The struggle for LGBT legal equality advances in the wake of the Supreme Court’s two decisions this week and yet, for Catholics, creating equality in our Church remains unachieved. Equally Blessed, a coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, is asking Catholics to engage in ‘Courageous Conversations’ to create such change.
Catholics are routinely identified in polling as supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because of a deep commitment to justice. Support comes because of Catholic faith, not in spite of it and the ‘Courageous Conversation’ effort aims at breaking the silence around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity within Catholic communities. To quote Equally Blessed:
“As Catholics, we continue to take an active role in our communities, creating the kind of parishes and schools that we feel nurtured in and called to. This involves cultivating relationships by reaching out to those around us and illustrating why our faith calls us to tell our stories and those of our loved ones.
“Opening up in your community can be intimidating. Catholic institutions are often seen as unwelcoming to people who support the rights and dignity of LGBT people, but we know that many parishes and Catholic schools of all levels are supportive of LGBT Catholics and allies.”
New Ways Ministry strongly urges participation in having a ‘Courageous Conversation’ this week to break the silence. Engage with those in the pews next to you, your pastor, parish leaders and staff, school administrators, land others. If you are unsure where to start, Equally Blessed provides a few tips and a resources page available here. Start with those you already have a relationship with, be honest and personal with them, and above all make a concerted effort to listen.
What might be the outcome of these conversations? Equally Blessed provides a few words about the impact a ‘Courageous Conversation’ can have:
“ ‘Sometimes when we share stories, we do see an “Ah Ha” moment or a change of heart, sometimes it is not a complete turnaround but just a willingness to reconsider because they see the whole person.’ –Rosa
“ ‘[When we began our ministry] two and one half years ago, we could not have held a Pride weekend at St Matthew. But over these 2 1/2 years, we have taken many small steps to get where we are today. Just this past weekend, it was PRIDE weekend at our parish. Rainbow flags welcomed you, an 11′ banner announced the Pride Parade date, we sold Pride T Shirts, and members spoke after Communion asking all St Matthew parishioners to walk with us.’ – Ryan”
You can also become involved on social media by sharing this campaign on Facebook, Twitter (use the hashtag #CourageousConversation), etc. For a graphic and link to Equally Blessed’s resources, visit the New Ways Ministry Facebook page here or the Twitter profile here.
Catholic commentators continue to reflect upon the two Supreme Court marriage decisions this week, and their intellectual and personal musings are too good to pass by. We present you with a patchwork of summaries and excerpts for you to consider as you do your own reflections on this week’s events.
Two writers have noted the sad juxtaposition of Supreme Court decisions this week. On Tuesday, the Court unfairly dismantled the Voting Rights Act, greatly restricting justice, and on Wednesday, the Court decided two cases in favor of marriage equality.
“with a heavy heart, knowing full well that, unlike Wednesday, the Supreme Court rulings that took place Tuesday were not a great moment for America, justice or civil rights.”
Manson notes both the moral and practical connections that exist between the Voting Rights Act and LGBT equality:
“The fight against voter suppression laws and the fight for LGBT rights share some deep connections. At the most fundamental level, both are civil rights battles for equal protection under the law. In the same way that LGBT activists have asked other victims of discrimination to identify with our struggle, LGBT people must continue to foster the bonds of identity and solidarity across communities of justice-seekers.
“At a strategic level, LGBT activists must also consider the ways in which voter suppression could undermine the fight for equality in the 35 states where same-sex marriage continues to be illegal. If right-wing lawmakers are successful in restricting voter eligibility among the disenfranchised, LGBT civil rights will be as vulnerable as government entitlements, civil liberties, collective bargaining and protections for immigrants.”
Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, on his blog DatingGod.com, also noted the disappointment in the Voting Rights case, and noted that the U.S. bishops’ characterization of the marriage decisions as “tragic” seemed misplaced:
“[W]hile the Tuesday decision might rightly be called ‘tragic’ for its short-sightedness and lack of historical appreciation for the crimes and abuses against women and men of color in the south, the decisions on Wednesday were absolutely not tragic. That anyone would say that — and this quote has circulated widely in subsequent days — strikes me as quite appalling. Wednesday’s decisions, as best I can tell, affect no one for the worse. They do not threaten different-sex marriages. They do not ruin the foundations of our society. They do not do anything but provide another step to guarantee that all human beings have the right to be treated like other human beings in the United States. We’ve come as a society to recognize, oftentimes too slowly, the need for these legal protections with regard to sex, race, and now sexual orientation — all things inherent to a person and outside one’s control. . . . Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes reiterates the need the church has to recognize the legitimate role of governments to protect the rights of all people regardless of this inherent characteristics of their personhood:
‘If the citizens’ responsible cooperation is to produce the good results which may be expected in the normal course of political life, there must be a statute of positive law providing for a suitable division of the functions and bodies of authority and an efficient and independent system for the protection of rights. The rights of all persons, families and groups, and their practical application, must be recognized, respected and furthered, together with the duties binding on all citizen (no. 75).’
“All persons, families, and groups!”
Mark Silk, a professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, offered a very Catholic way for “How the bishops can live with Same-Sex Marriage” in a Religion News Service essay with that title. In it, Silk points out how “marriage” is used frequently as an analogy in Catholicism to describe other realities. A nun is sometimes considered married to Christ, a bishop is considered married to his diocese.
Using this very Catholic notion of analogical thinking, Silk suggests that the bishops do the same for thinking about lesbian and gay couples who marry:
“In the USCCB’s letter condemning the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone write, ‘Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.’
“Sure, guys, but in your book marriage is not only that. So what if same-sex civil marriage is not oriented toward biological procreation and achieved sacramentally in a Catholic church? Use your analogical imaginations.”
Finally, one of the more profound reflections on this week’s news comes from Thomas Bushlack, a professor of moral theology at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Writing on the blog PoliticalTheology.com, Bushlack recognizes that with DOMA struck down, we are in a new political, cultural, and theological moment:
“We are clearly in the middle of a fairly rapid cultural turning point regarding the moral and legal status of same-sex couples, and the views of many Americans are tethered to and influenced by the underlying theological issues that inform their opinions. Despite the plurality of voices within these theological debates, one thing seems certain: what was once taken as a commonplace definition of marriage as between one man and one woman can no longer be assumed.”
This new “moment” means giving up some of old ways of thinking and acting:
“I believe that efforts on the part of individual Christians and church leaders . . . to solidify the legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman has neither served to promote the common good nor to facilitate the preaching of the Gospel. Even if one agrees with the theological and moral arguments against same-sex marriage (and there is clearly not consensus here), it has not appeared obvious to the majority of Christians that this necessarily entails prohibiting it in a civic and legal arena. The Supreme Court decisions offered today reflect this general public sense that same sex couples deserve the equal protection conferred by the Fifth Amendment – regardless of the theological and moral issues involved (which the courts are not competent to judge anyways).”
Most importantly, Bushlack offers some important advice on moving forward for both detractors and supporters of marriage equality:
“If I were to offer my opinion with regard to the best way for theologians and church leaders to move forward following today’s rulings, it would be to reassess our rhetoric. For those opposed to civil recognition of same-sex marriage, the argument that allowing same-sex marriage will have a negative impact upon the common good of society has been found unconvincing, not least because there is little tangible evidence to back it up. And there is no logical step from a theological argument based on Genesis 1 to inscribing “one man, one woman” into civil law. For those of us who support the extension of greater legal protections and rights to same-sex couples, we need to refrain from gloating and find ways to remain united as a church with a common goal of spreading the Gospel even amidst vehement disagreement.”
Bondings 2.0 will continue providing you with links to relevant commentary on this past week’s historic decisions. You might also want to read our previous posts on the topic:
Catholic responses to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions around marriage equality continue from politicians, pundits, and parishioners alike. Celebrations remain fervent, but much of the commentary now speculates about the future of the marriage equality struggle focused at the state level.
“Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has already begun to soften their position on same-sex unions…for hope’s sake, let’s celebrate. As Catholics, we can and ought to celebrate committed relationships of love between persons. We can and ought to celebrate life-giving relationships of love, physically, emotionally and spiritually between two people. And in the words of Cardinal Christopher Schonborn, we ought to ‘respect long-term, committed relationships between people of the same gender.’ “
Scott Alessi at U.S. Catholic questions the bishops’ objections over the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 rulings as nonsensical given what was really at issue in the legal cases. When the bishops claim ‘the Court got it wrong,’ Alessi asks where exactly they erred:
“Though it is the bishops’ right, and even their duty, to proclaim the church’s teachings on marriage, religious beliefs cannot be the basis on which the Supreme Court makes a decision. In fact, the ‘truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman’ was not the question placed before the court at all.
“[United States v. Windsor] was a question of how the Constitution applies in a complex situation where the state and federal governments differ in their laws…that decision was reached without any consideration given to religious beliefs regarding marriage—just as the First Amendment’s establishment clause intended.”
Thomas Reese at the National Catholic Reporterpredicts a de-centralizing effect will take place as emphasis shifts from a national campaign headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the USCCB to state-level efforts directed by local bishops. Reese breaks down three paths he sees as possible for these leaders:
“Bishops in states that have legalized gay marriage may conclude that it is politically impossible to reverse the decision in their states and therefore admit defeat and move on.
“Bishops in red states where gay marriage is not legal may judge the fight worth making because with other allies, they have a good chance of maintaining the status quo.
“The tough call will be for bishops in blue states, where polls show growing support for gay marriage. Here they must choose between fighting gay marriage or negotiating exemptions for the church as a price for their silence. No bishop wants to talk publicly about this on the national level, but in the back rooms of state legislatures, this may be the best deal that the bishops can get.”
Notably, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Catholic, cited the rulings as evidence his state must pursue equal marriage rights again after a failed attempt this spring, as reported at BND.com:
” ‘Today the Supreme Court took a historic step by providing equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples. Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois…’
” ‘The opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens — under both state and federal law — is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay. Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen.’ “
The Supreme Court’s decisions are victories rightfully celebrated, but the state level struggles are just beginning as only 13 US states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out for Catholics, and Bondings 2.0 will update our readers with all the latest in these ongoing campaigns for legal LGBT equality.
The euphoria over yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality is continuing unabated by Catholics and LGBT advocates.
Perhaps the most amazingly Catholic quotation from the decisions was the phrase written by Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, released the following statement yesterday:
“As members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the United States, we are elated that the U. S. Supreme Court has both struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for marriage equality in the state of California. We are especially pleased to see that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the opinion striking down DOMA, and that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is also a Catholic, concurred in this historic decision.
“While we would have preferred the Court to find the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be clearly unconstitutional, in dismissing the case, the Court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state.
“Catholics around the country have worked hard to pass legislation that permits same-sex couples to marry, and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. They have done so not in spite of their faith, but because of it, knowing that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God’s children must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.
“The court today has removed two obstacles blocking the path to justice for same-sex couples, but that path must still be walked. So today we celebrate and offer prayers of thanksgiving, and tomorrow we invite our fellow Catholics to join us in working to bring marriage equality to the states in which it has not yet been written into law.”
Bryan Cones, onU.S. Catholic’s blog wondered if the Supreme Court decisions will persuade the bishops to tone down their campaign against marriage equality and instead engage in dialogue with LGBT people:
“I for one would hope for a kind of pause on the bishops’ approach to this question: It should be obvious now that, on the civil side of things, same-sex couples have convinced Americans that they deserve access to the civil benefits of marriage. We in the church need to be having our own conversations about the religious institution of marriage and the religious meaning of human sexuality–long a monologue from the hierarchy that has not included the voices of lay people, married, single, gay, bisexual, or straight. Our own deliberations may lead us to new conclusions, or it may lead to a reaffirmation of old ones. But the signs of the times, today’s rulings included, demand our common discernment. “
Catholics United’s blog, Our Daily Thread, carried a post by Daniel Byrne in which he challenged the USCCB’s characterization of the decisions as “tragic”:
“It further upsets me that you call these decisions “tragic.” What’s tragic is that 23% of children live in poverty. What’s tragic are the natural disasters occurring because of climate change. What’s tragic is that Guantanamo Bay is still open (thanks to Bishop Pates for hisstatement, by the way). Providing equal rights for same-sex spouses is not tragic.
