The archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, has made a decision which is one of the healthiest and most realistic ones that I’ve heard a church official make regarding LGBT issues in a long time: he is allowing students in Catholic high schools in the archdiocese to take a same-gender date to the prom or formal dance.
The Age newspaper reported:
“Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has urged schools to be sensitive and respectful to students who wanted to invite a same-sex date to the biggest night of the year.
” ‘These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved,’ he said.”
The decision came after the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy initially denied a female student to bring another girl to the school’s formal dance. The student responded with a Change.org petition which gathered 1250 signatures. The school then reversed its decision, and the archbishop praised the school’s “sensitivity” in reversing the decision, stating:
“Students in a secondary school are growing up and in developmental stages where relationships are more like strong friendships and are not usually permanent, they are not in a situation where they are committing.
“The Catholic Church respects any relationship but always sticks quite firmly with its teaching that a relationship in the eyes of the church is heterosexual, between a male and female, and that is something we would always stand by.”
The issue of students taking same=gender partners to proms has long been an issue here in U.S. Catholic school systems. In 2013, the president of McQuaid Jesuit High School, Rochester, New York, an all-boys school, allowed a student to take another boy to the junior prom. The president cited Pope Francis as his authority on this matter.
Yet, last year Christian Brothers High School in Memphis suspended a student who tried to take a same-gender date to the homecoming dance.
What I find refreshing about Archbishop Hart’s decision is that he recognizes that dance dates do not imply sexual activity. When schools have denied same-gender dates attending social functions, they cite the Church’s disapproval of same-sex sexual activity. But by that logic, school officials would also then be saying that they expect that bringing someone to a dance is evidence or a prediction of sexual activity.
What about the many, many students who take a cousin or sibling as a companion to the prom or formal dance? Clearly, the church does not approve of incest, yet these students are allowed to bring a relative. So why would they allow people with familial ties to attend together, but not same-gender companions?
The decision not to allow a same-gender partner is purely homophobia. It is a double-standard that says that allowing same-gender couples implies that same-sex activity will occur, but that the presence of heterosexual couples does not make the same implication.
The archbishop, sadly, does not approve of committed same-gender sexual relationships, yet what is good about his statement is that he recognizes that not all same-gender couples are going to have sex. He is treating same-gender couples with the same expectations of heterosexual couples. He recognizes that what is important is the the student’s choice about how to celebrate their academic successes with their classmates. That kind of attitude is a sign of respect for the student’s human dignity and equality.
Tim Christodoulou, a leader of “Minus 18,” an LGBT youth group in Australia, praised Hart’s decision:
“It’s hurtful if you can’t bring the partner you want to celebrate this milestone.
“The result is that sometimes young people disengage from their education. Seeing this progress coming from the Catholic Archbishop is really promising but there’s much further to go.”
Christodoulou explained the “much further to go” as “allowing trans- and gender diverse students to dress in the clothes they prefer.”
Let us hope and pray that Archbishop Hart’s decision will inspire other bishops and church leaders to take the same, reasonable course of action.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry