It’s Time for the U.S. Bishops to Take a Reality Check on Marriage Equality

June 23, 2014

U.S. bishops at their recent meeting in New Orleans.

” ‘Let’s face it, anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on. There is a question whether (the courts) should be able to tell the states what they can or cannot do with something as important as marriage, but the trend right now in the courts is to permit gay marriage and anybody who doesn’t admit that just isn’t living in the real world.’ “

Those are the words of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who recently joined the growing Republican chorus admitting marriage equality’s inevitability. Jumping off these statements, Elizabeth Lefebvre asks in U.S. Catholic whether the Catholic Church needs its own reality check when it comes to same-gender marriages. Judging from the U.S. bishops’ actions it seems that, at the very least, they need one. Lefebvre proposes a detente of sorts:

“Is there a way for the Catholic Church to respond to this reality [of marriage equality being made legal] in a similar way? To basically say: We don’t think this is the right way to go, but we accept that the courts say this is legal and that this here to stay. Instead of reacting by declaring court decisions mistakes and travesties of justice—as was done after the recent decision in Pennsylvania that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional—it seems more realistic for the church as an institution to adopt the attitude that Hatch is putting forth. It’s no secret that Catholics in the pew don’t see eye to eye with church teaching on the issue…”

Unfortunately, more typical of responses from American bishops are the remarks made by Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, who said that Wisconsin’s legalization of marriage equality “is an element of the very first ‘domino’ of civilization…When that first ‘domino’ falls, everything that is good, true, and beautiful…is seriously threatened.” Perhaps he should take notes from fellow Bishop David Ricken who remained firm about the bishops’ understanding of marriage, but added:

” ‘I was disappointed by the decision, but I would really hate to come across in a way that would say we don’t value every human being who has this particular attraction, would just hate if they feel like they were being prejudiced against, every human person is a gift of God, created by God and we can’t lose sight of that…

” ‘I think everybody wants everybody to be happy and feel everybody has a right to that. Mistaking happiness for this, I think, though, is an incorrect way of understanding it.’ “

Some select bishops have followed Pope Francis’ lead away from the culture wars.  For example, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland promised dialogue and healing after Oregon equalized marriage rights. But statements like this is the exception to the rule that America’s hierarchy remains obsessed with stopping the expansion of rights to LGBT people. The U.S. bishops as a whole reaffirmed their decision to focus on marriage equality opposition during United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings in June , seeming to ignore Pope Francis altogether in their agenda and decisions.

Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service lays out five reasons why marriage equality is inevitable in the National Catholic Reporter.  One of the main ones, he says, is the influence of LGBT-affirming faith communities and leaders. We can assuredly count the majority of US Catholics standing up for LGBT rights in this group. Instead of continuing to spend tremendous resources in their failed fight against marriage equality, and causing ongoing pastoral damage,  America’s bishops need to have that reality check. Lefebvre offers a few suggestions on where they could go from here:

“The church could spend more time and resources figuring out how to deal with the reality that people (including Catholics) will continue to have legal same-sex marriages. Church teaching is clear that gay people have full human dignity, even though church teaching is just as clear that the sacrament of marriage is meant for one man and one woman. But wouldn’t it be better for the church to acknowledge what’s happening, namely that legally recognized same-sex marriage is a reality in many states and that it will likely one day be legal nationwide? By, say, figuring out ways to effectively minister to gay couples, or to welcome children of same-sex parents into Catholic school?

“These are real issues that the church faces now and will continue to face in the future. Pretty soon, it could be time for a reality check from the church.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Bishops Across US Give Diverse Responses to Marriage Equality’s Spread

January 25, 2014

Marriage equality is advancing in states across the U.S., as court rulings and legislature look to provide equal rights for same gender couples in the new year. Yet, Catholic leaders’ responses remain ambivalent, with some continuing the harsh rhetoric of past campaigns and others potentially downplaying anti-LGBT efforts to refocus on those justice issues considered more important. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides summaries of recent events in several US states.

Indiana

Indiana’s bishops came out in support of a constitutional ban on same-gender marriages currently being considered by that state’s legislature. The Indiana Catholic Conference released a statement in December which repeated the hierarchy’s claims about marriage, but explicitly stated that the statement could not be considered an endorsement of the proposed ban. LGBT advocates expressed hope at that time that Indiana’s bishops would follow Pope Francis’ lead and forgo actively supporting the constitutional ban.

