New Jersey Legalizes Marriage Equality, as Catholics Rejoice

October 24, 2013

New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize marriage equality on Monday, and it appears marriages will continue unhindered by further legal challenges. The road to this victory was paved by Catholics on both sides, and could be indicative of  future Catholic influences.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, ended his appeal in the state’s Supreme Court against the late September ruling by Judge Mary Jacobson, also a Catholic, that legalized same-gender marriages. According to Christie, the Court’s previous denial of his request to forestall marriage licenses until the appeal was heard was evidence enough that marriage equality would be upheld on appeal.

While the governor promised to uphold the law, he also criticized the judicial means through which the state achieved equal marriage rights. As Bondings 2.0 previously noted, Christie is a 2016 presidential hopeful and is walking the Republican tight-rope around marriage equality. He emphasized the issue should still be put to New Jersey voters.

Jacobson’s was the first state court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June. The move extended hundreds of tax, medical and other legal benefits to same-sex couples, but only in states that provided them “lawful marriages.” As a state which had civil unions but not full marriage for same-gender couples, New Jersey was left out of reaping these benefits, the Supreme Court ruled.

New Ways Ministry‘s supporters in New Jersey have welcomed the news of marriage equality coming to the state. Melina Waldo, the mother of a gay son, stated:

Melina Waldo

“Marriage equality has triumphed in New Jersey after many years of hard work by gay and lesbian people and their supporters.  We suffered defeats and disappointments along the way and strong opposition from the Catholic hierarchy as well as a veto by governor Christie.  Although the bishops did their utmost to hold back the tide of equality, the Catholic people never wavered in their support.  In fact, the percentage of Catholic people who support marriage equality has risen steadily as the years went by.  Not an insignificant factor in heavily Catholic New Jersey.

“I am so happy for all our gay and lesbian residents of New Jersey, particularly for young people like my friend John who testified at the state senate at least twice.   His testimony ended with the lament that he felt like a second-class citizen in his own state.

“For me the journey to marriage equality began years ago when my friends Diane Marini and Marilyn Maneeley  asked me to accompany them to the Borough Hall in our town where they were going to apply for a marriage license.  They were among seven couples chosen by Lambda Legal to sue the state of New Jersey for the right to marry.  When the clerk politely refused their request, we walked out and the lawsuit began.

“So for us it is a time to rejoice but a sad time as well because Marilyn did not live to see the results of her courageous effort to reach this happy conclusion.  She would be so pleased for all those who will benefit in the future. “

Dugan McGinley

Dugan McGinley, a lecturer in Catholic Studies at Rutgers University and the author of  Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Textssaid:

“I am awestruck when I think how far we have come in such a short amount of time. When we were organizing to make LGBT Catholic concerns visible during the papal visit to Denver 20 years ago, who would have thought that by 2013, fourteen states would have legalized same-sex marriage?!

“It is gratifying to be receiving congratulatory notes from friends on this occasion, but we have all played a role in this success. I am grateful to every LGBT person who has had the courage to be open with someone else about their identity. The biggest difference we all can make is being visible so that people see that laws and theology about sex and gender affect real people.”

While it is already known that large majorities of US Catholics support marriage equality, of note in New Jersey is the respectful acceptance even Catholics opposed to LGBT rights have shown.  It is clear that Catholics in government, like Judge Jacobson and Governor Christie, are acting in a spirit of authentic religious liberty by separating their personal views from those demands required of them by civil law. In addition, fellow parishioners at Judge Jacobson’s parish spoke to NJ.com with a moderated opposition:

“McKillup and several other St. Mary parishioners interviewed after Mass said they believed in the separation of church and state, and that it was understandable Jacobson might view an issue differently from the bench than from a pew…

“St. Mary’s parishioner and choir member Barbara Paige said she shared the Catholic Church’s official view that marriage is between a man and a woman. But putting herself in Jacobson’s shoes, Paige said she did not fault the judge for ruling in favor of marriage equality…

“Another parishioner at St. Mary, Ben Barsolona, said he was opposed to same-sex marriage. But Barsolona, 55, said he did not fault Jacobson for the ruling, and he sympathized with gay couples and individuals.”

With New Jersey, one-third of US states now have equal marriage rights and this number should grow soon. Personal opposition remains in many Catholics, but perhaps beliefs promoted by the bishops that marriage equality will create social ills or threaten the Church’s well-being are being discarded as they are proven false. While work remains in the Church to create broader acceptance of LGBT people and their families, could New Jersey signal an ending to Catholic political opposition against equal rights?

–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


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


NEWS NOTES: September 10, 2013

September 10, 2013

NewsHere are some items that you may find of interest:

1) William Hudson, who resigned his position at Totino-Grace High School, a Minneapolis Catholic school, because of his committed relationship with another man, has found a new job, reports Minnesota.cbs.local.com.  Hudson, who in the past had a top level position at the National Catholic Education Association, will become the director of institutional advancement at Mounds Park Academy, a non-denominational school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

2) New Jersey’s new law banning reparative therapy to try to change one’s homosexual orientation is being challenged in federal court by a group of Christian counselors, according to Religion News ServiceThe law was signed by N.J.’s Catholic governor, Chris Christie, who has been praised for his measure by a Catholic writer on America magazine’s blog. 

3) Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said he doesn’t believe that it is inevitable that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Illinois, where a bill is still being considered in the state legislature.  In an interview with The Chicago Sun-TimesGeorge said he did not think that legislators had enough votes to pass the bill.   Mark Brown, the writer who interviewed the cardinal, wrote a second piece on George’s views on marriage where he included much more extensive quotes.

4) Last weekBondings 2.0 reported on Hawaii’s Bishop Larry Silva writing a strongly worded pastoral letter opposing that state’s proposed marriage equality law.   CivilBeat.com took apart the bishop’s argument, including debunking his claim that marriage equality will cause more youth suicides.  You can read their entire analysis here.

–Francis DeBernardo, 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


Catholic Hospital Partners with University to Help Families with LGBT Members

July 11, 2013

Too often we read about stories where Catholic institutions are severing ties with secular organizations because of LGBT issues.  So, it’s refreshing to learn that a Catholic hospital in New Jersey is partnering with a local university to help families with LGBT members.

St. Peter's Healthcare System

St. Peter’s Healthcare System

NJ.com reports that St. Peter’s Healthcare System will be working with Rutgers University School of Social Work to conduct a study that  aims to help familiesadjust to the news that their son or daughter is LGBT.  In addition to research, the program will provide professional counseling for participants through the New Brunswick, NJ, institutions.  The news article explains:

“Known as ‘New Brunswick Family Solutions,’ the goals of the program are: to establish a family therapy program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Brunswick-area youth in a faith-based setting; to identify promising family therapy interventions for LGBT youth that increase family acceptance and support, and to disseminate the findings in scholarly venues as well as among social service agencies, community health centers and local houses of worship (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) in order to identify community needs and plan for improved community services.”

Bishop Paul Bootkoski

Bishop Paul Bootkoski

Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the Diocese of Metuchen has approved the venture, citing Catholic teaching:

” ‘Though “traditional” Catholic teachings have been viewed by some as antithetical to LGBT behavior,’ Bootkoski said, ‘a major tenet of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, as set forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is that society is called upon to care for the most vulnerable of its members.’ “

Similarly, a hospital official used religious reasoning to explain their participation in the program

” ‘To continue the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,’ said Tabiri Chukunta, executive director of community outreach for Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, ‘we extend care to all people, regardless of their beliefs. Those words are at the core of our healing mission.’

” ‘It is further believed that sponsoring the New Brunswick Family Solutions program would benefit New Brunswick by diminishing the risk of dissolution of families of LGBT youth as well as the consequences of family disruption such as mental illness, substance abuse and increased HIV risk,’ Chukunta said. “The program will enable us to treat families and individuals who are in crises, a major tenet of our mission.”

The practical benefits of such are venture are hopeful:

“Research has shown that strong parental relationships can enhance LGBT youth resilience, insulate them from mental and substance abuse problems, and reduce HIV risk, according to Michael LaSala, Ph.D., LCSW, and a professor at the Rutgers University School of Social Work. LaSala is heading the research study.”

The program will work with 20 families.  Interested participants in the New Brunswick, NJ, area can get more information by contacting La Sala at 732-910-9901 or mlasala@ssw.rutgers.edu.

We need to see more of these positive partnerships between Catholic institutions and groups with expertise in LGBT issues.  Earlier this year, a Catholic school in England announced a partnership with that nation’s leading LGBT rights group to educate their teachers in ways to reduce anti-gay bullying.  Such projects show that Catholic leaders take seriously our church’s call to protect the lives of LGBT people, something that is too often expressed only in words, not action.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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