Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court

March 28, 2013
Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Yesterday, Bondings 2.o highlighted the role that Catholics played at the prayer service and public demonstration as the Supreme Court heard two cases involving marriage equality this week.   Today, Jamie Manson, award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, highlights an important behind-the-scenes story about Catholic involvement in one of those cases–the challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   The plaintiff in that case is Edie Windsor, who was  married to Thea Spyer,  Toronto, Canada, in 2007.  Their marriage was recognized since 2008 by New York State, where they lived.  Yet, when Spyer passed away, Windsor received  a$363,053 estate tax bill  from the federal government which would not have been sent if the married couple were heterosexual.

What Manson highlights is the work that three Catholic gay activists, who are members of Dignity/New York, did to bring this case to the Supreme Court.  The first is Brendan Fay, who arranged for Windsor and Spyer’s wedding in Toronto.  Manson explains:

Brendan Fay

Brendan Fay

” ‘Edie called for help. It was urgent,’ Fay says. Windsor’s partner of almost four decades, Thea Spyer, had been battling multiple sclerosis since 1975, and doctors had given her only months to live. Fay reached out to Canadian Judge Harvey Brownstone of the Ontario Court of Justice, who gladly performed the ceremony.

“Fay was part of a small contingent of friends that shepherded Edie and Thea, who was confined to a motorized wheelchair, to a Toronto hotel, where they were married May 22, 2007.

” ‘There was hardly a dry eye as they exchanged words, “With this ring I thee wed … in sickness and in health, till death do us part,’” Fay remembers.”

When Fay learned of Windsor’s estate tax problem, he sought aid from two friends:

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

“After Mass one evening, he enlisted the help of fellow Dignity members Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco, who have been married since 2002. (Theirs was the first Catholic same-sex wedding announced in The New York Times.) DeBonis, an attorney, immediately thought of [Roberta] Kaplan [the attorney who argued Windsor's case at the Supreme Court yesterday], whom they had watched argue the 2004 marriage suit filed by 13 couples before the New York State Court of Appeals.”Robbie was compelling,” DeBonis recalls, “and she and her partner, Rachel Lavine, have been passionate about the marriage equality issue for many years.”

And Windsor attributes all her celebrity status to Fay:

” ‘Everything that has happened to make me so famous at this moment is caused by Brendan Fay,’ Windsor told the crowd a few weeks ago at a benefit concert for the St. Pat’s For All parade, an event Fay spearheaded in 2000. ‘When I first saw the brief that said Edie Windsor vs. the United States of America, I said, “No, no, blame him, not me!” she laughed.’ “

Bondings 2.o already noted the role Catholics have played in the prayer service and demonstration at the Supreme Court, as well as the fact that six of the nine justices on the Court are Catholic.  Manson’s story highlights yet another important role that Catholics have played in this story.  Fay, DeBonis, and Maniscalco are to be lauded for living their faith so boldly and generously.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Parishioners Protest Courage at Toronto Newman Center

January 5, 2013

University of TorontoThe establishment of a Courage program at the Newman Center near the University of Toronto has created something of a firestorm in the parish community, and has even prompted the university to issue an official statement distancing the campus from the program.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reports that the establishment of the Courage program

” . . . has caused a rift at the Newman Centre, which at least a dozen parishioners have stopped attending because they oppose the program and its principles, while the U of T has urged the centre’s leaders to discontinue it.”

Courage is an international of network of chapters which promote chastity, and some times have encouraged reparative therapy. It was founded in 1980 by Father John Harvey, OSFS.

The program’s content is seen as potentially psychologically harmful by some, including

“. . . one outraged Newman parishioner who has helped lead opposition to the program, and who requested anonymity over fears of discipline from his employer, decried ‘the harm and the damage it does, primarily to vulnerable younger people who are struggling with their sexual identity.’ ”

Although the Newman Center is independent of the University of Toronto, the campus administration has become involved in the situation:

“. . . four parishioners launched a formal complaint with the U of T – one of several the school received and solicited in recent months, a spokesman said. The university said in a statement that its vice-president of human resources and equity, Angela Hildyard, labelled the Courage program ‘inconsistent with the university’s values’ and has urged the Newman Centre to cease offering or promoting it, and to make clear in all its publications that U of T does not endorse it.

“The Newman Centre’s website now states, ‘This program is not offered by or connected to the University of Toronto.’ ”

New Ways Ministry has critiqued the Courage program because it treats a homosexual orientation as a psychological defect.  Though we have reported the establishment of such programs in various U.S. dioceses, this is the first report we have heard of where parishioners have protested the group operating within their community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Beauty Contestant Visits Canadian Catholic School

May 29, 2012

Jenna Talackova

Contestants in the Miss Universe Canada pageant recently visited St. John Vianney Catholic school in Toronto, Canada.  Included among the contestants was Jenna Talackova, the first transgendered contestant.  The Globe and Mail newspaper hosts a news video clip of the visit on its website, which can be viewed by clicking here.

Vince Moretti, principal of the school commented on the visit:

“We are a Catholic, all-inclusive school, so we do respect everyone. So that’s not really an issue for us. We are a welcoming community and we are a Catholic community.  We welcome everyone.”

Among Talackova’s statements in the interview:

“We were born crying.  Does that mean we’re going to be a crybaby all of our lives?  No. You develop your inner self, your inner soul.  To embrace your individuality is what I want to give to this world.”

Congratulations and best wishes to Jenna, as she goes on to the competition!  Congratulations to St. John Vianney school for being a witness to Gospel inclusiveness and welcome!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Majority Favors Gay-Straight Alliances in Ontario’s Catholic Schools

May 26, 2012

While Ontario’s debate about establishing student clubs with the name “gay-straight alliances”  in  state-funded Catholic schools continues, a new poll shows that a majority of citizens there favor such organizations.   Meanwhile, one Catholic school in the province is a shining example of LGBT acceptance for the rest of the church educational system.

According to an article in Toronto’s The Star newspaper,

“Ontarians favour the right of students to form gay-straight alliance clubs in Catholic schools by a margin of almost two to one, a new poll suggests.

“Fifty-one per cent agreed that students in publicly funded Catholic schools should be allowed to form clubs under that sometimes contentious name with 28 per cent opposed and 21 per cent undecided.

“ ‘Now that people are more familiar with them, there’s more support for them,’ Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star on Tuesday.”

As previous reports of this issue have shown,

“While Catholic teachers have generally been supportive of the alliances, trustees and many parents have opposed them as not being in accordance with church teachings.”

St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener, Ontario, however, has had no problem with establishing a gay-straight alliance there, and, in fact, it is a thriving part of student life.   The school’s vice-prinicipal, no doubt, had a major impact in this area, according to a MetroNews.ca story:

“For Joan Grundy, vice-principal at St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener, standing up for youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender is her job.

“ ‘It’s a no-brainer to me as a Catholic educator to do this work … Catholic teaching calls you to live out the gospel with integrity,’’ Grundy said.

“ ‘Jesus modeled a life of love, understanding and compassion. It’s not just tolerating people, but celebrating them,’ she said.

“Even as controversy recently erupted over the suggestion of creating gay-straight alliances in local Catholic schools, St. Mary’s was way ahead of everyone else. “

Indeed, the school’s support group, called PRISM — Pride and Respect for Individuals of a Sexual Minority, sponsored programs for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia last week, highlighting ‘coming out’ stories from various personnel. Another MetroNews.ca story carried some of the personal tales.  For example, one parent told how his daughter’s journey changed his attitude:

“Wayne Ernst said he was always the first person to make the homophobic joke and didn’t care if he hurt people’s feelings.

“ ‘I was a bit of bigot. I was the Archie Bunker,’ said Ernst, who’s been on his own personal journey since his daughter came out as a lesbian. Now, the two have a close parental bond.

“ ‘I told her you will always be my daughter, nothing less,’ he said in an interview.”

Catholic officials should be flocking to St. Mary’s to see what they could learn from the teachers, students, and parents there.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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