The fact that Catholics do not envision the issue with the same sense of threat that the bishops do is a major factor in the failure of the campaigns the last two years.

Marcos Breton, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, points out that the Catholic bishops seem afraid of the changes that are happening in American culture, and that may be why they have latched on to the religious freedom argument.  “The world is changing rapidly,” he wrote, “and it’s natural for some to view the change with trepidation.”

But that doesn’t mean that religious people need to fear for their freedom.  Breton suggests a positive toleration on both sides of the marriage question:

“Same-sex marriage is now legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, meaning that roughly 30 percent of Americans now reside in states that support marriage equality.

“Within five years, gay marriage could very likely be legal in all 50 states. Public opinion has tilted in favor of marriage equality so quickly, it seems history is on fast forward.

“Watching same-sex couples arrive at the Sacramento County clerk’s office on television Friday reminded me of the night the Berlin Wall came down.

“Years of pent-up emotion suddenly found a release. Old restrictions dissolved into thin air. There were tears. There was exultation and a sense of giddy disbelief. Isolated people suddenly joined a broader community.

“With due respect to fellow Christians who disagree, this was cause for celebration – one that doesn’t have to come at the expense of religious freedom or with intolerance toward religious people.

“You can support the idea that government has no business restricting same-sex marriages while loving your church and trying to live the Gospel.”

And toleration for religious institutions is not only a good thing to do, Breton points out it is also the law:

“In a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to invalidate, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker wrote: ‘Affording (same-sex) couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom or any religious organization, official or any other person; no religion will be required to change its policies or practices with regard to same sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.’ “

Steve Chapman, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune, also challenges the idea that religious freedom is under attack because of the spread of marriage equality.  Speaking of religious people who make such a claim, Chapman wrote:

“It’s a bit rich for these groups to complain that the court is infringing on their freedom to infringe on the freedom of gays. Advocates of same-sex marriage are not trying to exclude heterosexuals from matrimony. They are only asking to be free to practice it as well.

“But opponents charge that churches will be forced to host same-sex weddings and their clergy will be required to perform them. Churches that refuse, they say, may be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

“The likelihood that any of these fears will come to pass ranges from minimal to zero. State laws allow divorce, but Catholic priests haven’t been forced to preside at the weddings of divorced Catholics. Employment discrimination laws haven’t been applied to end bans on female clergy. Nor have such internal church policies led to the loss of standard tax exemptions.”

Chapman notes that marriage equality, far from eroding freedom, is actually an extension of it:

“When Justice Anthony Kennedy made the case for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, though, he relied on a different provision. DOMA, he wrote, ‘is a deprivation of an essential part of the liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.’ “

Let’s hope that the failure of this second year’s campaign may teach the bishops that Catholics do not see their religious liberty threatened by marriage equality.  Indeed, many Catholics see the support of marriage equality as an important way to practice their faith, not an impediment to it.  Instead of Fortnights for Freedom, the bishops would do better to have Fortnights for Dialogue, so they can learn from Catholics how issues of LGBT equality proceed from their love of God, neighbor, and the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

April 13, 2012: How Threatened Is Religious Liberty?

June 22, 2012:  U.S. Bishops Launch Campaign to Bolster Idea that Religious Liberty Is at Stake

June 25, 2012:  A Gay Catholic’s Plea for Inclusion During the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

June 27, 2012:  In DC, Gay Catholics Protest ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign

July 7, 2012:  ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign Ends With Protest and Op-Ed

 

 

 


Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

June 27, 2013

The euphoria over yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality is continuing unabated by Catholics and LGBT advocates.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Perhaps the most amazingly Catholic quotation from the decisions was the phrase written by Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, released the following statement yesterday:

 

Equally Blessed Logo“As members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the United States, we are elated that the U. S. Supreme Court has both struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for marriage equality in the state of California. We are especially pleased to see that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the opinion striking down DOMA, and that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is also a Catholic, concurred in this historic decision.

“While we would have preferred the Court to find the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be clearly unconstitutional, in dismissing the case, the Court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state.

“Catholics around the country have worked hard to pass legislation that permits same-sex couples to marry, and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. They have done so not in spite of their faith, but because of it, knowing that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God’s children must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

“The court today has removed two obstacles blocking the path to justice for same-sex couples, but that path must still be walked. So today we celebrate and offer prayers of thanksgiving, and tomorrow we invite our fellow Catholics to join us in working to bring marriage equality to the states in which it has not yet been written into law.”

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Both the National Catholic Reporter and Whispers In the Loggia reported on reactions from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other marriage equality opponents.

Bryan Cones, on U.S. Catholic’s blog wondered if the Supreme Court decisions will persuade the bishops to tone down their campaign against marriage equality and instead engage in dialogue with LGBT people:

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones

“I for one would hope for a kind of pause on the bishops’ approach to this question: It should be obvious now that, on the civil side of things, same-sex couples have convinced Americans that they deserve access to the civil benefits of marriage. We in the church need to be having our own conversations about the religious institution of marriage and the religious meaning of human sexuality–long a monologue from the hierarchy that has not included the voices of lay people, married, single, gay, bisexual, or straight. Our own deliberations may lead us to new conclusions, or it may lead to a reaffirmation of old ones. But the signs of the times, today’s rulings included, demand our common discernment. “

Catholics United’s blog, Our Daily Threadcarried a post by Daniel Byrne in which he challenged the USCCB’s characterization of the decisions as “tragic”:

“It further upsets me that you call these decisions “tragic.” What’s tragic is that 23% of children live in poverty. What’s tragic are the natural disasters occurring because of climate change. What’s tragic is that Guantanamo Bay is still open (thanks to Bishop Pates for hisstatement, by the way). Providing equal rights for same-sex spouses is not tragic.

“Let’s be clear, this is a civil rights issue. No longer will same-sex spouses be turned away from seeing their partner in a hospital. No longer will binational couples be separated because their marriage isn’t recognized in the US. No longer will another 1,100 rights be denied same-sex spouses.”

Jamie Manson, writing on HuffingtonPost.com, tells the story of a group of Catholic LGBT advocates from Dignity/New York, who helped bring the DOMA case to court by supporting the plaintiff, Edith Windsor:

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor

“As millions celebrate today the Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many will be giving thanks to Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the case, and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.

“What most people will not know, however, is the instrumental role that a few members of the New York City chapter of DignityUSA played in this historic moment.”

You can read the inspiring story here.  Or you can see a synopsis and link to an earlier version of this story from The National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Manson concludes her essay with some hopeful words, which reflect the mood of yesterday’s and today’s exuberance:

“To paraphrase Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted aphorism, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Catholics can change the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


New Ways Ministry Welcomes Supreme Court Decisions on Marriage Equality

June 26, 2013
Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry on the Supreme Court’s decisions about marriage equality:

The Supreme Court’s decisions today that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that marriage equality should be revived in California feel like “justice rolling down like a river,” in the words of the prophet Amos. While Catholic bishops will not welcome these decisions, the people in the pews of Catholic parishes across the country are ecstatic that these major injustices against their lesbian and gay friends and family members are now dissolved.  We thank the Court for these decisions, and we give thanks to God for answering our many prayers seeking justice.

Catholic lay people across the U.S. and in California have worked hard to support their deeply held Catholic belief that equal treatment by our government’s laws should be extended to lesbian and gay couples who want to marry.  Catholics hold this belief because of their faith, not in spite of it.  Our Catholic social justice tradition motivates us to work for strong families and expansive social protections, and these can only be achieved when all families are treated fairly and equally under the law.

These Supreme Court decisions are definitely not the final word on marriage equality in our nation.  Much work remains to be done.  And Catholics will be part of that work in state and national campaigns to facilitate marriage equality and to end other injustices against LGBT people such as discriminatory immigration policies.   Catholics will stand with those of other faiths to show that religious people do not support discrimination.

Catholics also have work to do within our own church.  We are ashamed and dismayed that our bishops are often the most vocal opponents of marriage equality.  Their statements often reveal a stunning ignorance of lesbian and gay lives and a lack of compassion that is unbecoming of faith leaders.  Catholics pray that today’s Supreme Court decisions will open our bishops’ eyes so that they will at least meet and dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics and their families.  If the bishops do this, they will witness firsthand how the Gospel of justice and love which they preach is practiced by those they consider the least in their flocks.

