Malta’s Rapid Shift on LGBT Rights Is Case Study for Other Catholic Nations

Malta has elected the nation’s first transgender politician, a sign of just how far on LGBT rights a country where Roman Catholicism remains the state religion has come. A closer analysis of this shift could help Catholics in other regions in their own journeys towards equality.

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Crowds in Malta celebrating Pride Week

Alex Mangion became Malta’s first transgender politician when he won a local election as the Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party) candidate, reported The Independent. But support for LGBT rights in the conservative party that had controlled Malta’s government since the late 1990s is a recent development, and came only after its 2013 defeat to the Partit Laburista (Labor Party) who had made LGBT rights a major platform item.

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Alex Mangion

Though the Nationalist Party had abstained from a successful vote on civil unions in 2014, Mangion said that presently “having a transgender person in the party made people realize it’s not conservative.” And by 2015, the Nationalist Party had joined the Labor Party in passing a groundbreaking transgender rights law. (It is worth noting that, under that very law, Mangion became “the first person in this tiny nation to be able to update the gender on his official documents without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment.”)

The Independent noted that this shift in a political party is “a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta,” a traditional Catholic country which outlawed divorce as late as 2011. But where LGBT people once hid, rejected by church leaders and stigmatizing social norms, a married same-gender couple, Steve and Manuel Aquilina, now hosts and produces a leading cooking show. A colleague of theirs, Victor Anastasi, said:

“‘They’re accepted like everyone else. . .We’re a Catholic country. But eventually the church has to come to terms [with society changing].”

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Joseanne Peregin

Joseanne Peregin, the Catholic mother of a gay son, recalled a bishop once saying, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go, there is no place for you in the church.” But then in 2011, she said, the Catholic Church’s control over Maltese politics was undercut sharply when divorce was legalized through a popular referendum.

Now it must be acknowledged,, said Fr. Rene Camilleri, that Catholics in Malta “are not taking a package deal.” Camilleri, who is Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Malta and a lecturer at the University of Malta, has previously described church teaching on homosexuality as “nonsensical.” He also said Catholic ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.”

Today, other nations seek to learn from and even copy Malta’s LGBT laws. Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli said that “what we have done here is serving as a model to other countries, and, in a good way, because more people are leading better lives.” And The Independent continued:

“Kyle Knight, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that what’s particularly admirable about Malta’s LGBT rights laws is ‘not just the result as much as the process’ that led to their creation.

“Members of the LGBT community, other advocates and a local human rights group served on a council set up in 2013 to advise the government. Legislation was accompanied by directives that covered how LGBT people in prison should be treated and how schools should deal with bullying of transgender or gay students.

“When Knight was recently asked in Japan how schools should handle anti-LGBT bullying, ‘We copied and pasted these (Maltese) guidance documents and we said, “Look, this is how you do it,”‘ he recalled.”

While marriage equality is not legal yet in Malta, same-gender couples are recognized through civil unions, there are extensive non-discrimination protections, so-called “conversion therapy” is banned with harsh penalties in place, and a 2015 law on transgender and intersex persons is considered the gold standard in Europe.

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The island nation of Malta

How does a country where Roman Catholicism is named in the constitution as the state’s religion and where 95% of its citizens identify as Catholic become so progressive in a short time? Some observers might consider Malta a paradox, understanding LGBT equality and the Catholic Church to be opposites. Yet, there is a very plausible explanation for what has happened.

First, it is an oft-repeated but worth reiterating truism: Catholics support LGBT equality because of, not in spite of their faith. Key tenets like social justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination have informed the faithful’s engagement in civic matters, and this includes working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. It makes sense the citizens of Malta who practice, or even are simply informed by, Catholic faith would vote for equality.

Second, it has to be admitted that there are non-ecclesial matters influencing this shift. In Western contexts, homosexuality has been largely de-stigmatized and neighboring countries in Europe have been moving forward on LGBT rights. Some have credited Malta joining the European Union as an impetus for catching up to their neighbors, and now taking the lead. As in other Western contexts, Mass attendance and the moral authority of bishops have declined in recent years. Some people leave, or are pushed out of, the church, and there is a certain amount of secularizing that happens. These factors and more, as in other regions, contribute to the rapid pace of the shift.

2b5de-drachmabloglogoBut third, many Maltese remain practicing Catholics and this has made the biggest difference. A few weeks ago, I highlighted the positive outreach of the country’s bishops to LGBT communities . In fact, Malta’s leading gay rights group gave the bishops an award in 2014. Here are other important examples of positive Catholic moments on LGBT issues:

  • Drachma and Drachma Parents are both Catholic organizations engaging LGBT issues in the church, and they have made an impact. They helped consult on the civil unions law, pushing back against a bishop’s criticism, They hosted Sr. Jeannine Gramick in 2011 to educate about LGBT equality in the church. They also hosted theologians Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, and James Alison.) They were credited by Bishop Mario Grech as helping him to understand the need and urgency for new pastoral care of LGBT people;
  • A priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s rings was not punished by the bishop; indeed, Archbishop Charles Scicluna affirmed the priest’s outreach efforts to LGBT people;
  • After releasing a harsh position paper opposing the government’s efforts to ban “conversion therapy,” a paper in which homosexuality was compared to pedophilia, Archbishop Charles Scicluna listened to Catholics’ criticism and then apologizedsaying the church was “dead set” against such programs.

Though I have never experienced the Church of Malta firsthand, I sense a serious Christian community of mature and critically engaged Catholics. Lay Catholics, and clergy like Fr. Camilleri, have grappled with not only church teaching, but the realities of their context.And, quite notably, the country’s bishops have been willing to affirm LGBT people as beloved by God and to listen to their people. They have even been willing to acknowledge where the hierarchy had it wrong, and to apologize to those whom they have harmed.

In under a decade, Malta went from being socially conservative to a world leader on LGBT rights. Maltese Catholics are a shining example of what can happen when the faithful really listen to the Gospel and live their faith in public life. Let us hope more and more historically-Catholic regions follow this path, especially in areas like Latin America and Africa where the church is rapidly growing and yet LGBT rights remain limited.

If you would like to read reflections from members of Drachma Parents, you can find Louise Laferia’s reflection on the call of being a parent to an LGBT person here and Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on what makes a family holy here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Malta, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2017

 

Instructions on “Amoris Laetitia” from Malta’s Bishops Can Inform LGBT Issues, Too

Bishops in Malta have published a document on applying Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation on family released by Pope Francis last year. The bishops’ document reflects the pope’s call for more mercy and inclusion in the church, all of which is applicable to LGBT issues.

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Bishop Charles Scicluna

In the document,  “Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,” Maltese Bishops Charles Scicluna and Mario Grech primarily addressed the situation of Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried. Yet the principles they laid out are transferable to LGBT Catholics and their loved ones, too.

Released on the Feast of the Epiphany, the document compares Amoris Laetitia to the star which the Magi followed in their search for Jesus. Those “couples and families who find themselves in complex situations” often make this searching journey, too, but, the bishops say, these Catholics may be like the Magi “who took a different route back home after meeting Jesus.”

(Before proceeding, I acknowledge the limitations and troubling language of this document, similar to Amoris Laetitia’s own limitations. The bishops speak of people in “irregular situations,” and use the concepts of weakness against a heteronormative ideal for marriage. But these problems should not prohibit us from claiming what is good in these writings, and then building upon positive developments.)

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Bishop Mario Grech

Extensively citing the exhortation itself, the bishops identified guiding pastoral principles, foremost being that church ministers should not treat people with “complex family situations” different from other Catholics. Such ministry begins with dialogue in charity, leading to “a serious process of personal discernment about their situation.”

Just as divorced and remarried Catholics, many LGBT Catholics’  have experienced pastoral ministry in a discriminatory way, much different than their heterosexual counterparts. Sacraments have been denied to them and LGBT church workers have been fired, while heterosexual people in similar moral situations have not been held to the same standard. Listening as a starting point is always good, and listening to begin discernment rather than provide an answer is better.

Scicluna and Grech continued by addressing priests about their responsibilities to approach any discernment process with mercy and nuance:

“As priests, we have the duty to enlighten consciences by proclaiming Christ and the full ideal of the Gospel. At the same time, in the footsteps of Christ himself, we have the duty to exercise the ‘art of accompaniment’ and to become a source of trust, hope, and inclusion for those who request to see Jesus (see Jn 12, 21), especially for those persons who are most vulnerable. . .

“Our role is patiently to help them to form and enlighten their own conscience, in order that they themselves may be able to make an honest decision before God and act according to the greatest good possible (see AL 37).”

These words expand on Pope Francis’ insistence that the church is supposed to help form, not replace consciences, and it is to respect people’s  conscience decisions once made.

What church leaders need to recognize is that many LGBT Catholics and their families, and in reality many Catholics generally, have already undergone a journey of conscience formation and discernment. They have made an “honest decision before God,” but the church’s leaders and pastoral ministers often reject them because of their decision.

The document’s principle that I consider most relevant for LGBT Catholics is the bishops’ treatment of people who are not sacramentally married, specifically those Catholics who are cohabitating or who have had a civil marriage ceremony, but not a church one. Church ministers owe such people “merciful and helpful” pastoral care, though they would like the care to lead people “‘to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel’ (AL 294).” However, the bishops added:

“In pastoral discernment it is important to distinguish between one situation and another. In some cases, ‘the choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situations’ (AL 294) and, therefore, the degree of moral responsibility is not the same for all cases. . .

“Throughout the discernment process, we need to weigh the moral responsibility in particular situations, with due consideration to the conditioning restraints and attenuating circumstances.”

Again, the heteronormative ideal proposed by the bishops is not ideal. Yet, their willingness to be nuanced and compassionate when engaging these relationships is noteworthy. What would be even better is an admission that one of the contingent situations keeping same-gender couples from sacramental marriages is the hierarchy’s negative teachings on homosexuality.

Bishops Scicluna and Grech, and the people of the highly Catholic nation of Malta, have fairly good records on LGBT issues. Their words and actions have included the following:

  • Bishop Grech sought greater inclusion for LGBT people in the church during his address at the 2014 Extraordinary Assembly of Synod on the Family–an opinion he attributed to his own engagement with the Catholic parents of LGBT children;
  • Bishop Scicluna did not punish and even affirmed the LGBT outreach ministry of a priest who blessed a same-gender couples union in 2015.  Though he opposed civil unions, Scicluna said the church should apologize to LGBT people, and criticized a right-wing blogger for homophobic language. Just last year, Scicluna became one of the few bishops to condemn the harmful practice of “reparative therapy”;
  • Lay Catholics in Malta, specifically through the groups LGBT Christian groups, Drachma and Drachma Parents, have publicly affirmed LGBT people as gifts from God and worked for greater welcome;
  • Politically, Malta has banned conversion therapy, passed civil unions, and has implemented what many considered the gold standard in Europe for transgender and intersex protections.

Some might find this latest document from Bishops Scicluna and Grech to be without merit, and readers may think my assessment of it is too generous. But given the bishops’ own more positive records on LGBT issues, and the larger push for equality by Maltese Catholics, I think a generous interpretive lens which admits limitations is warranted.

Into the many disputes over Amoris Laetitia, Malta’s bishops have shown what church leaders can do with the space created by Pope Francis reclaiming forgotten parts of the Catholic tradition. In this new papal era, it is more a matter of episcopal will more than Vatican constraints that dictates how LGBT inclusion will grow and deepen.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: After Women’s Marches, Resolving to Give Up All Forms of Exclusion

computer_key_Quotation_MarksMillions worldwide marched yesterday for gender justice, affirming the dignity of women and the need for intersectional justice. But after marching, we now take the next steps towards attaining equal rights for people of all sexual and gender identities, as well as of all races, creeds, ethnic backgrounds, immigration statuses, income levels, and abilities. And a Twitter user, @JesusOfNaz316, has offered a fitting next step.  At the beginning of 2017, he tweeted:

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-7-41-45-pm“Still looking for New Years Resolution? Try this. Oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of exclusion.”

The coming days and months will be difficult times not only to advance LGBT equality but to preserve what equality has already been attained.  And we must similarly work for equality and freedom for all, making intersectionality a goal of our justice work. To focus our strategies, we can look to, spiritual leaders like Sr. Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus,” and we can try to find hope in these dark times. However we carry through on our promise, today is a great day to resolve (or re-commit) to opposing every form of exclusion harming God’s people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2017

Finding Rainbows of Hope in Dark Times

For U.S. LGBT advocates, and for so many others around the globe, the incoming U.S. President has turned the usually celebratory Inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. today into a time of mourning. In previous posts (here, here, and here), I have provided analyses of how LGBT Catholic issues may be affected by the political transition underway. Today, I offer a more personal reflection on sustaining hope and keeping focused on equality work for the long months ahead.

4a232b332546447c397e19d4da6044aeAlready, the impending harm to LGBT rights is becoming clearer. Many nominees for the presidential Cabinet are radically opposed to equal rights. Ben Carson, nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has questioned the settled science about homosexual orientation,  and he said LGBT people should not be afforded “extra rights.

Nearly all the opposition to equality comes from professed Christians, including some Catholics. Steve Bannon, senior counselor and chief strategist at the White House, was raised Catholic, and he once managed a white supremacist publication which published many viciously anti-gay stories. Catholic campaign advisors for the incoming President included: former Senator Rick Santorum, who in 2003 compared being gay to bestiality,  and who has long opposed LGBT equality issues; Joseph Cella, organizer of the right-wing National Catholic Prayer Breakfast where, last year, Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah said the push for transgender rights was “demonic.” It is clear, too, that the 2016 election has emboldened many national politicians and local officials who would curtail the rights of LGBT people and other vulnerable communities.

I am frightened by what this new presidential administration and its ripple effects will mean for people in this country, and I am frightened by what will happen globally when the U.S. government is no longer including LGBT equality as part of its work for human rights internationally. I am frightened, but I am hopeful. And I think hope must be our response if we are to find the resistance required of us now.

I began nurturing this hope while reading Pope Francis’ address to Vatican diplomats earlier this month. He did not speak directly to issues of gender and sexuality, but I find his words are readily applicable to our work:

“Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence. . .Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”

Pope Francis also enjoined religious and civil leaders to work together towards peace, saying that civil leaders are “charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society.” He continued by highlighting, in the light of faith, the many issues present in our world like the plight of refugees, the arms trade and nuclear weapons, and ecological devastation.

I wish Pope Francis would offer an explicit and firm condemnation of unjust situations where LGBT people are criminalized and threatened. We have to ensure Catholics do not use his troubling silence to justify support for anti-LGBT initiatives. We have to apply the pope’s broader message of mercy and justice to our struggle for LGBT equality.

Today, I find myself like the prophet Habbukuk, crying, “How long, O God, must I. . .cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene?” Have we labored and sacrificed for so many days and at such great cost only to see our achievements ripped away? Days like today can cause us to doubt whether our efforts are worth it, and even question our faith and firmest commitments.

To respond to this dark foeboding, we must find within ourselves the hope that comes from intimately knowing Jesus, the Incarnate Word who pitched a tent in our midst so that God could share in our human experience. We have a responsibility to stop those who, in Pope Francis’ words, use our religious traditions “as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.” We must ensure, in the United States and globally, that our Christian faith is never invoked by those who harm LGBT people.

I close with words from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a prophetic witness for both peace and LGBT justice, who said in his homily last week:

“When all of us really come to understand that this is our call [to love as fully and as far as we can], like that servant in Isaiah, we will be carrying the message of God’s love to the very ends of the earth. As we do this faithfully, then God’s will for our world will be fulfilled. We will transform our world into the reign of God where there will be peace and fullness of life for every person.

“During this Ordinary Time of the year, every Sunday now, we will be listening to ways of how to follow Jesus to bring his message, that important message of love into our life and into our world. If we’re faithful to our call, God’s reign will be breaking forth in our midst and we will be able to rid our world of the violence and the hatred that seems to be so much a part of it. I hope we hear this call and are faithful to it, and each week during this year listen deeply to God’s Word and try to follow that message of Jesus.”

While our liturgical readings may be for Ordinary Time, we begin today an extraordinary time which demands even greater faithfulness. May we find the hope we need today and every day to help the rainbows that signify God’s love break forth and pierce the darkening skies before us.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 20, 2017

 

With LGBT Rights Under Attack in 2017, Catholics Must Seek Justice with Renewed Vigor (Part II)

Today’s post is the second half of an analysis of how Catholic LGBT issues in the United States will play out in the new year, and with a new president taking office. Yesterday’s post, which you can read here, discussed emerging issues at the state and local level, contrasting the responses of two Catholic politicians in Virginia as an example.

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LGBT advocates rallying outside the U.S. Capitol

I turn now to the national landscape. Writing for Religion Dispatches, Sunnivie Brydum has identified areas at the federal government level where LGBT rights are likely to be threatened. In reading her article, we again ask: what can Catholics expect in the church and in society? And how can Catholics respond effectively?

First Amendment Defense Act

First, Brydum says the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) “is all but certain to become law.” This bill “exemplifies the ways in which the bedrock principle of religious freedom” has been weaponized to block the advance of LGBT equality.”

FADA is a federal version of the “right to discriminate” legislation which has appeared in state legislatures, allowing people and corporations to deny services to LGBT people if the person or corporation acts according to their religious beliefs. Brydum suggested that FADA’s passage in Congress will strengthen local efforts to enact “right to discriminate” laws.

Unfortunately, U.S. Catholic bishops have been leading figures in misusing religious liberty, particularly in regard to LGBT issues. Brydum noted that it was in a letter to Catholics that President-elect Trump said he would support FADA’s passage. These realities mean LGBT Catholics and their allies will have to challenge not only political but ecclesial forces in the coming year. We have to demand that church leaders adhere more closely to Catholic teaching which supports non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and the equality of persons rooted in human dignity.

Attacks on Healthcare Access

Brydum identified healthcare access as a second threatened area. She specifically identified the impact that proposed Secretary of Health and Services Tom Price will have. Price, a congressman from Georgia, has repeatedly voted against LGBT rights and “defended false equivalencies between pedophilia and homosexuality as nothing more than harmless ‘Christian beliefs regarding proper sexual ethics.'” Brydum continued:

“Crucially, Price also denounced the Obama administration’s landmark support for transgender students as an ‘absurd’ and ‘clear invasion of privacy.’. . .For the first time under the [Affordable Care Act], transgender Americans could not be denied gender-affirming health care simply because they were transgender.”

For sexual and gender minorities, changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could eliminate vital programs which help many Americans, and particularly vulnerable populations, to obtain healthcare. One study estimated that 36,000 people would die each year if the ACA is repealed. Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, is quoted by Brydum saying, “If confirmed, Tom Price would steer HHS in a dangerous direction that’s motivated by profit and the desire to control our bodies.”

Again, despite Catholic teaching affirming healthcare as a human right, it has been Catholic bishops and political operatives who have repeatedly tried to stop passage of and then undermine the ACA. Healthcare that is affordable and informed about gender and sexuality issues is not always accessible to LGBT people, but many steps were taken under President Barack Obama to address systemic problems. Catholics will have to challenge any movement to reverse these lifesaving measures, and again demand that church leaders shift their focus.

Curtailed Civil Rights

The third and final national area Brydum addressed are LGBT civil rights, and, specifically, the impact changes at the Department of Justice might have. Brydum wrote:

“President Trump’s Department of Justice may use the muscle that agency developed under Obama to suppress voting rights, privatize education, and strip away existing civil rights protections. That last provision is particularly important for LGBT Americans, who enjoyed an unprecedented growth in legal equality under President Obama.”

However, Brydum said, the approval of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General would mean “the fate of American civil rights law is effectively sealed” and the Department of Justice would become “a powerful foe.”

Catholics in the United States have repeatedly proven to be among the most LGBT- supportive religious believers, and Catholic politicians like Governor McAuliffe who have done much to advance LGBT rights in civil law. Civil rights is one area where it would be easy for church leaders to raise their voices; human rights are a settled matter in church teaching. The chilling silence of most U.S. bishops after 49 people were massacred at an LGBT club in Orlando cannot be repeated.

Looking Ahead in 2017

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The road ahead will be much harder than it was under the previous presidential administration.Wherever civil rights come under attack, Catholics must step forward. Catholic LGBT advocates must be in solidarity with Muslim Americans, communities of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, women, and other marginalized groups who may come under attack. It is helpful to keep in mind these words from the Catholic Committee on Appalachia:

“Catholics are called by God to oppose discrimination in all of its forms. No religious conviction justifies our treatment of anyone as a second-class citizen.  All are made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, religious freedom does not trump civil rights, as both are important and should be protected equally.”

Now, more than ever, we must cultivate deeper roots of faith in Jesus Christ in which to ground our witness for equality in the church and in the world.

For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 8, 2017

With LGBT Rights Under Attack in 2017, Catholics Must Seek Justice with Renewed Vigor (Part I)

In the last few years, LGBT rights have expanded rapidly in the United States. But 2017 will almost certainly have a different tenor as progress stalls and previously established rights come under attack.

In today’s and tomorrow’s posts, I explore the year ahead as it relates to Catholic LGBT issues. What can Catholics expect in the church and in society? And how can Catholics respond effectively? Today’s post focuses in on local politics, while tomorrow looks at the national landscape.

Contrasting Catholic Politicians in Virginia

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Governor Terry McAuliffe at the signing of Executive Order 61

An example of the contrasting responses which Catholics offer to LGBT people comes from Virginia. The state’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, who is Catholic, signed an executive order last week which prohibits employers contracted by state government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Executive Order 61 establishes stipulations in contracts over $10,000 that prohibit “discrimination by the contractor, in its employment practices, subcontracting practices, and delivery of goods or services. . .”, and the order bans state employees from discriminating during the contracting process. McAuliffe commented in a statement:

“‘As my first act as governor, I signed Executive Order 1 to ban discrimination in the state workforce based on sexual orientation, take divisive social issue battles off the table and help build an open and welcoming economy.'”

But battles over LGBT rights have not stopped in Virginia. Indeed, just as McAuliffe signed his executive order, a fellow Catholic in the state legislature sought to curtail LGBT rights.

Delegate Robert Marshall introduced a bill that would “force transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate,” according to the Times-Dispatch. It would also “require school principals to notify a student’s parents if the student makes any attempt to be ‘treated as the opposite sex.'”

The proposed legislation is similar to North Carolina’s HB 2 law and other state-level restrictions targeting LGBT people.  Marshall’s proposal is not likely to pass, and Governor McAuliffe has promised to veto it if the General Assembly somehow approves the bill.

Increased Local Efforts to Stop LGBT Rights

LGBT advocates can expect many state-level political battles similar to what is playing out in Virginia, according to Sunnivie Brydum of Religion Dispatcheswho wrote:

“Even before Trump’s unlikely electoral victory, each new legislative session brought a cornucopia of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures around the country. . .municipal involvement is going to be our best bet to resist Trump’s agenda. While it may seem counter-intuitive to focus a national resistance on regional or state offices, the truth is that local elections matter, and local politicians are often easier to access than high-ranking administration officials.”

Catholics in the United States now have a decision to make in the coming year. Will we act like Governor McAuliffe to ensure every LGBT person attains their human rights to the fullest extent possible? Will we act like Delegate Marshall by abandoning church teaching in the service of anti-LGBT ideology? Will we remain indifferent?

Thankfully, Catholics have previously proven to be willing and effective local advocates for LGBT rights. States with high numbers of Catholics were the first to pass marriage equality laws, and Catholics have successfully organized in recent elections to pass pro-LGBT referenda while stopping many anti-equality proposals. These local Catholic networks will have to re-organize themselves in offering a witness against attempts to roll back hard won rights. Beginning with town ordinances and state laws, Catholics must begin anew the hard work of achieving LGBT justice.

Tomorrow’s post will look at Catholic LGBT issues as they may play out on the national level, and offer some overall analysis about what may happen in 2017.

For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 7, 2017

Malawi Bishops Lead March Against LGBT Rights

Catholic bishops in Malawi joined other religious leaders last month in a protest march against LGBT rights, an issue on which the nation’s Catholic officials have already opined quite negatively.

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Marchers in Malawi

The Citizens’ March for Life and Family was actually a series of smaller marches throughout the country, reported The Tablet. In addition to protesting homosexuality, these marches, which involved some 60 denominations and more than 50 Christian organizations, also included protests against expanded abortion rights.

Organizers said the Citizens’ March for Life and Family urged Malawians to oppose legalizing homosexuality, an act they referred to as “a direct attack” on family life. Catholics played a leading role in the March, which was sponsored in part by the (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and chaired by Martin Chiphwanya, the National Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice, reported Nyasa Times.

Catholic church leaders were also active locally. According to MalayMail OnlineFr. Francis Tambala told marchers in the major city of Blantyre, “We say no to gay and lesbian unions. (Lawmakers) must vote no to homosexuality as history will judge us harshly if we don’t stand against abortion and same-sex marriages.”

LGBT advocates have pushed back against the church-backed protests, questioning why religious leaders were focused on condemning LGBT people when real issues needed attention. Gift Trapence, an advocate who leads the Centre for Development of People, said such protests shifted the focus of “suffering Malawians away from real issues of power blackouts, crumbled economy and corruption.”

It is also noteworthy, too, that following the protests in December, a senior member of the Malawi Law Commission chided religious leaders behind the March, reported the Maravi Post. Mike Chinoko, the deputy chief law reform officer for the Commission, said, “What the men or women of God should know is that there is a big difference between the church and the state.”

Actions by Catholic officials come about nine months after Malawi’s bishops called for the government to begin enforcing the nation’s ban on homosexuality. In its pastoral letter for the Year of Mercy, “Mercy of God as a Path to Hope,” the ECM called for the government to begin enforcing the nation’s law against homosexuality and stop bowing down “to pressure from donor community, international bodies and local human rights campaigners.”

The bishops’ lengthy support for LGBT criminalization is well-documented and has been strongly condemned by LGBT advocates. Last year, Malawi’s bishops also made false claims about alleged foreign aid pressure during U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People Randy Berry’s visit to their nation.  Berry categorically refuted their claims. Individual bishops from this African country have made other troubling remarks about homosexuality, too.

Malawi’s bishops have significant influence in the country, despite Catholics composing just 20% of the population. Catholic leaders played a key role in the country’s 1992 transition to democracy and have been described by some as the conscience of their nation. In a nation where LGBT people remain illegal and marginalized, the bishops should be using their moral authority to foster greater respect and equality for all persons.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 4, 2017