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


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


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


(Most) Rhode Island Clergy Offer Lesson in Pastoral Priorities

August 20, 2013

Bishop Tobin at the Young Republicans meeting

At the beginning of August a newly married gay Catholic couple in Rhode Island was denied Communion by their pastor, just about the same time that Pope Francis made his “Who am I to judge?” comments returning from World Youth Day. The same priest who denied this couple communion also criticized pro-equality politicians.  Similarly, remarks by Providence’s bishop on LGBT issues further demonstrate that Catholic leaders remain unsettled months after Rhode Island passed marriage equality. This situation has left many clergy in disagreement about the best response to new realities, while other Catholics wish for more sensitivity from their priests.

Fr. Brian Sistare, the communion-denying pastor, told legislators who voted for the marriage law that he would use his clerical position to defeat them in coming elections, doing so in an email filled with inaccuracies and anti-gay language. Aside from risking the Church’s tax-exempt status with such partisanship, his endeavor seems futile given Rhode Island Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT rights. You can read Fr. Sistare’s full email at RIFuture.org.

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence addressed marriage and the pope in a meeting with Young Republicans, where he coincidentally announced he had transferred parties from the Democrats because of their stands on social issues. Tobin reiterated his opposition to marriage equality and his belief that Pope Francis’ remarks on gay priests revealed nothing new. The Providence Journal also reports he spoke about denying Communion:

“On the question of whether priests should deny Communion to couples they know are living together — be they as gay couples or cohabitating heterosexual couples — Bishop Tobin said that question would be best left to the individual parish priests who know the individuals and who have counseled the couples about the church’s teaching.”

For their part, priests in the diocese are not following Fr. Sistare’s example of vilifying LGBT people and their supporters. In a piece by The Providence Journal, the response of clergy to the marriage law is viewed in light of a pope who wants more mercy and less judgment:

“Some of the topical questions facing priests now: Should they deny communion to an unmarried couple who lives together? Should they tell gay couples that their lives are disordered and they should refrain from Communion or go elsewhere? Or should they welcome the couples with open and forgiving arms?

“Interviews with Catholic priests around the state suggest most have a good idea as to what to say or do, even while they may disagree among themselves about the best approach. Most, however, are inclined toward following the lead of the new pope, even when they feel they must ‘speak the truth in love.’ “

Many parish priests equate same-gender couples with mixed-gender couples who live together and may be sexually active before marriage. This means that these priests allow Catholics to act according to their consciences when it comes to Communion:

“Father Thurber says he understands that ‘everyone is in a different spot in their place with God,’ and so he tries to meet people where they are. When couples who have been living together come to see him about getting married, he says, he extends ‘an open arm of welcome’ and leaves the question as to whether they should receive communion to their consciences and to God.

“ ‘I am not in the business of denying Communion,’ he says flatly. ‘As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.’ “

Priests with a harder line insist their emphasis on rules about Communion is for everyone, not just LGBT people or couples, although they would remind a same-gender couple of the hierarchy’s teachings. Less concerned with regulations are priests like Fr. Charles Grondin who focuses on bringing people back to Mass and not on their perceived sins. He criticizes those who investigate parishioners’ lives and those who constantly remind Catholics about the rules about Communion. In a sign of hope, of the ten or so priests interviewed, all rejected the idea of denying Communion to parishioners in same-gender relationships.

Yet, Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic asks the most pressing question about clergy’s priorities relevant to Catholics everywhere, citing the example of Bishop Tobin and the Young Republicans. Contrasting Tobin with Bishop Thomas Lynch, who recently defended the Church’s efforts on behalf of those in poverty, Cones writes:

“Something’s wrong with the world when one bishop is trying to defend the charitable efforts of the church while another is addressing the Rhode Island Young Republicans about–you guessed it–gay marriage. As Scott Alessi notes in his blog post, Bishop Thomas Lynch of St. Petersburg [Florida] has stepped into defend Catholic Charities…Meanwhile, Bishop Tobin is up in Rhode Island licking his wounds over yet another loss in the civil same-sex marriage debate. Poor people? What poor people?”

Cones correctly notes the difference in priorities expressed here, and it seems that clergy understand that pastoral care and concern for the poor override any opposition to marriage, even if their bishop fails to do so. Cones concludes with a statement very relevant for Rhode Island, and beyond:

“Churches should be, of course, above partisan politics, calling politicians of every stripe back to the basic demands of the Bible: justice for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the poor. One reason for the current pope’s popularity is surely his basic message that the church should be a church of the poor. It would be nice if a few more of his brother bishops in this country would take note.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: August 15, 2013

August 15, 2013

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) The principal of a Canadian Catholic high school which used discriminatory language against gay and lesbian students on its website, among other offenses, will not be returning this fall. CBC News also reports a gay-straight alliance has now been formed at the school. These changes began after a high school student spoke out about the anti-LGBT policy, yet another reminder of the impact a single voice can have.

2) Mexican voters elected the nation’s first openly gay mayor on July 7th. Benjamin Medrano’s political career comes at a precarious moment for LGBT equality in Mexico where homophobia is still publicly acceptable in political campaigns for some areas, but public opinions and legal structures are rapidly changing. Medrano is a Roman Catholic, and while he supports equal rights, he also claims that the highly religious nation is not prepared for widespread marriage rights or other LGBT movement demands. You can read more in The Wisconsin Gazette.

3) The Dominican Republic’s leading church official helped trigger anti-LGBT protests after he used an anti-gay slur and threatening language against President Obama’s nominee for US ambassador to the island nation earlier this summer. The Advocate reports that follwing Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez’s press conference, religious leaders organized “Black Monday” protests to rouse popular support against an openly gay US diplomat. Meanwhile, the Cardinal is also mired in a sexual abuse scandal after a Polish priest under his charge may have escaped prosecution by fleeing the country with two minors.

4) A church in Denmark has been allowed to hire a gay man as its organist after the local bishop withdrew objections, reports The Copenhagen Post. Ole Knudsen is legally married to his husband, but says they live in a platonic relationship and that may have impacted the bishop’s decision.

Bonus: In case you missed it, LGBT advocates in Sweden develop a most creative (and colorful) way to protest new anti-gay laws in Russia. You can see a picture at the New Ways Ministry’s Pinterest page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


UK Religious Leaders Claim Marriage Troubles, But Catholics in the Pews Disagree

June 10, 2013

House of Lords

As equal marriage progresses in the UK, religious officials increasingly warn of the consequences that passage of this bill could bring if further religious freedom protections are not implemented. The Catholic bishops are now warning the Church may exit civil marriage licensing altogether if the bill is passed as is, but many people of faith who affirm equality are pushing right back

The Telegraph reports on unprecedented movement by religious organizations to add amendments, or just end the legislation for marriage equality altogether as the House of Lords considers it:

“Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to abandon the legislation. . . .

“Allowing couples of the same sex to marry will cause ‘injustice and unfairness’, the signatories said, accusing Mr Cameron of rushing the legislation through Parliament to prevent proper scrutiny…

“The bill is expected to face stiff resistance from members of the House of Lords. . .and could even be rejected there. That would raise the prospect of a constitutional struggle between ministers in the Commons and the upper house.”

In April, the Catholic hierarchy began calling for greater religious protections when the House of Commons was voting on equal marriage. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, as in other areas, Catholic priests act as agents of the state in recognizing civil licenses. This caused the bishops to worry that it leaves priests performing marriages open to lawsuits for discrimination and expensive litigation. The end result might be Catholic churches refusing to perform marriages for the government.

However, English people of faith are objecting to these religious arguments against equal marriage. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church questions these “terrible consequences” arguments, noting the lack of any negative outcomes against religion in jurisdictions with existing equal marriage rights:

“The most important consequence of extending marriage is (surprise!) people getting married…

“The core problem with Catholic bishops’ pronouncements on gay marriage, and on human sexuality more generally, is that they are usually based entirely on speculation and supposition, made with little or no recourse to evidence – and none at all to the real–life experience of loving, committed sexual relationships, of which they have none themselves.”

He also addresses the religious liberty claims as false because everywhere that marriage equality exists, and in the pending UK legislation, ample protections are in place for religions to pursue their beliefs unhindered. Weldon unearths the rub in this most recent UK religious leadership’s push:

“What [the law] does not do, and the bishops appear to want, is to allow people of faith to discriminate in their secular lives, against people who do not share their views, or to prevent those denominations that believe with the Gospels in the importance of full equality and inclusion for all, from exercising their own freedom of religion.”