“Let’s be clear, this is a civil rights issue. No longer will same-sex spouses be turned away from seeing their partner in a hospital. No longer will binational couples be separated because their marriage isn’t recognized in the US. No longer will another 1,100 rights be denied same-sex spouses.”
Jamie Manson, writing on HuffingtonPost.com, tells the story of a group of Catholic LGBT advocates from Dignity/New York, who helped bring the DOMA case to court by supporting the plaintiff, Edith Windsor:
“As millions celebrate today the Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many will be giving thanks to Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the case, and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.
“What most people will not know, however, is the instrumental role that a few members of the New York City chapter of DignityUSA played in this historic moment.”
You can read the inspiring story here. Or you can see a synopsis and link to an earlier version of this story from The National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.
Manson concludes her essay with some hopeful words, which reflect the mood of yesterday’s and today’s exuberance:
“To paraphrase Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted aphorism, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Catholics can change the world.”
–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry on the Supreme Court’s decisions about marriage equality:
The Supreme Court’s decisions today that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that marriage equality should be revived in California feel like “justice rolling down like a river,” in the words of the prophet Amos. While Catholic bishops will not welcome these decisions, the people in the pews of Catholic parishes across the country are ecstatic that these major injustices against their lesbian and gay friends and family members are now dissolved. We thank the Court for these decisions, and we give thanks to God for answering our many prayers seeking justice.
Catholic lay people across the U.S. and in California have worked hard to support their deeply held Catholic belief that equal treatment by our government’s laws should be extended to lesbian and gay couples who want to marry. Catholics hold this belief because of their faith, not in spite of it. Our Catholic social justice tradition motivates us to work for strong families and expansive social protections, and these can only be achieved when all families are treated fairly and equally under the law.
These Supreme Court decisions are definitely not the final word on marriage equality in our nation. Much work remains to be done. And Catholics will be part of that work in state and national campaigns to facilitate marriage equality and to end other injustices against LGBT people such as discriminatory immigration policies. Catholics will stand with those of other faiths to show that religious people do not support discrimination.
Catholics also have work to do within our own church. We are ashamed and dismayed that our bishops are often the most vocal opponents of marriage equality. Their statements often reveal a stunning ignorance of lesbian and gay lives and a lack of compassion that is unbecoming of faith leaders. Catholics pray that today’s Supreme Court decisions will open our bishops’ eyes so that they will at least meet and dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics and their families. If the bishops do this, they will witness firsthand how the Gospel of justice and love which they preach is practiced by those they consider the least in their flocks.
New Ways Ministry is a 36-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the Catholic Church. For more information visit http://www.NewWaysMinistry.org.
Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what a bishop was thinking when he makes a statement that is so incorrect and irrelevant. A case in point is the news from the Philippines that retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz recently said that it would be permissible for a gay man and lesbian woman to marry because procreative possibility would be present.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer quotes the archbishop’s statement, made during a meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal:
“May a lesbian marry a gay man? My answer is ‘yes’ because in that instance the capacity to consummate the union is there. The anatomy is there. The possibility of conception is there.”
Archbishop Cruz, who has served as an auxiliary bishop in Manila, the nation’s capital, and as head of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, was also a Judicial Vicar for the nation’s bishops’ conference. Despite his education and experience, his remarks reveal an amazing lack of knowledge about the dynamics involved in intimate sexual relationships. A Filipina LGBT activist was quick to respond with statements that reflected not only a more humane approach, but one that is also more in line with what the Catholic church really teaches about sexual relationships. Gay Star News reported:
“Filipina LGBT rights activist Angie Umbac told Gay Star News she is ‘speechless’ at the comments of the Archbishop. . .
