Having Their Marriage Doctrine–and Changing It, Too

August 24, 2014

Christine Hernandez

The Catholic hierarchy’s position on marriage is clear to all: one man, one woman, for life. Defending this belief has caused bishops to spend millions of dollars in a decade-long attempt to stop marriage equality’s spread. Public discourse around same-gender couples attaining marriage rights has been framed in near-apocalyptic language by some bishops, and much pastoral harm has been caused as a result.

Yet, a court case in Alabama reveals just what it might take for Catholic officials to “redefine” marriage, as they often claim LGBT advocates are trying to do.

St. Pius X Catholic School in Mobile has had three lawsuits filed against it by parents claiming the school failed to protect their children from severe bullying, one of which comes from the lesbian mother of a child known in court documents as “A.S.” AL.com reports on the strange development:

“In court, lawyers for a Catholic school in Mobile seemed to endorse the view that a lesbian partner is an equal parent to the birth mother…Lawyers for the school sought permission to take sworn testimony from Christine Hernandez, the partner of the student’s mother who has helped raise the child.”

St. Pius X’s lawyers claim Hernandez has represented herself as the parent of A.S. in the past, including in official capacities where parental consent was needed. The child’s mother sought to block Hernandez from being forced to give testimony “on the grounds that state law bans recognition of same-sex marriage,” and Mobile Country Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart agreed saying Hernandez and A.S. are “legal strangers.”

A further twist is that Hernandez is co-counsel, with David Kennedy, in the bullying lawsuits, and she would need to be removed from this case and potentially the two other ones if forced to testify. Hernandez is also involved in an adoption lawsuit which claims the same same-sex marriage ban being used to prevent her from testifying is unconstitutional. The newspaper article explained:

“In an interview, Kennedy said that notwithstanding his view of the law, it remains on the books until a court decides otherwise.

” ‘In Alabama, the law of the land is still that a child can have one mother and one father but certainly not two mothers,’ he said.

“Even without the same-sex marriage issues, Kennedy argued, Hernandez still should not be made to testify. He pointed to legal precedent setting a high hurdle for compelling lawyers to testify as fact witnesses in cases involving their clients.”

Kennedy added that even if the same-sex marriage ban were deemed unconstitutional, Hernandez could not be considered a legal parent in the bullying lawsuit without marriage or adoption paperwork on file.

For her part, Hernandez released a short statement on the issues involved, saying:

” ‘This case is not about me. This case along with the other three that we have filed to date is about the children…The children that cried out for help and were ignored.’ “

Does this mean that the possibility of losing a legal case, and the resulting financial payout, can make Catholic officials change their definition of marriage?  It certainly seems they are willing to so for such circumstances.

This is not the first incident where Catholic leaders have sought to maintain their doctrine, while simultaneously changing it when advantageous for them. In 2013, lawyers for a Colorado hospital claimed fetuses were not, in fact, unborn children and did not possess legal rights.  The hospital was being sued for the deaths of two seven-month old fetuses, and the lawyers for the hospital defended the institution by saying fetuses were not people–a position in direct contradiction with the Catholic hierarchy’s consistent stance against abortion on the grounds that fetuses are indeed unborn children.  Perhaps there are more cases like this, when Catholic doctrines once declared infallible and immutable shift for legal and/or financial reasons?

If Catholic leaders want to claim moral positions in society then, at the very least, they must at least be willing to follow them. It adds insult to injury when bishops who ignored pleas from LGBT people and their families to stop the harm being done by opposing equal rights suddenly change those very beliefs just to win lawsuits. They cannot claim a principled position when it is so readily changed for advantage.

This case in Alabama is a prime example of how flawed and fragmented thinking on LGBT issues is, whether in the court system or in the church’s theology. I hope our bishops will one day welcome each person and every family for who and what they are, as created by God. We ask the simple question: would it not be better for every Catholic before the law and before God to stand on the side of justice and equality for all?

And when that day comes, I hope the church’s leaders’ shift in thinking will come as a result of love, not lawsuits.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Hierarchy Is a Shining Light in Dark Moment for LGBT Rights in India

December 16, 2013

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s Supreme Court reinstated a law that bans homosexuality as a “crime against nature” earlier this week, intensifying divisions between LGBT advocates and the religious communities they blame for this development. Catholic leaders have varied in responding to the Court’s decision, but there are hopeful signs as at least one bishop spoke out against the law.

Outlawing homosexuality in India dates to British colonial rule more than a century ago. Recent legal debates began after a New Delhi court overturned the law in 2009. Anti-LGBT organizations, including faith-based ones, have sought to re-criminalize homosexuality since then. The Supreme Court’s ruling now says it is up to the nation’s legislators to repeal the law if that is what is desired.

The Times of India reports that religious groups have welcomed the ruling, with leaders using extremely homophobic language and advocating “ex-gay therapy” in their statements. Relative to these, Catholic leaders’ remarks have seemed muted and even positive. Archbishop Anil J T Couto of Delhi merely reaffirmed the hierarchy’s position on marriage equality and a spokesperson stated the archdiocese opposed any law that would criminalize homosexuality. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai is quoted by UCANews.com as saying:

“[T]he Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals. As Christians, we express our full respect for homosexuals. The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalisation of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.”

Two interesting notes in this story. First, in addition to heading up the Mumbai Archdiocese and India’s bishops’ conference, Gracias is also a member of the eight member Council of Cardinals formed to advise Pope Francis. The pope has been noted for his pastoral tone when speaking about LGBT people and his emphasis away from social issues.

Second, India’s Christians are a minority struggling for recognition of their own rights. In the same week that homosexuality was criminalized, police injured Catholic demonstrators, including ten nuns, and arrested Archbishop Couto. Relations between the government and the Catholic Church are contentious, as UCANews.com reports. Defending all minority rights, including LGBT equality aside from marriage, is seemingly a position with which leading Catholic voices seem comfortable.

With elections about to occur in the coming week, and conservative nationalist politicians gaining popularity, it seems unlikely India’s government will act to decriminalize homosexuality. That said, the Catholic Church in India now has a concrete opportunity to act upon oft-stated teachings against LGBT discrimination and continue to speak out and work against this law.

–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


Bishops Try to Stem Marriage Equality’s Spread in the U.S.

October 6, 2013

As marriage equality becomes an emerging reality in the United States, opponents are employing new challenges in court and elsewhere to limit the spread and, in some cases, punish supporters of LGBT people. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers several incidents across the country that have made headlines with links provided if you wish to read more.

Michigan

In Detroit, arguments open on October 16th for a federal court case challenging the state’s ban on same-gender marriages and stirring up anti-equality opponents in defense of the ban. Equality advocates are hopeful that the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act will help their case against a similar state-level ban passed by Michigan in 2004.

Initially, the two plaintiffs, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who are partnered with three children, challenged a Michigan law denying them adoption rights. The lawsuit grew, and the Detroit Free Press now reports the case has now drawn the attention of the Catholic hierarchy:

“U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has allowed other parties to file arguments in the case. The Michigan Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Roman Catholic Church, said ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ must be avoided yet marriage should remain between a man and a woman.”

Yet, others are filing in support of the DeBoer and Rowse.  Professors at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School wrote a brief that said, in part:

“Ours is not a constitution of caste or class. It is not a constitution that allows a political majority to subordinate a defenseless minority just because it can…It is not a constitution that turns its back on any class, much less a class that is morally blameless.”

U.S. Congress

At the federal level, more than 60 members of the House of Representatives brought forth legislation that would shelter those wishing to discriminate against same-gender couples under the name, “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act.” Religion News Service notes:

“The bill signifies a shift in strategy for gay marriage opponents: Increasingly resigned to the reality that they’re unlikely to stop gay marriage, they’re now trying to blunt its impact by carving out explicit protections for dissenters…

“Under Labrador’s bill, no institution could lose its federal tax-exempt status because it promotes traditional marriage. Neither could the federal government deny a grant, contract or employment to a person or institution based on their belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

The bill has the support of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, among other anti-equality organizations, who claim it protects those who do not agree with LGBT rights. Marriage equality advocates counter that  the bill would provide a legal basis for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With the government preoccupied with budget considerations, it looks like this bill will not become law. However, the actions reveal the Catholic hierarchy’s insistence on mitigating the legal rights of LGBT people and perpetuates the idea recently expressed in Hawaii that ‘just discrimination’ exists.

North Carolina

Catholic bishops have withdrawn from the North Carolina Council of Churches because some of the members support marriage equality, just as Pope Francis called the hierarchy to stop obsessing about the issueReligion News Service reports:

“For more than 30 years, North Carolina enjoyed a unique ecumenical alliance between Protestant and Catholics. The state council’s members advocated as one on issues such as economic justice, equality and peace…

“But in a joint statement, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, said the alliance has resulted in religious leaders being associated with positions ‘that are at times in contradiction with their practice and the teaching of their faith.’

“Specifically, the more liberal state council opposed a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The amendment passed in 2012 with the enthusiastic support of the two Catholic dioceses.”

Lack of Catholic support will cost the Council about ten percent of their budget, but more distressing is the lack of Christian unity that it reveals and the lost efforts on common justice issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


In Australia, Shifting Leadership Leaves Marriage An Open Question

September 29, 2013

Kevin Rudd, left, and Tony Abbott, right.

After the defeat of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently, anti-marriage equality leaders in Australia are using this moment to stall progress and leaving legislation for equal marriage rights an open question.

The incoming archbishop for Canberra and Goulburn called for a moratorium on any marriage related legislation. The Canberra Times reports that Archbishop-Elect Christopher Prowse publicly questioned a proposed bill that would equalize marriage rights because of the “fragile moment” that “heterosexual married life” is in. He continued:

” ‘I would be calling for more of a moratorium to suspend pending legislation so that we, over the next period of time, can discuss this in a more reasoned way, where both subjective and objective arguments can be put forward and discussed in an atmosphere of calm and reason, particularly holding forward the importance of traditional marriage and its role in society. ”’

Of note is the shift that Archbishop-Elect Prowse brings to the archdiocese from his predecessor Bishop Pat Power who, while opposing marriage equality, spoke kindly of gay and lesbian people. Power is on record as saying:

” ‘I think it is really important to honour homosexual people and to understand that if that is their orientation, that is the way God has made them’…

” ‘If they are expressing their sexuality in a particular way, I don’t know I would want to be too judgmental about that. I think God is often kinder in any judgments that would be made than sometimes other Christians are.’ “

Alongside ecclesial shifts are political ones. In mid-September elections, Kevin Rudd, who is Catholic and made a strong defense of marriage equality because of his faith only days before the election, lost a re-election bid for prime minister. His opponent, Tony Abbott who is also Catholic, ran on a strong record opposing equal rights for LGBT people. Many credit Abbott’s victory with the internal failings of Rudd’s Labor Party and not their positions on marriage equality.

It appears that marriage equality is stalled at the federal level, but LGBT advocates remain hopeful that provincial legislatures can pass laws in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Similar to the United States, progress on marriage will be ‘incremental’ according to one columnist in The Guardian.

Not yet accounted for are recent comments by Pope Francis that the Church should no longer focus on marriage politically, and perhaps this will mean there is room to grow equal rights in Australia under Abbott’s government. There is also the reality that the new prime minister’s openlylesbian sister is pressuring him to advance LGBT rights.

If you missed Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of Kevin Rudd’s faith-filled defense of marriage equality, you can watch the video clip here. It is well worth a view. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Russian Olympics Is an Opportune Time for Catholic Human Rights Witness

September 3, 2013

Russia’s passage of anti-gay laws and  discrimination against LGBT people in that nation have made the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi increasingly controversial. Opinions remain divided over a US boycott, pressuring corporate sponsors, and how LGBT athletes should act while competing.

Catholics lack consensus as well over how to respond to Sochi 2014, but still it seems poignant to explore how faith can inform this debate about human rights, athletic competition, and witnessing to the Gospel.

Catholic leadership is muted on the evolving situation in Russia. The secretary-general of the nation’s bishops’ conference stated the Church in Russia would have no position on either the law banning “homosexual propaganda” or on a potential boycott of the Sochi 2014 Games. CatholicPhilly.com reports that Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, a Russian Catholic leader, said:

” ‘It’s hard to predict whether homosexual athletes and fans will face problems at the Olympics — these are issues connected with the life of society in Russia…’

“Msgr. Kovalevsky said homosexuality was a marginal issue in Russian society.

“There are very few homosexuals in our Catholic communities, and we direct our pastoral work at individuals, not groups. But we don’t exclude homosexual people either…”

As for the United States, a conservative extremist group called the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute has actively supported Russia’s law and the expansion of similar legislation in Eastern Europe, as OutInJersey.net reports. Alternatively, a columnist in The New Yorker cast Pope Francis as the progressive on LGBT issues in his takedown of Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“This is a time in which Pope Francis can ask, “Who am I to judge” gays and lesbians of good will, and have it largely well received among his followers—Putin is the one who is out of step. As the new leader of the Catholic Church acknowledged that gay priests were worthy of dignity, an old autocrat denied that dignity to his own citizens and, come the Olympics, to citizens of the world.”

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter  has written about solving the perennial problem of nations with terrible human rights records hosting the Olympic Games. His column contains a detailed history of this record, but in summary Winters states:

“Changing venues at this late stage is never going to happen. And, a boycott would be ineffectual…But, these two remedies miss the larger point: Russia never should have been awarded the Olympic Games in the first place.”

Winters identifies Russia’s long-standing record of abusing human rights against many populations; the LGBT community is only the latest group suffering a crackdown. Why is it, Winters asks, that the participants, administrators, and fans allowed nations like China and Russia to host the Games when their reputations are so well known?

Sochi 2014 is an opportunity for LGBT advocates to reflect on their role in the broader movement for human rights. Winters rightly wonders why it is Russia’s anti-gay law that would trigger a boycott, while past abuses by President Putin were acceptable for the nation to continue hosting the Games. While the struggles for LGBT rights are of utmost importance, this advocacy cannot forget others whose human rights are limited and deprived. Sochi 2014 is a reminder that the Catholic LGBT community must speak out for the rights of others, just as it advocates for its own rights because this is a common struggle for God’s just and equitable reign.

Sochi 2014 also presents an opportunity for unity among Catholics often divided on issue of LGBT rights here in America. Even those who oppose marriage equality or non-discrimination laws can assuredly agree that persecuting people with criminalization and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is an indefensible affront to each person’s dignity. Catholics should urge the Russian Church, the Vatican, and their local leaders to speak out against any and all laws that encourage the persecution of LGBT people.

While the Games will begin next February, it looks like controversies will persist right on through to the opening ceremony.  The period leading up to the Games is an opportune moment for Catholics to raise their voices for LGBT rights and for the human rights of all people in Russia.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Governor Chris Christie Must Choose on LGBT Equality

August 24, 2013

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey’s passage of a law  advancing LGBT rights is raising questions about Governor Chris Christie because of 2016 presidential campaign potential. While several states have passed marriage equality and  LGBT protections under Catholic leadership, Christie’s unique path of moderation leaves some hopeful and others disappointed. Either way, delaying much longer on LGBT equality is no longer an option for the governor.

Governor Christie signed the law on Monday, which bans ‘conversion’ therapy and other attempts at changing a youth’s sexual orientation by those with state licenses. Christie, who is a Republican, said the protection of LGBT youth from harm is the spirit behind this bill, as reported in newstimes.com:

“In signing the ban, Christie reiterated his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin, a position he first stated in a 2011 interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan

“Christie said on ‘issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,’ citing a litany of potential ill effects of trying to change sexual orientation, including depression, drug abuse and suicide.

” ‘I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,’ he said.”

Opponents of the law claimed the ban overrides parental choice and suppresses their First Amendment rights, and U.S. Catholic reports at least one group plans to file a lawsuit.

As much as this ban on ‘conversion’ therapy is a step forward, LGBT advocates in New Jersey are also dissatisfied with Christie because of his failure to support marriage equality. The Washington Post reports on his mixed record:

“Christie vetoed same-sex marriage legislation last year and severely criticized the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a ban on federal rights for same-sex married couples. At the same time, he is ‘adamant’ that same-sex couples deserve equal legal protection, wants a referendum on gay marriage, and vows to abide by a same-sex marriage law if New Jersey voters approve it.”

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support equal rights, including marriage, but future aspirations mean Christie is walking a fine line. The governor must appeal to conservative voters in the Republican presidential primaries, ensure more liberal New Jersey voters reelect him next year, and also appeal to swing voters in the middle throughout. As political pundits and campaigners calculate what it might take for  Christie to win three years from now, the governor should instead look to his  faith for guidance.

Catholics in government are called to pursue the common good of all people, including the LGBT community, which means advancing justice through the law. Christie might hope he can wait out the debate on marriage and remain essentially neutral, but marriage equality is having its moment. The sweeping victories for LGBT rights will seemingly continue and Christie must choose now, rather than later the side which he will take. As the nation commemorates fifty years since the March on Washington, I offer the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. for all Catholic politicians who have yet to commit fully to LGBT equality:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

What do you think? Will Chris Christie answer the Gospel’s call and fully embrace LGBT rights? Will he become worse on the issue as 2016 approaches? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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