Instead, the head of the Conference testified before a legislative committee last week and put the bishops on record as supporting a ban which would limit the rights of LGBT partners and their families. Indiana already bans same-gender marriages in law, but anti-LGBT activists are hoping to alter the state’s constitution as well by bringing it up for a statewide referendum in the 2014 elections. The bill must pass a vote in the General Assembly, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Oklahoma

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City strongly criticized a federal judge’s ruling that Oklahoma’s ban on same-gender marriages was unconstitutional, as it violated the US Constitution’s equal protection clause. LGBTQ Nation reports:

“The Most Reverend Paul Coakley said in a statement released Wednesday that the ruling by U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ‘thwarts the common good.’ Coakley called the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman a basic truth about humanity.”

New Mexico

On a more positive note, Catholic bishops in New Mexico lobbied dozens of lawmakers earlier this week and made no mention of marriage equality, despite the issue being raised recently in that state. Last month, New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that same-gender marriages should be legal after local governments began issuing marriage licenses. In their meetings with legislators, the bishops lobbied about early-childhood education, immigration, and economic issues. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the only comment made about LGBT equality:

“[Bishops' spokesperson Allen] Sanchez said the bishops probably would support a constitutional amendment by Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington that, if approved by voters, would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

” ‘But right now we have an emergency on the early-childhood issue,’ Sanchez said. ‘That is their priority for this session.’ “

As with Indiana, it could be the New Mexico bishops are simply waiting for the right time to come out against marriage equality. Yet, couples are marrying in that state,  and the legal right to marry in New Mexico seems clearly established. Perhaps New Mexico’s leaders realized that marriage equality is the reality and they could do far more good defending those on the margins of society than fighting fatigued cultural battles. Maybe Pope Francis is having an effect stateside sooner than once thought.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: October 23, 2013

October 23, 2013

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

(1) The Archbishop of Lima, Peru, has publicly implied a legislator in that country is gay. Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne was speaking on a radio program when he attacked the Carlos Bruce, who is the legislator behind a bill legalizing civil unions. Gay Star News quotes the cardinal as saying, “If a person has made some alternate choices, that’s their problem and he can do whatever he wants on his own.” Bruce chose not to reply to the comment.

(2) As marriage equality becomes law in Scotland, the Catholic hierarchy is warning it may imitate the French model and separate sacramental marriages from civil licensing. Archbishop Leo Cushley and the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said legal concerns are to blame, as they fear priests could be liable if they refuse to marry a same-gender couple. Pro-LGBT groups claim this is just politicking, and the Scottish government confirmed religious institutions would not be forced to provide same-gender marriages, according to The Scotsman.

(3) Bishops in Nigeria issued a statement at the conclusion of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Nigeria meetings that decried foreign organizations who are promoting marriage equality, along with condemning condom usage. Gay Star News reports that anti-gay legislation is increasing in the nation which has passed a “Jail All the Gays” law and banned diplomats with same-gender partners.

(4) Rosario Crocetta is seeking to clean up waste and corruption in Sicily, which is languishing amid debt and the Mafia. The New York Times offers an in-depth profile of this Italian politician who is the region’s leader, and who also happens to be a gay Catholic, in which he discusses faith, sexuality, and conflicts with local clergy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Jersey Judge’s Catholic Faith Plays Interesting Role in Marriage Ruling

October 16, 2013

Judge Mary Jacobson of Mercer County, New Jersey

Less than a week remains until New Jersey begins issuing marriage licenses for same-gender couples, and it appears protests from Governor Chris Christie and anti-equality leaders will not stall progress. Many reports, including on Bondings 2.0, have focused on the Catholic identity of the governor and the state’s bishops as influences in this debate.

Now, NJ.com offers an interesting twist on how a lesser-known Catholic is shaping LGBT rights in New Jersey with a profile of Judge Mary Jacobson, who legalized same-sex marriage in her September 27th ruling. Her ruling is also a lesson for Catholics in public life about the relationship between faith and law.