“Umbac, who campaigns for Filipino LGBT rights organization Rainbow Rights, said that people should marry ‘not because their parts “fit”‘ but ‘for the right reasons’.
‘I’d like to believe that human beings are more than the sum of their parts,’ said Umbac. ‘How about the brain? The heart? The soul? At what point do love, free will, and self-respect come in? They are important components of marriage that the Archbishop’s careless statement choose to ignore.’
The archbishop’s comments didn’t stop there, though. He went on to acknowledge that homosexuality is a permissible reason to receive a marriage annulment from the church. While this is true, this statement also highlighted the illogic of his statement about a gay man marrying a lesbian woman. Salon.com writer Mary Elizabeth Williams was quick to point out this problem:
“But if the Catholic Church can sanction marriage between lesbians and gay men, Cruz also acknowledges it can also retroactively declare that it was never even legitimate in the first place. In the same speech, the Archbishop admitted that homosexuality was valid grounds for annulment, though he added it is rarely invoked.”
The Philippines is currently considering a proposal to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples, and the Catholic hierarchy is, predictably, opposed to it. Despite the hiearchy’s opposition to LGBT equality, a recent Pew poll showed that the Philippines population, overwhelmingly Catholic, is very accepting of LGBT people.
An incident such as this is a reminder that our church leaders are in deep need of education about sexuality and human dynamics. One can try to think of reasons why Archbishop Cruz made such a wrongheaded statement: Did he let personal homophobia get the best of him? Was he caught up in some sort of political fervor to try to block the nation’s marriage proposal? Is he so totally removed from the lives of real people that he is unaware of the many elements that are involved in relationship-building?
Whatever the reasons, the best thing he can do now is to apologize and promise to educate himself better not only about LGBT people, but about basic Catholic teaching about sexuality and relationships.
The archbishop of New Orleans made a short statement recently that speaks volumes about how far the Catholic Church–and the greater society–has come in the past 40 years with regard to LGBT issues.
This past weekend marked the 40th anniversary of a fatal fire in a New Orleans gay bar, The UpStairs Lounge, that claimed the lives of 32 people, and dozens more critically injured. Because it was started by arson, the event is considered the largest mass murder of gay people in U.S. history, according to The Daily Mail.
In 1973, Archbishop Phillip Hannan, the powerful head of the New Orleans archdiocese, did not say a word about the tragedy, not even an expression of sympathy and support for victims and families. Neither did New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu, and many other city leaders.
40 years later Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans has issued an apology for the church’s silence in 1973. In an email to Time magazine, which recently carried a story about the fire, Archbishop Aymond stated:
“In retrospect, if we did not release a statement we should have to be in solidarity with the victims and their families. The church does not condone violence and hatred. If we did not extend our care and condolences, I deeply apologize.”
A simple statement, but one that reflects how much times have changed. Other details of the event recall the oppressive environment that gay and lesbian people suffered just 40 years ago. According to The Daily Mail:
“Out of fear and shame, some family members of the deceased refused to claim the ashes of their ‘loved’ ones.
“On the issue of identifying the victims, Major Henry Morris, a detective with the New Orleans Police Department said, ‘We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.’
“Churches were either silent or subtly suggested the victims deserved what they got, most refused the use of their facilities for a memorial service.
“Father Bill Richardson of St. George’s Episcopal Church, however, believed the dead should have a service.
“He graciously allowed, over the protest of many parishioners, the use of St. George’s sanctuary for a prayer service, which was attended by roughly 80 people.
“He was subsequently chastised by his bishop and received no small amount of hate mail. Days later a Unitarian Church also held a small memorial service.
“A larger service was held on July 1 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on the edge of the French Quarter.”
In addition to the current archbishop making up for the errors of one of his predecessors, the current mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, is making for the negligence of the former mayor who was his father by issuing a commemorative proclamation.
While we pray for the victims and their families at this sad milestone, we pray in gratitude for Archbishop Aymond’s acknowledgement and apology. We pray, too, that the entire Catholic Church–hierarchy and laity–will work together so that events like this tragic one will never happen again.