New Ways Ministry is a 36-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the Catholic Church.  For more information visit http://www.NewWaysMinistry.org.


As Another Federal Appeals Court Decides in Support of Marriage Equality, the Position of Catholic Supreme Court Justice Kennedy Becomes More Pivotal

June 1, 2012

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Boston, ruled unanimously yesterday that a crucial section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits marriage to heterosexual couples, is unconstitutional.  The significance of this decision will not have an immediate impact on gay and lesbian couples, but could pave the way for a Supreme Court decision. (This decision joins an earlier federal court decision supporting marriage equality in California this past year which also makes a Supreme Court review likely) The New York Times reports:

“The decision. . .will have no immediate effect because the court stayed its ruling in anticipation of an appeal to the Supreme Court. Legal experts said the justices could agree as early as this fall to hear the case and arguments could come next spring, making it the first case involving the same-sex marriage law to be decided by the court.

“While the case dealt narrowly with the question of federal benefits for same-sex couples — not with the legality of same-sex marriage itself — many scholars said it was a significant moment in civil rights.

“ ‘It is another illustration of the growing consensus of the judiciary about the unconstitutionality of discriminating against gays and lesbians in the realm of marriage,’ said Geoffrey Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago.

“Another case, from California, does test the broader constitutionality of same-sex marriage, and as it has percolated through the courts, some proponents have said they preferred that it be in the vanguard. But others have felt that the incremental approach used in the Massachusetts case — much like the one used by opponents of abortion rights — would be more effective in achieving the movement’s ultimate goals of full equality for gay and lesbian couples.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Should the Supreme Court case arise next fall, commentators are already noting that a decision from the highest court in the land could turn on the decision of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a practicing Catholic, who is often the swing vote on the Court.  (Six of the nine sitting Justices are Catholic, by the way.) Earlier this week in a New York Times analysis, Bill Keller discussed the significance of Kennedy’s position:

“I’ve been trying to envision the Kennedy brief in defense of gay marriage.

“There is plenty of Kennedy to cite on the subject. Although he is a devout Catholic, he is the author of the two most important pro-gay-rights decisions handed down by the court. In 1996, in a case called Romer v. Evans, Kennedy wrote an opinion ending Colorado’s attempt to repeal local laws protecting gays against discrimination. There was no plausible explanation for Colorado’s action, he wrote, beyond “animus” — judicial language for plain bigotry. In his 2003 majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, Kennedy and company threw out all remaining state laws against sodomy, saying that how consenting homosexuals express their love is none of the state’s business. (The verdict prompted Justice Antonin Scalia, in an indignant dissent, to warn that Kennedy’s argument “dismantles” any constitutional case against gay marriage.)

Keller offers two reasons for Kennedy’s position on gay issues:

“In contrast to constitutional literalists like Justice Scalia, Kennedy believes the court should track evolving standards in society. The Kennedy brief can argue that the incremental but steady progression of marriage equality laws — and the polls showing accelerating public approval — are evidence that the nation is evolving toward an obvious outcome.

“Moreover, Justice Kennedy, who is widely traveled and cosmopolitan, is more open than the most conservative justices to arguments borrowed from foreign and international courts. He took note of European precedents in the ruling against sodomy laws. So the Kennedy brief on marriage could draw on the experiences of the 10 countries, from Canada to Spain to South Africa, that have legalized gay marriage, and the others (Israel and Mexico for instance) that recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions.”

But Keller also cites the opinion of Yale Law Professor William Eskridge, Jr., as to why Kennedy may not support marriage equality in any upcoming Supreme Court case:

“Eskridge, too, has studied Kennedy, and notes that the justice’s passion for liberty is matched by his fear of getting too far in front of the social consensus. By the time of the Lawrence case, states had either repealed anti-sodomy laws or were not enforcing them. In contrast, most states have constitutional amendments or statutes limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and many are of recent vintage.

