Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court

March 28, 2013
Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Yesterday, Bondings 2.o highlighted the role that Catholics played at the prayer service and public demonstration as the Supreme Court heard two cases involving marriage equality this week.   Today, Jamie Manson, award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, highlights an important behind-the-scenes story about Catholic involvement in one of those cases–the challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   The plaintiff in that case is Edie Windsor, who was  married to Thea Spyer,  Toronto, Canada, in 2007.  Their marriage was recognized since 2008 by New York State, where they lived.  Yet, when Spyer passed away, Windsor received  a$363,053 estate tax bill  from the federal government which would not have been sent if the married couple were heterosexual.

What Manson highlights is the work that three Catholic gay activists, who are members of Dignity/New York, did to bring this case to the Supreme Court.  The first is Brendan Fay, who arranged for Windsor and Spyer’s wedding in Toronto.  Manson explains:

Brendan Fay

Brendan Fay

” ‘Edie called for help. It was urgent,’ Fay says. Windsor’s partner of almost four decades, Thea Spyer, had been battling multiple sclerosis since 1975, and doctors had given her only months to live. Fay reached out to Canadian Judge Harvey Brownstone of the Ontario Court of Justice, who gladly performed the ceremony.

“Fay was part of a small contingent of friends that shepherded Edie and Thea, who was confined to a motorized wheelchair, to a Toronto hotel, where they were married May 22, 2007.

” ‘There was hardly a dry eye as they exchanged words, “With this ring I thee wed … in sickness and in health, till death do us part,'” Fay remembers.”

When Fay learned of Windsor’s estate tax problem, he sought aid from two friends:

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

“After Mass one evening, he enlisted the help of fellow Dignity members Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco, who have been married since 2002. (Theirs was the first Catholic same-sex wedding announced in The New York Times.) DeBonis, an attorney, immediately thought of [Roberta] Kaplan [the attorney who argued Windsor's case at the Supreme Court yesterday], whom they had watched argue the 2004 marriage suit filed by 13 couples before the New York State Court of Appeals.”Robbie was compelling,” DeBonis recalls, “and she and her partner, Rachel Lavine, have been passionate about the marriage equality issue for many years.”

And Windsor attributes all her celebrity status to Fay:

” ‘Everything that has happened to make me so famous at this moment is caused by Brendan Fay,’ Windsor told the crowd a few weeks ago at a benefit concert for the St. Pat’s For All parade, an event Fay spearheaded in 2000. ‘When I first saw the brief that said Edie Windsor vs. the United States of America, I said, “No, no, blame him, not me!” she laughed.’ “

Bondings 2.o already noted the role Catholics have played in the prayer service and demonstration at the Supreme Court, as well as the fact that six of the nine justices on the Court are Catholic.  Manson’s story highlights yet another important role that Catholics have played in this story.  Fay, DeBonis, and Maniscalco are to be lauded for living their faith so boldly and generously.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Film Explores Life of Pioneering Gay Catholic Theologian John McNeill

June 11, 2012

Taking a Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of pioneering Catholic gay theologian, John McNeill, will have its New York debut on Saturday, June 16th, 7:00 p.m., at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., Manhattan, NY.

The film’s screening, sponsored by Dignity/New York, in honor of their 40th anniversary, will feature a panel of distinguished speakers that includes: McNeill himself and his lifelong partner, Charles Chiarelli, Mary Hunt,  James Bernauer SJ,  Bishop Gene Robinson, Kate Clinton, Ginny Apuzzo, Andy Humm, Fr. Dan McCarthy, Fr. Bernard Lynch, Ken Gomolka, Rev. Nancy Wilson.  McNeill is one of the founders of Dignity/New York.  Tickets for the screening are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246908

Brendan Fay and John McNeill

The film’s publicity materials describe the documentary as:

“An inspiring portrait of a pioneer gay priest, Taking a Chance on God follows the extraordinary life of 86-year-old John McNeill from his Buffalo boyhood through his experiences as a POW in Nazi Germany, Vietnam peace promoter, leading gay rights advocate, and loving partner of forty-six years to Charles Chiarelli. McNeill – the author of groundbreaking works of gay spirituality, a founder of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity/New York, and a gay community leader during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s – refused to be silenced by the Vatican on LGBT issues, which resulted in his expulsion from the Jesuit priesthood. Chronicling McNeill’s love for the Catholic Church, the LGBT community, his Jesuit brothers, and his partner, Taking a Chance on God is a powerful story of faith, love and perseverance in the face of oppression and rejection.”

Taking a Chance on God was produced by Brendan Fay, who is also the producer of  The Saint of 9/11, a documentary on Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the gay NYC fire department chaplain who is died ministering to people in the attack on the World Trade Center.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Mc Neill describes the film this way:

 “This film is about my partner Charlie and our 46-year love affair. . . . The message is that God loves gay lovers and approves of them. . . . I don’t want any part of the church’s homophobia. . . .I was bringing a message that God brought to me. God’s love is universal and includes both gay and straight people.”

In the same interview, Fay comments on why he made the film:

“John became a hero to me the way Harvey Milk and other pioneers of the gay liberation movement had. . . .John is often a hidden figure. An unknown pioneer. There are not many who are aware of the dramatic impact and significance he had on the movement for change in society and the church in the early ‘70s.”

McNeill is best known for his ground-breaking theological work, The Church and the Homosexual, published in 1976.  In 2008, New Ways Ministry presented him with the Bridge Building Award for his life-long contributions to scholarship and pastoral work with LGBT people. You can read his award acceptance speech, which sums up his mission and ministry, here.

Kingston, N.Y.’s Daily Freeman interviewed McNeill and Chiarelli when then documentary was screened in the Woodstock, N.Y. film festival in September 2011.  In that interview, McNeill sums up his life work this way:

“I wanted to take away the guilt and self-hatred of gay Catholics who believed the church’s position on homosexuality.”

For a full listing of upcoming screenings, visit the documentary’s website, www.takingachanceongod.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


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