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


Republican Candidate Stops for Mass at Gay-Friendly Parish

October 3, 2012

 

Paul Ryan

Instinct magazine reports that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stopped at a gay-friendly Catholic parish for Mass recently while on the campaign trail.

Ryan and bodyguards attended a 10:00 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick-St. Anthony parish, Hartford, Connecticut, run by the Franciscans.  Instinct cites a New York Times story from a few years back when Connecticut was debating marriage equality:

“In an October letter to each diocesan parish, the Hartford Archbishop, Daniel A. Cronin, asked all Catholics to sign a petition, endorsed by the diocese and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Family Institute of Connecticut (a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization), against the proposed laws. The Franciscan fathers at St. Patrick-St. Anthony refused to read the letter to their congregation or circulate the petition.”

St. Patrick-St. Anthony parish is currently the only Connecticut parish listed on New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly parish list.   Their parish motto is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

Let’s hope and pray that some of the Franciscan spirit of welcome and concern for the poor and marginalized was transmitted to Mr. Ryan.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Convention Speeches by Catholics Spark Controversy

September 8, 2012

Prominent Catholics took to the podiums at both the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this year, leaving other Catholics tasked with interpreting the speeches. Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, addressed the DNC last Wednesday, while Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave benedictions for each party.

Dolan’s prayers are stirring up already-present Catholic controversies because of the differences in remarks aimed at Republicans and at Democrats, the latter receiving 156 additional words.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

The Huffington Post reports on some of those added words:

“And making what seemed to be a allusion to same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama and the DNC have endorsed, Dolan said: “Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.

“Dolan mentioned morality at the RNC, but not remaking ‘institutions [God] has given us.’ At the RNC, he said, ‘May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.’”

The Advocate notes changes Dolan made for the Democratic convention, including the above potential reference to marriage equality:

“Dolan used no such language about ‘remaking institutions’ in his prayer to the RNC last week. Republicans approved a platform calling for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and the affirmation of DOMA, positions more in line with Catholic Church teaching.”

Mainstream commenters quickly identified this discrepancy in language as condemning the Democratic Party’s adoption of marriage equality and LGBT rights as part of its platform.

In the Catholic community, however, there is debate about how much can be read into Dolan’s remarks. Chuck Colbert reports in the Windy City Times on differing opinions:

“One view is that Dolan offered a subtle theological take on gays as freaks of nature, even idolaters in advocating-same-sex marriage.

“’The reality is that gay people, too, are part of God’s nature, and therefore we are a part of the laws of nature. We need to remind Cardinal Dolan and the Church that God created gay people to be fully who we are; we are not a “mistake,”’explained [Charles] Martel [of Catholics for Marriage Equality] over the telephone and in e-mail correspondence….

“…Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a pro-gay group for LGBT Catholics, their friends, families, and the Church, viewed the prayer favorable light.

“’Cardinal Dolan does not mention anything about LGBT issues, which I think is a good thing,’ explained DeBernardo. ‘Some people may think that his mention of natural law refers to lesbian and gay people or our society’s move towards marriage equality, but I do not agree. Lesbian and gay people are well within the bounds of nature’s law and the desire to live as a committed couple is a perfectly natural thing to do.’”

However, as Colbert reports, some view Dolan’s remarks as moderate and hopeful:

“’From a LGBT Catholic perspective I see this as indication that in the cultural wars Dolan is recognizing public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to his far right position on the cultural hot button issues, and this might be an indication that he is trying to move his position to a more moderate one. What can I say I believe in the Holy Spirit,’ [Joe] Murray [of the Rainbow Sash Movement] added.”

As for Dolan’s comments at the DNC, New Ways Ministry’s DeBernardo had this to say:

“Cardinal Dolan seems to be alluding to the institution of marriage in his reference to remaking ‘those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.’  What he fails to grasp is that marriage equality laws do not re-make the institution of marriage, but simply expand the institution to include all couples who want to commit in love to one another and carefully protect all families within our society.”

Sr. Simone Campbell

Sr. Simone Campbell addressed the Democrats in a heavily pastoral manner drawing from her time with ‘Nuns on the Bus’ earlier this year:

“In June, I joined other Catholic sisters on a 2,700-mile bus journey through nine states to tell Americans about the budget Congressman Paul Ryan wrote and Governor Romney endorsed….

“[A woman in Pennsylvania] wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone.

“This is what we nuns on the bus are all about: We care for the 100 percent, and that will secure the blessings of liberty for our nation. So join us as we nuns and all of us drive for faith, family and fairness.”

Given both Dolan’s history and the benediction texts from each convention, how are his remarks to be interpreted? Are the bishops seeking a more pastoral tone like that of the sisters? What do you think of Sr. Campbell’s comments? Please post your comments below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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