“ ‘Kennedy does not vote in a way that he thinks is going to undermine the legitimacy of the court,’ Eskridge told me. Thus Kennedy has gone out of his way to stress that his earlier decisions did not necessarily lead to marriage equality.

“Eskridge supports gay marriage, agrees that it is inevitable, but believes it would be counterproductive, even dangerous, to force it on a nation that is still evenly and intensely divided. He contends that — like the Roe v. Wade legalization of abortion — a Supreme Court ruling in favor of nationwide gay marriage would inflame hostility, even violence, especially in the Southern states.”

Keller’s conclusion:

“My head tells me that Eskridge is probably right: Kennedy will be inclined to stop short of full equality now. But my heart will be rooting for Boies and Olson [analysts cited in Keller's article who believe that Kennedy will fully support marriage equality]. If that lesbian or gay couple in Mississippi or West Virginia have the courage to ask for a marriage license, I’d like to think the country has the courage to back them up.”

I hope that Keller’s heart is smarter than his head.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: February 21, 2012

February 21, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) More evidence that lay Catholics and their bishops differ strongly on support for marriage equality comes from a new poll reported by The New York Times in an article “Support Is Found for Birth Control Coverage and Gay Unions.”  Though the poll surveyed the general electorate, they report findings for different sub-groups, such as Catholics:  “More than two-thirds of Catholic voters supported some sort of legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships: 44 percent favored marriage, and 25 percent preferred civil unions. “

2) In “Spectrum continues quest to abolish stereotypes on campus,” Loyola University Maryland’s student newspaper, The Greyhound, reports on upcoming semester plans for activities by their LGBTA organization.

3) If California’s Proposition 8 case makes it to the nation’s highest court, the “Gay marriage fight may hinge on Supreme Court’s Anthony Kennedy,” a Catholic, reports The Charlotte Observer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Catholic Factor of Proposition 8

February 8, 2012

The reaction of the Catholic hierarchy to the news yesterday that a federal court has declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional has been, predictably, negative.  After all, the hierarchy, aided by over a million dollars from the Knights of Columbus, worked so furiously to get Proposition 8′s constitutional ban against marriage equality passed into law.

Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference, and auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles, issued a response yesterday which included the following:

“We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union. However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been—and always will be—the most basic building block of the family and of our society.”

But a reaction from an usher at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles may indicate better where Catholics in the pew stand on this issue–even those who initially voted for Proposition 8.  Ruben Garcia is quoted on the public radio website, spcr.org:

” ‘As a parishioner and a Catholic and a married man, I do believe in the sanctity of marriage,’ Garcia said, ‘and I do believe that it should be between a man and a woman, but I’m torn because I also believe in the separation of church and state.’ “

Cathy Lynn Grossman, religion editor at USA Today, posted a story on their website that contains a variety of religious reactions to yesterday’s court decision, including that of Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called the ruling a “grave injustice.”

The possibility that this ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court would put the fate of marriage equality into the hands of Catholics, who currently make up a  six-person majority on the Court (Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor).  Though many of the news reports on the decision made it seem like a U.S. Supreme Court case on the matter is likely, Adam Nagourney’s article in The New York Times  was more cautionary in outlook:

“Both sides in the case made clear that they intended to take the case before the Supreme Court in hopes of prompting it to settle once and for all an issue that has been fought out in courts, legislatures and ballot boxes since at least a 1971 case in Minnesota. That said, there is no guarantee the court will take it. The narrow parameters of the ruling’s reasoning — and the fact that it was written to apply only to California — may prompt the court to wait for a clearer dispute before weighing in.”

Though this case temporarily provides a victory for the marriage equality movement in California, there is still work of reconciliation work to be done in the Catholic Church there.  In a post two weeks ago, I mentioned that a California friend told me that the hierarchy’s heavily funded campaign to pass Proposition 8 has had a harmful effect on the pastoral life of LGBT Catholics and their allies in California.  Many have become alienated from the church and left it because of the vociferous anti-gay nature of the campaign and its rhetoric.  While the hierarchy has been focused on the political nature of the marriage debate, it’s time that they started to look at the pastoral component of it, too, and begin the much needed work of reconciliation–for the good of the entire church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 891 other followers