The report begins noting that Jacobson is a practicing Catholic, raised in Bayonne, a highly religious city in New Jersey. She attended an all-girls Catholic high school and now sends her daughters to Catholic colleges. Though few of those interviewed would discuss Jacobson’s religious beliefs, she appears committed to the Catholic faith.

Yet, it was not Judge Jacobson’s personal beliefs that influenced her decision advancing marriage equality according to those interviewed, but objectivity before the law. NJ.com reports:

” ‘The only thing that would play into her decisions would be the law, the facts and the application of the facts to the law,’ said Kenneth Levy, a retired Superior Court judge in Essex County who has known Jacobson since their days in the state Attorney General’s Office.

” ‘Judges are human beings,’ Levy added. ‘But if you’re going to be a good judge, you have to divorce yourself from your personal biases and your personal religious beliefs to the extent that that’s possible. To me she’s one of the best judges in the state. Professional. Totally unbiased.’ “

This professionalism left pro-equality advocates uncertain after oral arguments because Jacobson grilled lawyers representing the same-gender couples who initiated a lawsuit seeking marriage rights. Jacobson ultimately argued that in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in June, gay couples were denied equal benefits since only civil unions, not full marriage rights, were available.

Since then, the judge denied an attempt by Governor Christie to delay marriage licenses and the state’s Supreme Court will begin hearing an appeal in January, while also weighing whether to delay marriage rights past October 21st.

Judge Jacobson is reticent when it comes to public views, and whether or not she personally supports same-gender relationships as a Catholic remains unknown. However, her ruling provides an important reminder for Catholics in the public sphere. The judge seems to abide by the ideas of Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray, who stated: “it is not the function of a civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong” and “It is difficult to see how the state can forbid, as contrary to public morality, a practice that numerous religious leaders approve as morally right.”

The analogies are clear when it comes to marriage equality. Regardless of how the judge feels about same-gender marriages, she acknowledges the reality that US law demands equal protections under the law for all, and this clearly includes same-gender couples. She also realizes that some religious and moral traditions not only allow, but seek to marry gay couples in their traditions. As marriage equality spreads, Catholics in political and civil life will be asked to respond. We can only hope they act out of faith as justly as Judge Jacobson has.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Approval of Pope Francis Soars, as Marriage Equality Support Grows

October 15, 2013

Pope Francis

Recent polling  indicating American Catholic support for LGBT right echoes previous numbers, reported on here and here by Bondings 2.0. However, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute’s latest numbers on this topic are noteworthy for two developments: reactions to Pope Francis’ major interview and shifts in views based on Mass attendance.

Religion News Service reports that the pope received high marks as 89% of US Catholics reported either favorable or very favorable views on Pope Francis. Those viewing him negatively were in the low single digits.

The poll was conducted in the last week of September, just days after the release of America Magazine‘s groundbreaking interview with the pope. Regarding his condemnation of the Church’s focus on social issues, including marriage equality, 68% of adult Catholics agreed with Pope Francis and only 23% disagreed. These results were mirrored when broken down by age groups and Mass attendance.

Religion News Service also reported that American Catholic support for marriage equality still outpaces support by the general American population:

“The survey also found that Catholic support for same-sex marriage continues to be strong, as other surveys have found, with six-in-10 Catholics approving of gay marriage and 31 percent opposed. That’s slightly above the national 56 percent approval rating.

“But the latest research also indicates that support for same-sex marriage only drops slightly among weekly churchgoers, to 53 percent, with 40 percent opposed. That finding could cause consternation among social conservatives who argue that the most devout Catholics tend to support the hierarchy’s position against gay marriage.”

As preparations begin for next year’s synod on marriage and the family, it will be important for US Catholics to make their support for LGBT people and same-gender couples known to the Vatican.  Writing to Pope Francis would be a good start.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Justice Antonin Scalia Misusing Catholic Faith to Promote Anti-Gay Bias

October 13, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Just weeks ago, Pope Francis shook up the Catholic Church with a wide-ranging and welcome interview that included positive words about gay and lesbian people. Now, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is making waves in an interview with New York Magazine where he speaks about his Catholic faith and homosexuality.

Justice Scalia is normally an outspoken Catholic, but he offered little when asked about Pope Francis. The interviewer pressed him on the issue of homosexuality, asking (New York Magazine’s questions are in bold):

“I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change [of LGBT rights].

“I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

“Have any of them come out to you?

“No. No. Not that I know of.”

He is asked in the interview whether his views on homosexuality have “softened” given the pope’s new welcome of gay and lesbian people, but Scalia is unable to understand how they could soften because in his mind the issue is set Catholic doctrine. The interviewer asks how these personal views affect his role on the Supreme Court, and Scalia answers:

“I still think it’s Catholic teaching that [homosexuality is] wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other…

“Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it as a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.”

He pivots from here into a lengthy discussion of heaven and hell, the Devil, and atheism, all of which you can find here.

Yet, as a justice on the US’ top court and a prominent Catholic, Scalia’s record on LGBT issues is less “standing athwart” on legal grounds and more a clearly defined legacy of anti-gay bias rooted in his understanding of the Catholic faith.

Right Wing Watch offers a rundown of Scalia’s harshest moments against the LGBT community, as when he previously compared homosexuality to murder and cruelty against animals or when he wrote a scathing opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that would justify discrimination against gay people. Then there is the unusual step the justice took in reading aloud from the bench his blistering dissent when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA this past June.

It appears Pope Francis’ effect on Justice Scalia is minimal given the New York Magazine interview, and it is doubtful the justice would act like other Catholics on the court in endorsing the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also clear in his language that Scalia continues to view homosexuality in terms of sexual acts, instead of as an integral part of a person’s identity. It is telling that someone as well-connected as the justice claims to know no gay people personally, and does little to show compassion, sensitivity, or respect for them as the Church asks of him.

With LGBT rights expanding in the US and Pope Francis preaching words of welcome, the moment is prime for the justice to reconsider how he speaks about and interacts with gay people. Perhaps acknowledging those he knows who are LGBT identified is a start. Perhaps he could consider aspects of his Catholic faith, like the dignity of each person and the common good pf all, when it comes to homosexuality. Perhaps he could simply start by echoing Pope Francis’ words in interviews and say, “Who am I to judge?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Jersey Initiates Marriage Equality, But Battle for Permanence Begins

October 7, 2013

New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage leaders at a press conference

Anti-marriage equality organizations have formed the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage as LGBT advocates seek to legalize equal marriage rights. Once again, Catholics are on center stage as the debate over marriage equality intensifies in that state from both judicial and legislative angles.

The Coalition includes a handful of conservative organizations, as well as the Knights of Columbus State Council, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, and the National Organization for Marriage which has close Catholic ties. On Top Magazine reports Coalition members are already unleashing anti-gay remarks, with a Knights leader comparing marriage equality to polygamy and incest, as others have done in the past. As for alternatives, the Coalition echoes Governor Chris Christie in calling for a state referendum on the issue.

The anti-marriage equality effort is in response to a  judge’s September 27th court order that New Jersey issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples beginning October 21. Judge Mary Jacobson claimed same-gender couples would be denied equal protection under the law if the state continued with merely civil unions, as they would be unable to receive federal benefits in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in June.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, has appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court. With 2016 presidential aspirations, Christie has attempted to welcome LGBT rights in a broader sense and continue opposing marriage that would appeal to both moderates and Republicans respectively.

Judge Jacobson’s court order comes as the legislative side heats up as well. NJ.com reports on reactions from pro-equality leaders who continue working on passing a marriage law, even as legal battles remain:

“Advocacy groups and Democratic state officials reacted quickly, cheering Jacobson’s decision and urging Christie to let it stand unchallenged. And vowing to fight it if Christie did appeal…

“We have been saying it for months and it stands true today: through litigation or legislation, we will win the dignity of marriage this year,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “We just won the first round through litigation and we will continue to fight until we guarantee marriage for all New Jersey couples.”

“Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said a coalition of groups pushing for gay marriage would also keep pressing state lawmakers for an override of Christie’s gay-marriage veto last year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature is nearly a dozen votes shy of being able to overturn the veto.”

Nearly 40% of New Jersey’s population identifies as Catholic, meaning the voice of Catholics will matter in speaking out to legislators and voting in a referendum, if one emerges. New Jersey also offers a prime moment for the Catholic hierarchy, Knights of Columbus, and those anti-equality lay people to heed Pope Francis’ new words and stop obsessing over marriage when true injustices abound.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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