A Conservative MP, Damian Collins, wrote in The Huffington Post that religious liberty arguments cut both ways, and churches wishing to recognize same-gender couples in marriage should be allowed to do so.

Writing against disingenuous Anglican and Catholic opposition, Stephen Hough of The Telegraph envisions a future focused less on protecting the rights of those who would discriminate, and more on one guided by evangelizing as Christians in support of true equality. He attributes this most recent advancement in human rights to Christianity itself and advocates equal marriage as a way of uplifting Christian faith today:

“It is precisely because gradual moral development over the centuries led us to see human relationships as more than mere procreation that gay people want to get married…the theological insights which have explored marriage as a covenant, a sacrament, an imitation of the inner life of the Trinity could greatly enrich the same-sex relationships of so many…pastoral concern may well be one of the best ways to ensure a future of ‘the general social good’ and even the survival of a national Church of England.

“Overturning the biblical approval of slavery raised Christianity to a new height of moral dignity in the 19th century; overturning prejudice against gay people should become the church’s triumph of the 21st.”

The ongoing debate on equal marriage in the UK is bringing up old arguments for and against, but also new considerations about a more LGBT-positive religious community and the relations between Church and State. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating our readers as the bill progresses.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Rep. Paul Ryan Endorses LGBT Adoption, While Newt Gingrich Digs In Against Equality

May 9, 2013
Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

As marriage equality becomes law in state after state, related legal matters like adoption rights for LGBT individuals and same-gender couples are gaining public attention. Catholic public figures are reviewing long-standing positions by the hierarchy anew, with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan  endorsing equal adoption rights and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking strongly against what he perceives as anti-Christian laws.

Rep. Ryan, a Catholic, spoke at a town hall in Wisconsin last week where an attendee questioned him about a poor rating with the Human Rights Campaign, specifically a 1999 vote against allowing same-gender couples in the District of Columbia to adopt. David Gibson reports on the comments at Religion News Service, quoting Rep. Ryan as saying:

“Adoption, I’d vote differently these days. That was I think a vote I took in my first term, 1999 or 2000. I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that. Period.”

The Wisconsin congressman’s record on LGBT rights is abysmal otherwise, having voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Protection Act and vocally opposing marriage equality. Gibson points out that in another shift, Rep. Ryan also claimed:

“…he has “always supported” civil unions. Though there is no evidence to support that, it’s a clear sign that the politics of the issue have changed and that even the most conservative Republicans need to appear more hospitable to gays and lesbians in order to expand their voting bloc.”

You can view the town hall remarks in the YouTube video below:

Last weekend, on the television program Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, reinforced his opposition to LGBT rights, including adoption by same-gender couples. Gingrich expressed an increasingly common talking point by anti-gay groups who claim that LGBT rights lead to the persecution of Christianity. The Huffington Post quotes the failed presidential hopeful:

Newt Gingrich

“‘But what I’m struck with is the one-sidedness of the desire for rights…There are no rights for Catholics to have adoption services in Massachusetts; they’re outlawed. There are no rights in D.C. for Catholics to have adoption services; they’re outlawed.

“‘Does [supporting LGBT rights] mean that you actually have to affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept [homosexuality]?'”

However, another panelist on Meet the Press challenged Gingrich’s claims about Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and D.C. being forced to end their adoption services. The Huffington Post reports:

“Panelist Joy Reid, managing editor for The Grio, countered Gingrich’s argument, saying that Catholic Charities decided on its own to discontinue adoption services, rather than comply with the state’s nondiscrimination laws and provide adoptions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.”

Pew Forum polling last year showed 55% of Catholics supported LGBT adoption rights, and it is increasingly clear to politicians this number is climbing. Recent controversies with Catholic Charities and relations to government in Palo Alto, California and Denver reiterate that the legal struggles will continue for the foreseeable future. As for the implications on Church politics, David Gibson writes:

“…Ryan, who has touted his Catholic faith as evidence of his social as well as economic conservatism…[has a] significant break with the Catholic hierarchy, which has even shut down adoption services rather than placing children with same-sex couples.

“This could spell more trouble for the Catholic bishops in their battle on gay rights; they have already been losing their own faithful, and losing political allies like Ryan is tough.

“Then again, many would say Ryan’s economic policies were hardly in line with the bishops and Catholic teaching, so there.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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