Marriage Equality Continues Spreading in the U.S. and France

As legislature after legislature pass marriage equality laws, in the United States and abroad, legal recognition of same-gender couples increasingly becomes an aside in the news rather than headlines. These victories bear the fruits of decades of LGBT equality advocacy and bitter disputes about the relationship between religious doctrine and secular governance, and continually marriage equality is won in jurisdictions with large Catholic demographics. Bondings 2.0 provides a run down of this week’s news.

Rhode Island

The most densely Catholic state in America has passed marriage equality, with only procedural steps left until the bill becomes law. Rhode Island will become the 10th state in the US (plus the District of Columbia), and the final one in New England, to extend marriage rights. ABC News reports that Catholic legislators were central to the bill’s passage, admitting their personal struggles with same-gender marriage but ultimately voting in favor:

“Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, said she lost sleep over her vote but decided, despite opposition from the Catholic Church, to vote ‘on the side of love.’

“‘I’m a practicing Catholic. I’m proud to be a Catholic,’ she said, adding that it was the personal stories of gays, lesbians and their families in her district who convinced her. ‘I struggled with this for days, for weeks. It’s certainly not an easy vote.'”

Rhode Island had been a hold out in an otherwise LGBT-supportive region, and it is clear that the power of personal narratives from same-gender couples and their families is continuing to shape legislative struggles. Marriage licenses could be issued as early as August 1st.

France

After months of heated, and even violent, demonstrations about marriage, the National Assembly legalized recognition for same-gender couples last Tuesday and France became the 14th nation globally to have marriage equality. Opposition leaders promised a judicial appeal to the nation’s Constitutional Council, according to a report on The Atlantic  website that also credits this issue with reinvigorating a waning conservative movement in France.

Conservative Catholic lay movements backed anti-equality efforts since mid-2012, largely focused on their claims that adopted children’s health is harmed when placed with LGBT parents. The Catholic bishops’ comments seem confused, as an earlier document affirmed same-gender relationships while recent comments seem to warn about violence that will erupt if LGBT rights progress.  Think Progress reports that, even amid the wonderful news that France passed marriage laws, a troubling backlash may result:

“The advancement of same-sex marriage and adoption in France has been very contentious, with opponents promising retaliatory violence for the law’s passage. Indeed, violent hate crimes against gay French citizens have increased in recent weeks…death threats were sent to lawmakers because of their intention to support marriage equality. In the lead up to today’s vote, the hashtag #IlFautTuerLesHomosexuels, or “Homosexuals must be killed,” has been trending on Twitter.”

The French Catholic bishops should now focus on  the potential for violence in France. They need to defend each person’s life and dignity, especially those of LGBT persons.

Delaware

Delaware progressed closer to marriage equality after the state House passed a bill in a 23 to 18 vote, sending the bill to the Senate. CBS Philly reports that if the Senate passes the bill, Delaware’s governor has promised to sign it and marriage licenses could commence as early as July 1, 2013. Delaware previously allowed civil unions for same-gender couples, and these previously granted licenses would automatically be converted to marriages with the passage of the bill.

Nevada

After the emotional appeals of many, including a gay Catholic state senator reported on yesterday in Bondings 2.0, the Nevada Senate took first steps towards legalizing marriage equality by repealing legislation that defined marriage heteronormatively and replacing it with a bill to open marriage regardless of gender. USA Today reports that if the state Assembly passes it, and then both legislatures again in 2015 the final step would be a referendum in 2016.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Minisry

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Boy Scouts Inclusivity Could Signal End of Catholic Scouting

Recent speculation over a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) proposal to end the blanket ban on gay scouts and leaders have led some observers to wonder about the future of Catholic scouting programs.

The Washington Blade reported on a statement released by the Boy Scouts of America about their consideration of ending a policy excluding gay individuals from joining the organization. There is currently a period of public comment so nothing has been approved yet, but the statement speaks to likely changes:

“Possibly in anticipation of strong opposition by conservative and religious groups, the BSA emphasized in its own statement that the change would allow local units to decide whether or not to admit gays.

“‘The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a policy to units, members, or parents…Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.’

“The BSA website says more than 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by independent chartered organizations.”

Among these 100,000 units, nearly seventy percent are sponsored by faith-based organizations, including ten percent by the Catholic Church.

The American bishops supported the BSA’s decision to affirm the anti-gay policy last year, but no statement has been released by them  in this recent controversy. The Huffington Post covered comments by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spokesperson, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, who said:

“The bishops hope the Boy Scouts will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded and under which they have served youth well.”

David Gibson of Religion News Service questions the viability of Catholic involvement in the BSA if gay scouts and adult leaders gain broad acceptance. While no official statement by Catholic leaders lays out their position, past actions in scouting controversies do not inspire hope. Gibson is not positive in his assessment when coupled with recent actions of the bishops against the Girl Scouts as well:

“[Ending the ban on gay scouts] would effectively put an end to Catholic-sponsored scout troops…

“The Girl Scouts are already in the Catholic dock over charges (or an “urban legend,” some say) that their cookies support contraception and abortion programs. (Catholics make up a quarter of the nation’s 3 million Girl Scouts.)

“Is this the end of Catholic scouting? Or are there alternatives?”

Not all view a pro-LGBT decision by the BSA as the end to church-based scouting, with  blogger Tim MacGeorge questioning “Which Catholic parish will be first to welcome Gay Scouts?” on his site, Image and Likeness. where he ponders what parishes will do if the Scouts lift their ban:

“. . . I pray that there will be one Catholic parish somewhere in these United States that will have the faith, the courage, and the decency to do the right thing.  I pray that there will be one courageous pastor who will lead his parish in making a decision that puts them ‘on the right side of history,’ and allows the scout troop under their auspices to accept openly gay scouts and leaders.

“Hopefully Sister Mary Ann and the bishops for whom she works will one day learn that exclusion of people because of who they are as God made them to be is not really a ‘Judeo-Christian principle.’”

With this issue so unknown, we want to know what Bondings 2.0 readers think. Will the Boy Scouts allow openly gay scouts and leaders? If they do, will this signal an end to Catholic scouting or open a new chapter of inclusiveness? Leave a comment below.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Excerpts from French Bishops’ Document Which Affirms Same-Gender Relationships

French bishops
French bishops

Thanks to Bondings 2.0 reader Tom Luce, we are able to post excerpts from his translation of the French bishops’ document on same-gender marriage that we announced a few days ago.  As we mentioned, this document contained several unusually positive reflections about respect for gay and lesbian relationships, and the need to have civil and open discussion on the matter of marriage.  No U.S. bishops’ document even comes close to the content and tone of this document which was issued by the Family and Society Council of the French bishops’ conference.

To make sure that we are not giving the wrong impression, let me be clear that the document does not in any way support the legalization of marriage equality.  Still, the strong call for respecting gay and lesbian relationships is a giant step forward in hierarchical discourse, and it should be celebrated.

Below are excerpts from some of the more positive sections of this document which is entitled “Expand Marriage to Persons of the Same Sex?  Let’s Open the Debate!”  If you can read French, you can find the original text here.

I have not excerpted any of the sections which argue against marriage equality, since they are basically the same ones that have been used many times before.  The document is seven pages, single-spaced, in length, so it would be cumbersome to reproduce it here.  Again, our thanks go to Tom Luce for translating this document.  Tom blogs at leastharm.weebly.com.

Excerpts from 

“Expand Marriage to Persons of the Same Sex?  

Let’s Open the Debate!”

“Our society is facing a new situation, unexplored. Homosexuality has always existed, but until recently there had never been a claim on the part of homosexual persons to give a legal framework to a relationship to be entered into an historical
record, or to be seen as endowed with parental authority. It belongs to political authorities to listen to this request and make the most appropriate response. This response, then, is a political choice. The opening of marriage to same-sex persons is neither imposed by European law nor by any international convention. It is a policy option among others and a true democratic debate is needed to develop the best solution in the interest of everyone. . . .

“In order for this debate to be undertaken it is important first of all to recognize the conflict that exists between the meaning of heterosexual marriage and the contemporary homosexual experience. Without being aware of the issues within these divisions and differences, any real political work is impossible.1 It is a matter of respecting all the players in this debate and to allow each one to reflect more profoundly and to freely express ones convictions. If every reluctance or questioning of this reform of the law of the family is qualified a priori as “homophobic”, there can be had no deep debate. It’s the same when the request of homosexual persons is disqualified a priori. . . .

“The respect of all the players in the debate implies a common listening, a disposition to understand the arguments expressed and a search for shared language. This search for shared language takes for granted, on the part of Catholics, to translate the arguments drawn from Revelation into a language accessible to every open mind. In the same way in this debate which concerns the meaning of civil marriage, there is no place for discussing religious marriage, nor at the outset the connections between civil and religious marriage. It is not a matter of Catholics imposing a religious point of view, but to bring their contribution to this debate as citizens, basing themselves on anthropological and legal arguments. . . .

“If respect for the person is then clearly affirmed, it must also be admitted that homophobia by no means has disappeared from our society. For homosexual persons, the discovery and acceptance of their homosexuality often sets up a complex process. It isn’t always easy to assume the acceptance of one’s homosexuality in his/her professional circles or in his/her family circles. The victims of prejudice have a hard life and attitudes only change slowly, including within our Catholic communities and families. They are, however, called to be at the stage of welcoming every person, whatever may be his/her place on the path of life as child of God. So that which founds, for us Christians, our identity and equality among people is the fact that we are all sons and daughters of God. Unconditional welcoming of persons does not entail approval of all their acts, on the contrary, it recognizes that the human being is bigger than his/her acts. The rejection of homophobia and the welcoming of homosexual persons, such as they are, make up necessary conditions to be able to leave behind superficial reactions and enter into a calm debate around the demand of homosexual persons. . . .

“The diversity of homosexual practices must not hinder us from taking seriously the aspirations of those men and women who wish to engage in a stable bond. The respect and recognition of every person takes on henceforth a primary importance in our society. The discussions about multiculturalism, racism, feminism, and homophobia are underpinned by this demand for recognition which is expressed today in terms of equality. The non-recognition is experienced as oppression or discrimination. . . .

“Society, as well as the Church in her own domain, hears this demand on the part of homosexual persons and can seek an answer. All the while affirming the importance of the difference in sexes and the fact that homosexual partners are different from heterosexual couples because of the impossibility to procreate naturally, we are able to appreciate the desire for a commitment to fidelity in a love relationship: of a sincere attachment, of a deep caring, one for the other, and of a lasting bond that goes far beyond the putdown of homosexual relationships as a simple erotic involvement. . . .

“The Catholic Church calls the faithful to live such a relationship in chastity but she recognizes, beyond the one sexual aspect, the value of solidarity, of the attention and care of the other which can manifest itself in a lasting affective relationship. The Church wants to be welcoming toward homosexual persons and will continue to bring its contribution to the fight against every form of homophobia and discrimination. . . .

“An evolution of the law of family is always possible. But rather than to give in to the pressure of different groups, France would do honor to itself by setting up a true debate in society and by looking for an original solution which would do right to the demand for recognition of homosexual persons without however infringing upon the anthropological foundations of society.”

Can it be that the positive tone in this document is simply a persuasive strategy so that the bishops do not sound so harsh?  Perhaps.  I prefer to take them at their word–and I hope and pray that people will hold them to their word, too, so that these positive attitudes will be backed up by actions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Our 500th Post: Time to Pause for Some Levity

Bondings 2.0 has reached a milestone today:  this post is our 500th post!!!!!

To celebrate this little landmark, we thought we would provide a break from our usual serious material, and provide some humorous (though relevant) content.

Last week, on January 1st, The Washington Post‘s “Style” section printed it’s annual list of what is “Out” and what is “In,”  an annual inventory of what is hot and what is not in American culture.  Listed among the various fads, TV characters, celebrities, and  the latest political lingo was this one little item of Catholic interest:

Out:  Bishops

In:  Nuns

This note obviously refers to the many stories during 2012, when it was proven time and again that Catholic respect for nuns has been on the increase.  This respect is due in no small part to the fact that many nuns view LGBT issues primarily as justice issues.   In 2012, nuns’ support of LGBT issues contributed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) run-in with the Vatican.  Back in April and May of 2012, when the LCWR story was front-page news, the following cartoon ran in many papers and was circulated widely on Facebook and the internet:

Nuns

We hope these items lightened your day a bit!

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Uganda Anti-Gay Legislation Stirs Student Action at Yale and Notre Dame

The Ugandan Parliament will reportedly vote on the “Kill the Gays” bill in coming days and this development has stirred two university communities to take action against the infamous legislation.

In Connecticut, the LGBT Coalition at Yale Divinity School commenced a petition drive calling on Christian religious leadership worldwide to speak publicly against the legislation. The group’s statement addresses Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York among other religious leaders, and reads, in part:

“We urge you to call on your Ugandan counterparts to resist coopting Christian language in support of such a hateful cause. Claiming defense of religious values can never be an adequate justification for the degradation of human life. As we all know, faith in a loving God is wholly inconsistent with support for such cruel and malicious policies…

“Regardless of your place on the spectrum of theological opinion regarding homosexuality, please reject the unconscionable measures proposed in this bill which are antithetical to any conception of Christian morality.”

Alumni of the University of Notre Dame are similarly asking that institution’s administration to condemn the Ugandan bill with their own petition drive. The sponsors cite the University’s deep relationship with Uganda through study abroad programs and commitment to act justly with partner nations when engaging in educational initiatives.

Others, including several students interviewed by campus newspaper, The Observer, speak to the Catholic identity of the University as a driving impetus. Katie Day, class of 2009 and participant in a research project in Uganda, claims she’s “mystified” by the silence of Catholics and especially the praise of Uganda’s Catholic bishops for the bill. She told The Observer:

“‘As the universal Church, Catholic leaders elsewhere in the world need to let the Ugandan Catholic Church know this bill is completely contradictory to our faith’s core beliefs,’ she said. ‘I cannot think of anything more dehumanizing and degrading than this bill.’

“Day said Notre Dame’s mission statement pledges that the University looks to nurture in its students, ‘a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.’

“‘As the students and alumni of Notre Dame stand up to the injustice of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we are fulfilling this part of Notre Dame’s mission,’ Day said.”

If you would like to sign either petition, Bondings 2.0 provides links below, as well as our previous coverage on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Petitions

Petition to Religious Leaders from the Yale Divinity School LGBT Coalition

Petition to Fr. Jenkins at the University of Notre Dame

Previous Posts

November 14, 2012: Catholic Leaders Must Speak Out Against Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

August 13, 2012:  Former Ambassador to the Vatican Speaks Out Against Ugandan Discrimination

July 25, 2012:  Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda

July 25, 2012:  New Report Identifies Catholic Suppport for Africa’s Anti-Gay Movement

June 15, 2012: More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

‘No One’s Listening to the Pope’ or What Washington Catholics Taught Us This Election

With marriage equality successfully enacted in Washington State, a former Catholic in Seattle reflected at Salon.com on the growing chasm between episcopal outreach and lay organizing that emerged during this campaign over marriage equality. His article has the intriguing title “No One’s Listening to the Pope.”

Growing up, Dominic Holden emerged in a local church led by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen where African-American civil rights history was widely active and the Vatican’s attempted removal of Hunthausen for Seattle’s hosting of a 1,000-plus member DignityUSA liturgy triggered massive lay outcry.

After coming out and with changes in the Seattle church, Holden left Catholicism which contains a hierarchy he identifies with anti-equality efforts, evident in the silencing and spending practices of those like Archbishop John Neinstedt in Minnesota or Archbishop William Lori in Maryland.

However, in Washington State he notices a promising movement amongst lay Catholics:

“But here in Seattle, the archbishop is facing a confrontation.

“When conservative activists in Washington sought to suspend and overturn a marriage equality law for same-sex couples in January, Archbishop Sartain started strong…Sartain was clearly spoiling for a fight.

“And he got one, but not the one he expected. It’s not clear that Sartain knew what he was in for. After all, Sartain has only been appointed about 14 months before — by a pope who, it must be acknowledged, may have a vendetta against Seattle’s gay-friendly congregations that rebuffed him 30 years prior — and what Sartain got was an outright revolt from the pews.”

Holden notes the vigorous efforts of Washington State Catholics leading up to yesterday’s vote with Catholics for Marriage Equality raising $38,000, publicly witnessing at Mass and the pride parade, running newspaper advertisements, and challenging the Yakima Diocese for illegal contributions. Elsewhere, 63 former priests from the area came out publicly in support of the referendum and pastors, including at the Cathedral in Seattle, refused to allow anti-equality campaigners into their churches.

The author quotes Fr. John Whitney, SJ, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Seattle,

“…who said circulating the petitions in his parish ‘seems to me inappropriately coercive.’
He added in a statement to his congregation: ‘Although the Archbishop has the right and responsibility to speak and educate the community about legislation, I believe that this level of involvement around the issue of civil marriage is ill-considered, and risks placing the Church on the side of injustice and the denial of civil rights.’ He continued to counter Sartain’s efforts just last month by telling parishioners in an email that ‘authority never supplants conscience.’”

All of this, accompanied by a diminished public effort by bishops in Washington State over Referendum 74, leads Holden to one conclusion:

“I’ll speculate: the flock is taming the shepherds.

“It seems that Sartain and his counterparts have a real crisis on their hands…The problem for bishops shapes up like this: Priests and laity alike are declaring their intent to ignore the bishops’ moral authority on the so-called conscience issues of marriage and contraception, which represent the bishops’ primary political agendas. The risk for bishops isn’t that these Catholics will leave the church like I did…The risk is that they will stay in the church and empower other parishioners to stand up to the bishops on these and other issues, from married priests to the ordination of women.

“Catholics are setting an example for elections to come. They’re refusing to let the hierarchy speak for them, and even reining them in, just as they did back when I was a kid. Given that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has proven it can shift national policy, God bless the laity for keeping them in check. They’re the only people who can.”

In light of a victory in Washington State for marriage equality where Catholics played a key role, Holden’s positive conclusion about these events seems correct. Continued lay involvement that helps to correct and contain the bishops, while presenting a different image of Catholicism in the public sphere is not going away. Hopefully, it has just begun.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore two weeks ago continues to make headlines.   The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) has editorialized in support of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call to re-think the Catholic Church’s official teaching on sexuality, which he made during a talk at the Symposium.  An NCR columnist, Eugene Kennedy, the renowned psychologist and church observer, has also praised the Australian bishop’s proposal.

After summarizing Bishop Robinson’s main points (which can be read in the same newspaper’s article about the talk), the NCR editorial notes:

“Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts ‘me’ before ‘you.’ By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.”

The NCR rightly points out that Robinson’s approach is not one of a wild-eyed radical:

“In the end, Robinson is making a profoundly traditional suggestion about sexuality, because what he proposes is rooted in genuine personal responsibility. He writes: ‘Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. … It is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything I do.’ ”

The tradition that Robinson is following is the tradition of Jesus in the Scriptures:

“Robinson’s take on sexuality — that it deserves deeper consideration than the narrow, rule-bound approach that has evolved in Christian circles — takes us to the heart of the radical approach Jesus took toward human relationships.”

NCR columnist Eugene Kennedy has also praised Bishop Robinson’s proposal.  In an essay entitled “Bishop Robinson and the redemption of eros,” Kennedy writes:

“Bishop Robinson’s purpose is, in fact, that set out by Pope John XXIII as his reason for convening Vatican II, “To make the human sojourn on earth less sad.”

“Indeed, in urging a much needed review of what and how the church teaches about human sexuality, Bishop Robinson draws on themes central to Vatican II. The first of these is found in placing the reality of the human person rather than the abstraction of natural law as the central reference point in church teachings and papal pronouncements about marriage and sexual activity.

“The second is found in the shift from an emphasis on objective acts to subjective intentions and dispositions in making judgments on the badness or goodness of how people behave. This rightfully emphasizes the impact that our actions or omissions have on other persons rather than on the ire that has idled within so many church leaders who have been so preoccupied with sin. . . .

“Robinson’s convictions on the need for a thorough examination of the church’s teaching on sexuality are significant in themselves but also because he has found a way to speak about this essential matter from within the church, even if in the mannered traditional way that dialogue moves, however slowly, toward a wider circle of prelates.”

After Bishop Robinson spoke at the Symposium, many people told me that they felt something new and remarkable had taken place. One person told me that it felt  like a new chapter had been opened in the church’s discussion on sexuality.  His talk offered not only hope, but a way forward that people felt was authentically human and authentically Catholic.

His experience as the Australian Bishops’ Conference coordinator of pastoral responses to that nation’s sexual abuse crisis transformed his thinking on how Catholicism approached sexuality and how that approach can be improved.  As was evident from the style and content of his talk, Bishop Robinson had one three things that more bishops should emulate:  he opened his ears, his mind, and his heart.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry