QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

Seattle’s Gay Mayor Ed Murray and His Catholic Journey

Back in 2012, when the marriage equality debate was in full swing in Washington State, one of the leading voices in the push for equality was Ed Murray, a gay Catholic state senator.   Murray, the chief senate sponsor of the marriage legislation, was tireless in his campaigning, and often spoke of his faith as one of the reasons he was working for LGBT equality.

Murray, now the mayor of Seattle, was recently profiled by Seattle Weeklyand, interestingly, the focus was not on the fact that he was a gay mayor, but a Catholic one.  As the magazine article points out, Seattle is tied “with San Francisco and Portland for the least religious city in the country.”  Only 13% of residents identify as Catholic, while 37% identify as religiously unaffiliated.

In Seattle during the 2012 marriage equality campaign, Mayor Ed Murray is flanked by New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

While Seattle has had Catholic mayors in the past, what makes Murray’s faith so unusual is that he speaks so openly about it:  he’s an “out and proud” Catholic.  And the magazine finds a particular detail about Murray’s depth of religious commitment very interesting:

“Indeed, Murray’s Catholic faith can seem a study in contradiction. Not only is he a practicing Catholic in a secular city, he is a gay man who has remained in a church that has been outright hostile toward homosexuality.”

So, the reporter set out to gauge “whether Murray was a ‘true’ Catholic—a question that has been raised elsewhere on account of his sexuality and stances on various public-policy issues.”  The answer to that question is the basis of the long, but interesting article which chronicles Murray’s faith development that has led to his “consideration of the priesthood, his decision to leave the Catholic Church, and, ultimately, his return to the fold and how it has helped guide his first term as mayor.”

While the article is well-worth reading for all Bondings 2.0 readers, those who are 55 years of age and older will certainly identify with Murray’s story.  He speaks poignantly of coming of age in the era of John F. Kennedy’s election as President and the transformation of the Catholic Church due to the Second Vatican Council.  Rev. Mike Ryan, the rector of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral who knew Murray as a teenager and who is still a close friend, remembers the adolescent who would become mayor:

” ‘He made an impression, which is unusual,’ says Ryan, who at that time was involved in youth outreach and meeting a large number of young people. ‘Normally you meet high-school kids, they’re not thinking about the big picture. Then here’s someone who cared about issues of justice, peace, world issues, that was not typical of his contemporaries. He took a Catholic point of view [on those issues], the Catholic social teaching, which is some ways is one of the best-kept Catholic secrets.’ “

Ed Murray and his husband Michael Shiosaki at their 2013 wedding.

The article also recounts Murray’s coming out as a gay man, and how Catholic pastoral ministers supported him in that process:

“After graduating from high school, Murray attended St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, exploring the priesthood. After a year there, he decided against it, and finished his college studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution. There he got to know Trappist monks who introduced him to monastic worship, and counseled him on, among other things, his homosexuality, which he began to acknowledge in college. Far from the pious recriminations one might expect, Murray says that in college he was encouraged by priests to embrace that part of himself, rather that feel shame about it. It was further evidence, for Murray, that the Catholic Church, especially in its social-justice form, was a home for him, rather than the prison many people considered it.”

In the 1990s, Murray was a state representative and working for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill.  The Seattle Archdiocese, under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, had originally supported the measure.  But in the 1990s, the new Archbishop Thomas Murphy opposed it, causing a crisis of faith for Murray, as he explains:

“After sticking with the Church for years, despite its poor record on many gay-rights issues, Murray says he couldn’t take it any more.

” ‘Most of my friends would die by the time I was 40 of AIDS, [and] we had a pope [John Paul II] who was pretty horrible on the issue of HIV/AIDS,’ Murray says. When the archdiocese reversed its stance on the anti-discrimination bill, “you had a Church that was opposing my civil rights.

” ‘I reached a point where it’s like, this does not work. This does not work for me.’ At 40 years old, he quit practicing Catholicism.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story:

“. . . [F]or Murray, life outside the church proved less tenable that his life within it. Strangely, what brought Murray back to the church was the work of a Protestant, Kathleen Norris. In 1997, during Murray’s second full term in office, the South Dakota author published The Cloister Walk, a memoir of her time spent at Benedictine monasteries. A bestseller, it reminded Murray of his time with the Trappist monks in Oregon. ‘I read it, and it really was like a glass wall shattered. Here was a Protestant woman from the Dakotas introducing my tradition back to me. … I didn’t feel spiritually whole until I came back to the church as a practicing Catholic. There’s no other explanation I can give for it: As a spiritual home and a spiritual experience, it’s where I belong.’ “

Though most of his contemporaries have left the Church because of gender issues, he remains. Faith still presents a challenge to him, and he sees that as a good thing:

“If you read the Gospel, it is not about being together with a bunch of people you feel good about. It’s about being places that are uncomfortable with you. So am I challenging myself more as a Christian if I sit in a congregation where everyone believes the same as I do, or am I being more of a Christian if I’m sitting in the congregation where the nun in the pew ahead of me goes down and testifies against marriage equality and sometimes I want to throw a missal at her head?”

In another interview, Murray acknowledged that, in terms of church, he is “kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop … I always have one foot in the door and one foot out the door. I never know if I’m going to stay or if I’m out.”  Yet the Pope Francis papacy seems to have given him hope.  The Seattle Weekly  story concludes:

“Murray says he was skeptical of Francis at first as well. But he was soon convinced that Francis was true to his hype—a fact underscored in 2015 when Francis released his encyclical on climate change as a social-justice issue. Shortly after publishing the teaching, Pope Francis invited 40 mayors from across the world to the Vatican to discuss ways to fight climate change. Among them was Murray, the man who had considered the priesthood, left the Church in a rage, and more recently been made to feel like such a pariah that he feared being denied Communion.

“Murray says he was unsure at first whether the Vatican had made a mistake. ‘When they sent the invitation, we had folks call the Vatican and say, “Are you sure you understand who I am, and that you’re inviting me?” ‘ Murray says. ‘They said, yes, they wanted me to come.’ “

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Murray in Seattle in the summer of 2012, when Sister Jeannine Gramick and I were in Washington State for Catholics for Marriage Equality events (see photo above).   He struck me then as someone whose faith identity was evident in the way he spoke and listened to people.  Reading about his journey of faith gave me a deeper appreciation for the many ways that LGBT Catholics and their allies are using their religious heritage to renew the world and the Church.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

Bondings 2.0  posts about Ed Murray:

February 2, 2012: “N.Y. Times Reports Incorrectly on Catholic Opposition to Marriage Equality

August 26, 2012:  “New Ways Ministry Supports Marriage Equality Efforts in Washington State

October 17, 2012: “Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics

October 31, 2012: “Prayerful Vigils and Reflections Highlight Lead Up to Election Day in Washington State

 

Bishops Take Note: Marriage Equality Linked to Decreased Youth Suicides

According to a new study, suicide attempts by youth have decreased where marriage equality is enacted. Such data should be a wake-up call for Catholic bishops rethink their strong opposition to equal civil marriage rights and LGBT rights more generally.

web1_suicide-stop2JAMA Pediatrics, a leading medical journal, published the study, “Difference-in-Difference Analysis of the Association Between Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts,” in its February 20, 2017 edition. PBS Newshour reported:

“The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

“But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.”

PBS noted that overall deaths by suicide for all populations have risen during the period surveyed by this study, 1999 to 2015. Led by Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers compared suicide rates between states that had and had not passed marriage equality. She told PBS:

“Raifman told the [PBS] NewsHour she was interested in studying same-sex marriage laws ‘as a marker of equal rights in general,’ adding that other laws that pertain to LGBT rights — such as employment and housing protections — still vary widely around the country.

“The study noted that the laws themselves reflected larger social trends toward support for the LGBT community, a possible factor in the fall in suicide attempts. But Raifman said that the decrease was especially concentrated around the time that same-sex marriage laws passed.”

What is left unexplained is why the decrease in suicide attempts is correlated to marriage equality. Raifman suggested it could be mental health improvements that come with being considered equal in society or seeing more representations in public life of married same-gender couples. PBS reported further:

“The feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviors,” said Dr. Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation who works to reduce youth suicide. Schwartz wasn’t involved in the study. . .

“‘[Stigma is] a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. . .It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.'”

Dr. Brian Mustanski of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, said the wider literature shows “positive health effects of social policies that affirm and protect the equality of the LGBT community, and those positive benefits extend beyond LGBT individuals to the general population.”

Will these findings affect the way U.S. church leaders relate to LGBT equality? They should. Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, have led the opposition against marriage equality and LGBT rights generally. But their opposition, as many pointed out, has the potential of causing harm to LGBT people, especially youth. Given the fact that 15 youths in the United States die by suicide each day and that LGB youth have an attempted suicide rate four times the average, this approach is no longer tolerable, if it ever was.

The U.S. bishops promote pro-life activities, but most often limit these to abortion. Many Catholics question bishops’ real commitment to social justice. But if the bishops are indeed pro-life, then why have they shown so little regard for the lives of LGBT people? If this latest research, which shows how much good legal equality can have on the lives of LGBT youth, does not move their hearts to end campaigns against LGBT rights, then their pro-life admonitions will ring empty.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported about the Vatican’s effort to gather input directly from youth and young adults for the 2018 Synod of Bishops. Pope Francis and the Curia seem to have the right approach to engage youth, who are much more strongly aware of the need for LGBT acceptance, inclusion and justice. The U.S. bishops need to change their approach to LGBT rights not just for the good of sexual and gender diverse people, but because doing so will save lives and help youth flourish.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2017

 

Discussion and Diversity Bring Unity, Not Schism

I read a commentary this past weekend about the Anglican Church and marriage equality, and one of the points made has me thinking about why the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been so negative on LGBT issues.

An essay by Alf McCreary in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph responded to the Church of England General Synod’s recent rejection of a bishops’ report re-affirming marriage is only between a man and a woman.  McCreary’s evaluation of the decision is:

“. . . [T]he Church is in a no-win situation. The latest developments in the Church of England , following a three-year process that had attempted to solve this most divisive issue, merely showed how difficult it is, if not impossible, to satisfy both sides.”

McCreary steps back a bit from the Anglican debate to look, somewhat wistfully it seems, at the Roman Catholic situation in regard to marriage equality:

“This [marriage equality] is one of the most difficult issues facing mainstream churches the world over. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church – it is still firmly against same-sex marriage and gay ordination, despite the fact that many of its clergy and laity are gay and lesbian.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude is the easier to live with. Its overwhelming opposition to LGBT issues stifles open debate, and it presents on the surface at least a united opposition to change.”

I admit that I chuckled a bit when I read these lines, thinking to myself, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  But then I wondered if maybe McCreary might be onto something.  Is the Roman Catholic hierarchy just afraid that if they open the discussion on this issue that major confusion will break out in the Church?

I have to admit that I often assume that the reason Catholic leaders won’t discuss LGBT issues is because they believe that they know all there is to know and that they are right in their position. McCreary’s essay has me wondering if perhaps another motivation might also exist:  they don’t want division in the Church, which is what is happening in many other Christian denominations, including the Anglicans, who have had the courage to open a discussion.

The synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 are examples where open discussion was finally allowed in the Church, and bishops spoke their minds.  The world did not end.

Granted, LGBT issues received short shrift at the synods, but other contentious issues like divorce/remarriage did get more comprehensive discussions.  And disagreement was enormous, but the Church, as an institution, stayed strong. No schism happened.  In fact, the unity of the Catholic Church probably was strengthened by the discussion.

If Roman Catholic bishops and Vatican leaders think that they will contain the debate on LGBT issues by not providing it an official forum, they are sadly mistaken.  The discussion is happening in all areas and levels of the Church.  It has been going on for decades, even under the previous two popes who actively tried to silence the debate.  Stifling or ignoring the discussion are the things that endanger the unity of the Church, not participating in free and robust discussion.

The universal Christian Church, born on Pentecost, was born amid a diversity of languages, not a single, authoritative one.  The power of the Catholic Church, which claims to a universal one which embraces all cultures and languages, is in its diversity, not its uniformity.

The Catholic discussion of LGBT issues is blossoming and growing. The Spirit will not be silenced. If bishops choose not to be a part of it, they will be the ones who are diminished by their absence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

New Book Examines “Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome”

A new book by a University of Virginia history professor makes the claim that same-gender marriages existed in the city of Rome during the Renaissance.

Gary Ferguson, the  Douglas Huntly Gordon Distinguished Professor of French at the Charlottesville school, recently published  Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome: Sexuality, Identity and Community in Early Modern Europe  (Cornell University Press, 2016) in which he displays evidence that, while not commonplace and not legal, the idea of marriages between two men or two women did exist in 16th century, just under the shadow of the Vatican.

In an essay for The Daily Beast, Ferguson begins by noting some literary evidence for the practice of same-gender marriages:

“In the late 16th century, the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote about two marriages between people of the same sex. The first involved women in eastern France, the second a group of men in Rome. At the time, same-sex marriages were not recognized by religious or civil law, and sodomy—a term that included a wide range of sexual acts—was a crime. As a result, when those involved were discovered they were usually brought to trial and punished, sometimes by death.”

Ferguson’s thesis is that even in the Renaissance, “marriage was a highly contested issue.”  He explains:

“Marriage between two men or two women might seem like a concept that has emerged only in recent decades. For centuries, however, same-sex couples have appropriated marriage in their own ways.”

Using one of Montaigne’s examples as a case study, Ferguson examines the French writer’s story by exploring  “several sources—diplomatic dispatches, newsletters, fragments of a trial transcript, and brief wills. . . ”   The result is a description of a planned marriage, thwarted by authorities:

“On a Sunday afternoon in July 1578, a sizable group of men gathered at Saint John at the Latin Gate, a beautiful but remote church on the outer edge of Rome. Many of them were friends who had met there on previous occasions. They were mostly poor immigrants from Spain and Portugal but included several priests and friars. They ate and drank in an atmosphere that was festive, yet strangely subdued. It turned suddenly to confusion and fear with the arrival of the police, who arrested 11 of those present. The rest fled.

“The Roman authorities had been tipped off about the group’s plans to celebrate a marriage, perhaps not for the first time, between two of its members. In the end, the wedding between Gasparo and Gioseffe hadn’t taken place: The latter—reportedly ill—failed to appear. But Gasparo was among those taken prisoner, and, following a trial that lasted three weeks, executed.”

Ferguson reveals that the marriage which was to have taken place would not have been a traditional one for many other reasons besides gender, including the fact that it may not have been intended as a sexually exclusive arrangement.  But the fact that such ritual practices is still significant, he claims:

“The evidence, then, points to a handful of motivations behind the Roman weddings. Since the friends took the ceremony seriously enough to put themselves at considerable risk, it very likely served to recognize and sanction Gasparo and Gioseffe’s relationship, claiming that such a union should be possible. At the same time, it may also have had a playful element, parodying and subtly criticizing elements of a traditional wedding.”

In fact, because of the greatly different historical situations,  Ferguson says that these unions are not identical to modern same-sex marriages:

“. . . [T]he context for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples today is very different from the 16th century, when most marriages weren’t based primarily on love and didn’t establish legal equality between the spouses.

“It was after the changes effected by the women’s rights movement in the second half of the 20th century to make the institution more equitable that gay and lesbian activists adopted marriage equality as their major goal.”

Yet, their historical significance must still be considered for another reason:

“. . . [T]he stories from the 16th century show that marriage has never been a universal and fixed phenomenon. It has a contested history, one that both excludes and includes same-sex couples, who have claimed marriage on their own terms.”

Ferguson’s case brings to mind John Boswell’s 1994 Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe which made the case that union ceremonies, equivalent to marriage, between two men or two women took place, often in religious settings, during the medieval era.  Some critics of Boswell claimed that the texts he had which described union ceremonies were not analogous to marriage, but represented other forms of friendship.  Boswell, unfortunately, died shortly after the book’s publication so he could not defend his thesis against such attacks.

I hope to get a chance to read Ferguson’s book in the coming months and provide a full review in a later post here at Bondings 2.0.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 17,  2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Church Workers Deserve Truth About Knights of Columbus Investments

By now, the Knights of Columbus’ anti-LGBT activities are well-documented, but still many Catholics continue to invest in the Knights’ insurance and investment plans. Nicole Sotelo of the National Catholic Reporter took a closer look at the Knights’ operation, specifically about the organization’s expanding relationship with church workers.

knights-of-columbus-300x206Sotelo, who has worked in the banking industry, noted that last year, the Knights launched a new subsidiary investment firm for Catholic institutions. Clients include religious orders and dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, who offer their employees access to the Knights’ funds totaling some $83 million.

The problem is that profits from these business ventures help fund the Knights’ political efforts, along with dues from members and traditional fundraising activiites.

On LGBT issues, Sotelo said the Knights have “played a significant political role in the movement against LGBT justice.” She continued:

“For example, the organization funded anti-LGBT speakers for bishops through the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Additionally, Knights officials have repeatedly backed anti-LGBT political causes to the tune of $6.25 million, from 2005-2012 alone. The majority of Catholics support LGBT justice and many church workers are themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Church workers need to know that if they invest in these mutual funds, a portion of their money could be used against the LGBT community.”

Sotelo also reported on the Knights’ activities funding right-wing activists like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has opposed contraceptive health coverage for church workers.

The takeaway for Sotelo is that church workers and others “may assume that by investing in Knights of Columbus mutual funds that the stocks are in line with Catholic values. That is not always the case.” She commented:

“No company is perfect and, by extension, no stock is perfect. That is why the U.S. bishops’ conference issued investment guidelines that encourage shareholder advocacy. This means that Catholic organizations holding stock should use the voting power that comes with it to encourage companies toward better business practices. . .However, no shareholder advocacy is listed on the Knights’ Asset Advisors website and the communications department did not respond to questions about it by the deadline.”

Sotelo concluded that while “there is much to admire about the Knights of Columbus,” their explicit claims to be a Catholic organization supporting the interest of church workers are not being lived out.

The Knights have been at the center of many LGBT-related controversies in recent years. Sotelo’s previous reporting in 2014 showed the Knights had funded anti-gay workshops hosted by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which has ties to reparative therapy advocates. The Knights were also quite active funding anti-marriage equality initiatives in 2012, something which Catholics petitioned them to stop.

But there have also been bright spots. In January 2015, a local council in Indiana reversed its decision denying a same-gender couple use of their hall for a wedding. And some Knights have either resigned from the organization in protest of the anti-LGBT work or publicly opposed the group, including a former vice president of their insurance division.

It is a loss to the church that Catholics cannot access financial services actually consistent with their values. The Knights of Columbus should stop funding right-wing anti-LGBT and anti-woman initiatives, and instead promote ethical investment of the profits which are used to fund charitable works.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 16, 2016

Taiwan’s Bishops Propose Compromise as Thousands Rally for Marriage Equality

As marriage equality legislation moves forward in Taiwan, the nation’s bishops have offered qualified support for same-gender couples to receive legal rights.

taiwan-pride
People live in Taiwan rallying at the nation’s Pride festivities earlier this fall

A bill to legalize marriage equality for same-gender couples had its first reading in the Legislative Yuan, the country’s legislature, this past November.

At that time, the secretary of the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, Otried Chan, released a statement opposing the bill, but not rejecting LGBT rights altogether. He said that marriage is exclusively heterosexual. But, the Taipei Times reported:

” ‘We understand that homosexual couples long to start families of their own, but those in government have a responsibility to protect marriage. Marriage is not something that can be lightly altered — there has to be a full discussion,’ Chan said, adding that there was room for discussion of ‘technical issues, such as hospital visitation rights and inheritance rights for same-sex couples, as part of societal dialogue.”

” ‘Our government should do its best to take care of this group of people who are striving for their own happiness — that is the duty of government. . .If the government decides to pass a law guaranteeing the right of two men or two women to establish mutual inheritance rights, that is something we can respect. There is nothing wrong with leaving property to a friend or allowing a non-relative to make medical decisions or dispose of one’s estate, but does that require changing the institution of marriage?’ “

Thousands of Taiwan’s citizens have rallied in recent weeks for equal marriage rights. On December 10, the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day, some 250,000 people participated in a march and concert. And counter-protestors were not necessarily opposing marriage equality, but advocating a referendum over legislative process, reported Out Magazine.

In a related November incident, an anti-gay email from administrators at Fu Jen Catholic University has stirred controversy. The university’s Chaplain’s Office sent the email against marriage equality, according to The China Post, which cites theologian Augustine Tsang as saying gay people should “correct themselves.”

A local politician shared the letter on Facebook, prompting criticism of the University. But the Post reports Fu Jen administrators have claimed the “Chaplain’s Office belongs to a Catholic system that is separate from the school.”

Polling has shown a majority of Taiwan’s citizens support LGBT rights, including Catholics. Frank Wang, a social work professor, wrote in the Taipei Times that divisions over same-gender marriage were heartbreaking for Catholics. He continued:

“‘I would say to my Catholic brothers and sisters: I used to feel the fear that you are feeling now. By embracing same-sex marriage, you will allow the next generation to learn how to love one another; it will not turn the next generation into a generation of homosexuals.

“‘The greatest pain suffered by homosexuals is that, living in a heterosexual world, we cannot see the hope that we should be entitled to feel as people. Please allow us to return to the love of God. Please learn from God’s example, turn nobody away, give others hope and give gay people love — and let them know that their love, too, is blessed by God.'”

The openness to LGBT rights from Taiwan’s bishops is a positive step, one which may help LGBT people feel God’s love more as Wang hoped. But as in other cases where Catholic leaders have suggested civil unions or some other form of legal recognition for same-gender couples that is less than marriage, the solution is not sufficient for full protection of couples and families.

The marriage bill will be considered this month when the Legislative Yuan meets again and, if passed, would make Taiwan the first Asian country to legalize same-gender marriages.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 14, 2016