A Catholic vice presidential candidate in Taiwan’s upcoming elections this week offered a general endorsement of LGBT rights, though hesitated on the question of marriage equality. Below are three recent instances where Catholic politicians have advanced equality.
Taiwanese Candidate Expresses LGBT Support
Philip Chen Chien-jen is the Democratic Progressive Party’s vice presidential nominee in Taiwan’s general elections scheduled for January 16. Chen, who is Catholic and holds knighthoods in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Order of St. Gregory the Great, was asked about marriage equality at a press event. According to UCA News, he replied:
” ‘God loves everyone and so he also loves gay people. . .Therefore, I also believe that gays have the right to pursue happiness and we should respect that right. . .But since same-sex marriage involves a change in society’s system, it needs more in-depth discussion before a decision is made.’ “
Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, alongside whom Chen is running, favors marriage equality which is widely supported by the public. They are favored to win and, if they do, Chen will likely be involved in efforts to equalize marriage rights.
Chen considers his candidacy a calling from God and consulted with Taipei’s Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan before announcing. The archbishop said Chen’s participation “would be a model for the 270,000 Catholics in Taiwan,” commenting to UCA News that Vatican II called Catholics into political participation. It is worth noting, too, that Chen’s candidacy is seen as a possible step toward better developments in Vatican-China relations. Unlike Catholic politicians elsewhere, whose relationship with the hierarchy is strained due to their LGBT support, Chen’s seems positive.
Governor-Elect Promises Non-discrimination Order
Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is Catholic, has promised LGBT employment non-discrimination protections, reported The Times-Picayune. Edwards will announce an executive order barring firing, discrimination, and harrassment against LGBT state employees and contractors when he takes office. Though limited in scope, it would be the first statewide non-discrimination protections in Louisiana.
Edwards is replacing short-lived presidential candidate and fellow Catholic, Governor Bobby Jindal, whose record is quite negative on LGBT issues.
Marriage Equality Plaintiff Elected Mayor
Patrick Wojahn was elected the first openly gay mayor of College Park, Maryland, reported The Diamondback.
Wojahn and his husband, Dave Kolesar, were plaintiffs in a lawsuit which was an important step in the struggle for marriage equality in the state. He continued to have a leadership role in the marriage equality movement when it passed on to legislative and referendum debates.
The couple were married in a non-legal religious ceremony at Dignity/Washington, an LGBT Catholic group, where they are members, and then later in a civil ceremony after marriage equality passed in the state in 2012.
In eight years on the City Council, Wojahn also helped pass nondiscrimination protections based on religious, gender, and sexual identities among other categories.
In increasing numbers, Catholic politicians are supporting full legal equality for LGBT constituents. This blog frequently features the good works towards LGBT inclusion being done by Catholics in the church, but Catholics’ work inspired by their faith in civil society should not be forgotten.
Catholics were among those who spoke out in favor of a Maryland Senate bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit throughout the state. The bill, designated as SB212 and named the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act,” is more commonly referred to as the “transgender anti-discrimination bill.” In addition to Catholic lawmakers, Catholic advocates from the National Coalition of American Nuns and New Ways Ministry were also at the Annapolis hearing to support the bill.
According to The Washington Blade, the bill was introduced by State Senator Rich Madaleno. Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who successfully campaigned to pass marriage equality in the state in 2012, submitted written testimony to support the bill. Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a gubernatorial candidate, was present to testify for the bill. The Blade reported:
“Heather Mizeur pointed out during her testimony that the Baltimore County Council passed a trans rights bill after two teenagers attacked Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s in 2011.
“ ‘This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,’ said Mizeur. ‘Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.’ ”
Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, also a Catholic, submitted written testimony in favor of the proposed law.
The Bladealso noted the presence of representatives of two national Catholic organizations:
“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns, also testified in support of SB 212.
“ ‘We need to incorporate the vulnerable members of our society into our laws and our customs,’ said Gramick.
The complete texts of DeBernardo’s and Gramick’s testimony can be read below.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, representing the bishops of the state, did not send a representative to testify, but submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill. The Blade quoted from their testimony:
“ ‘The church firmly opposes undue harassment or discrimination against any person,’ said the group. ‘That principle does not, however, warrant creating a new class of protected individuals in the state’s anti-discrimination statute, especially when the extension of the law would presumably apply to only a small number of individuals.’ ”
TESTIMONY OF FRANCIS DeBERNARDO,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW WAYS MINISTRY
FEBRUARY 4, 2014
Good afternoon. My name is Francis DeBernardo, and I serve as Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry that attempts to build bridges of justice and reconciliation between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the Catholic Church. Our offices are in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and we represent the majority of Catholics in the U.S. who support equality for transgender people. Therefore, I am here today to support the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, SB212.
It is important to recognize that Catholics support equality for transgender people because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it. Our Catholic faith compels us to promote the human dignity of all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Our faith tells us that we must support transgender people not only because of their inherent human dignity, but because they are a vulnerable population. They experience a shocking amount of discrimination, and violence. This bill would send a powerful message that we in this state do not support such discrimination and do not support the denial of basic human rights.
Sometimes the transgender experience is compared to the gay and lesbian experience, and there is good reason to do so. In Catholic thought, however, while there is much official teaching on gay and lesbian issues, there is none on transgender topics. So while you may be aware of criticsm of lesbian and gay issues coming from church officials, please remember that no such body of statements exists for transgender people. It is not the same issue.
While in past decades, the Vatican and the pope have issued harsh statements on issues dealing with sexual and gender minorities, Pope Francis has ushered in a new openness and dialogue in regard to sexual and gender minorities. His many public statements reveal that gender and sexuality should not be the defining characteristics of a human person, and that all people need to be respected.
Though he has said nothing explicitly on gender identity issues, we do have a precedent from Pope Francis that we must pay attention to. At the end of December 2013, a transgender woman in Rome was beaten and killed. Her family would not claim her body for burial. Yet Pope Francis’ Jesuit Catholic parish church in Rome did provide funeral services for this woman who was so terribly mistreated. This action speaks volumes about the Catholic support for non-discrimination coming from the highest level of the church.
Can the state of Maryland do any less? Can’t we build a community where transgender people will be respected and valued as equals so that they do not experience the terrible fate that this Roman woman did? Though Catholics support transgender equality from a faith perspective, it is a perspective which is rooted in an idea that is basic to the American way of life: that ALL people are created equal.
I urge you to vote for the Fairness for All Marylanders Act. Thank you.
TESTIMONY OF SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK
EXECUTIVE COORDINATOR, NATIONAL COALITION OF AMERICAN NUNS
FEBRUARY 4, 2014
I have been a Roman Catholic nun for more than 50 years. I reside in Prince Georges County. I taught in Baltimore in grade and high schools and at Notre Dame of Maryland University. I have worked for the poor and marginalized, and have served in a pastoral ministry of advocating for justice for LGBT persons for many decades. I serve as a National Coordinator for the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.
I speak here today as a person of faith and on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns, who support the human rights of all people.
My Church, the Catholic Church, has a large body of social justice teaching. It is based on the conviction that all persons, including transgender persons, are created by God with an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of one’s actions, appearance, or any circumstances in one’s life. Because we all share in a common humanity, all persons must be accorded equal respect and dignity.
Catholic social teaching does not single out transgender people, but it does emphasize commitment to the poor and marginalized. In his apostolic exhortation, The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis said that we must have “concern for the vulnerable” and those who are “increasingly isolated.” Pope Francis noted the need to create “new forms of cultural synthesis” (par. 209-216). That is, we need to incorporate these vulnerable individuals into the fabric of our social laws and customs.
All persons, including transgender persons, need to feel welcome in our social institutions. There is no room for discrimination in securing a job or a place to live, merely because of one’s gender identity. And there is no room for being harassed, or treated unfairly, in other public places, merely because of one’s gender identity. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. Catholics (93%, in fact) believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others.*
I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to ask the state of Maryland to support SB 212, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thank you.
A new Quinnipiac University poll finds American support for marriage equality growing, especially among Catholics, just as Supreme Court oral arguments around the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 are about to be heard in late March. A separate Canadian survey shows similar results for Catholics in that nation.
Quinnipiac’s survey results indicate that Catholic support is driving the expansion of marriage rights nationwide. 54% of Catholics polled are in support of marriage equality and only 38% in oppose, improved from a 49%-43% split in December 2012. Researcher Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said:
“‘Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage…Among all voters, there is almost no gender gap, but a big age gap. Voters 18 to 34 years old support same sex marriage 62 – 30 percent; voters 35 to 54 years old are divided 48 – 45 percent and voters over 55 are opposed 50 – 39 percent.’”
This gap among Catholics mirrors the emerging demographic trends around marriage equality reported on during an analysis of 2012 election exit polling recently released. Three states, Maryland, Washington, and Maine approved marriage equality ballot measures, while Minnesotans defeated a constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman during the 2012 elections. The Washington Post reports that exit polling showed:
“…resistance to same-sex marriage is shrinking and mainly concentrated among certain segments of the population: older people, white evangelical Christians and non-college-educated whites…
“‘Significant opposition to the freedom to marry is increasingly isolated within narrow demographic groups while a much broader and more diverse majority are ready to let same-sex couples marry,’ wrote Joel Benenson, who led President Obama’s polling operation in 2008 and 2012, and Jan van Lohuizen, who did the same job for former president George W. Bush…
“White evangelical Christians opposed same-sex marriage by nearly 3 to 1. But every non-evangelical group — other white Protestants, white Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, African American non-evangelicals and Jewish voters — expressed support for such unions by double-digit margins.”
Similar polling reveals that Canadian Catholics support marriage equality as well. The Vancouver Sun reports on a recent University of Lethbridge poll:
“What about homosexuality? The Vatican continues to teach that homosexuality is a sinful ‘disorder.’
“But Canadian Catholics are increasingly accepting. Half approve of ‘same-sex couples marrying.’ An additional one in four Catholics acknowledge they disapprove of homosexual relationships, but “accept” them anyway…
“What of Europe, that other bastion of so-called ‘Western’ values? The rights of women and gays and individual freedom remain paramount throughout most of Europe, including in Italy, Spain and France, where the strong majority continue to say they are Catholic.”
Most interesting in much of the polling for Westernized Catholics is the strong religious identity expressed by those who overwhelmingly support LGBT equality. Previous distinctions on marriage equality between those considered ‘culturally’ Catholic who do not routinely attend Mass and those who attend Mass weekly are disappearing. The Quinnipiac University polling of US Catholics reported 90% of those surveyed consider their Catholic faith either fairly important, or for 57% very important, in their lives.
What do you think? Do an increasing number of Catholics support marriage equality in full harmony with their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, because of a growing understanding that LGBT rights are matters of justice and dignity? Or is it shifting demographics in age and ethnicity of the Church that merely mirror societal trends towards LGBT equality? Perhaps both? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.
Yesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news. Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year. Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.
Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories. The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.
4 & 5. TIE Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39% Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%
7 & 8. TIE The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24% Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%
9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%
10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%
Editor’s Note: One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same. Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.” We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012. We regret that we didn’t include them for voting. Mea maxima culpa.
Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley hosted a buffet dinner reception at the governor’s mansion in Annapolis to celebrate the state’s recent marriage equality referendum victory and to thank those who worked on the ballot campaign.
Among the invitees were New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, and Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, pictured here with Governor O’Malley.
Also attending was Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who was outspoken in his support for marriage equality in the state, despite criticism from some fans and other football players. Below, DeBernardo poses with Ayanbadejo at the reception.
Maryland was one of three states this fall to pass marriage equality at the polls. Washington State and Maine also were successful in their quests for equality. Both Maryland and Washington State have Catholic governors who signed the marriage equality legislation. When Maine’s legislature passed marriage equality in 2008, a Catholic governor signed the bill into law.
I always find it both a little curious when people of opposing political positions end up adopting the same strategy to respond to a situation.
A case in point: Before marriage equality became the law of the land in my home state of Maryland, a group of interfaith clergy got together to sign a pledge that they would no longer sign marriage licenses for heterosexual couples until they could also do so for lesbian and gay couples. They would continue to perform the religious ceremony for these pairs, but they would not act as agents of the state until they saw marriage equality for lesbian and gay duos, too.
Recently, George Weigel, a conservative Catholic writer, has proposed a similar strategy for Catholic clergy, but for a different purpose. In an article in First Things, Weigel, alarmed at the recent electoral successes for marriage equality and the growing social acceptance of this phenomenon, suggests:
“. . .it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.
“If the Church were to take this dramatic step now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by ‘marriage’ and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by ‘marriage’ is wrong. If, however, the Church is forced to take this step after “gay marriage” is the law of the land, Catholics will be pilloried as bad losers who’ve picked up their marbles and fled the game—and any witness-value to the Church’s withdrawal from the civil marriage business will be lost. Many thoughtful young priests are discussing this dramatic option among themselves; it’s time for the rest of the Church to join the conversation.”
Interesting. Progressives and conservatives end up with the same strategy, but for different reasons.
Joel Mathis, a writer at PhillyPost.com, points out that Weigel’s application of this strategy doesn’t solve any problem. If Catholic priests were being forced to marry lesbian and gay couples, then a boycott may be an appropriate response, but such is definitely NOT the case:
“This might make sense if the legalization of gay marriage would force the Catholic Church to act against its collective conscience—that is, if the law suddenly required priests to give their blessings to gay and lesbian unions. But we’ve got a First Amendment freedom of religion in this country, and there’s zero chance the any anti-gay-marriage church will ever be required to perform such ceremonies. What’s going on here is that the Church—or, at least the portion of it that listens to Weigel—can’t abide the rest of us having gay marriage, whether we’re Catholic or not.
“Which is kind of irritating.”
Mathis goes on to point out that Weigel’s strategy is bad for both the church and for the rest of society. It’s bad for the church because some couples may decide that they might need civil marriage more than sacramental marriage, and simply forego the latter, thus hastening further decline in church participation.
It’s bad for society, Mathis says, because
“. . .society has long benefitted from the church’s wider participation in our civic life, from its hospitals to adoptions service to services for the poor. There’s been a growing inclination in recent years for the church to take its ball and go home—to stop providing services unless everybody involved is playing by Catholic rules. I’m not sure who benefits if the Church decides that, instead of undergirding and strengthening society, it exists in opposition to it. Probably nobody. But it’s possible we’re about to find out.”
He concludes by noting what I consider the essential problem of so many of the religious liberty arguments made by conservatives:
“The Catholic Church shouldn’t act against its conscience. But Weigel’s proposal of a civil marriage boycott suggests a rather more expansive vision of the boundaries of the Church’s conscience than is perhaps warranted. The Catholic Church is losing the fight over gay marriage in America; the question now is whether it will decide to lose in a manner that causes a great deal of harm.”
What I find most interesting is that even though the Maryland clergy mentioned above and Weigel may have landed on the same strategy, in the hands of the former, it appears as a civil disobedience protest, but in the hands of the latter, it looks more like biting ones’ nose to spite one’s face. Worse yet, it is indicative of a destructive trend among some traditionalist Catholic leaders to build walls and fortresses around Catholic culture to “protect” it from the world, rather than building bridges to the world to help both the church and the greater society to grow and develop.
Church financing to oppose marriage equality is in the news once again as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) updated its report on Catholic funding to reveal that Catholic institutions provided $2 million this year to try to forestall marriage for lesbian and gay couples in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.
An earlier version of this report was released before the election. The full, updated report is available on the HRC website.
In a statement announcing the report update, HRC noted:
“The historic results of last week’s elections only highlight the growing disconnect between the fair-minded Romany Catholic laity and the anti-LGBT Church hierarchy. A 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that nearly 60 percent of Catholics support marriage equality. In fact, polling indicates marriage equality is one of the least important issues Catholics are currently concerned with. That same poll, from Belden Russonello, found that 83 percent of Catholics feel their bishops should not influence their vote.”
The report breaks down the funding by state. It complements a report by Equally Blessed released before the election which details funding to oppose marriage equality by the Knights of Columbus.
Chad Griffin, HRC President commented on the report:
“The American people went to the polls and affirmed one of the core values of the Roman Catholic Church: the belief that all humans are worthy of dignity, respect, and love. The Church and NOM [National Organization for Marriage] can continue pouring money into discriminating against LGBT people, but the writing is on the wall for their anti-equality agenda. The Roman Catholic hierarchy should be focusing on taking actions that actually improve people’s lives, not spending precious resources on spreading malicious lies aimed at tearing down an entire community of people.”
(As an aside, in a HuffingtonPost blog entry, Griffin cited one of ten reasons that marriage equality was so successful this election cycle was because “Faith coalitions were on our side:”
“In 2008, our opponents talked like they had a monopoly on faith. This year, the prominent voices of pro-equality faith leaders like Reverend Delman Coates and organizations like Catholics for Marriage Equality made a huge difference.”)
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, where the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis spent $650,000 in a campaign to support a state constitutional ban against marriage equality, a group of concerned Catholics is calling for greater transparency and accountability.
Minnesota Public Radioreported on a meeting of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, where one leader, Martha Turner, asked participants to share their concerns about archdiocesan spending so that the group can start a conversation with the archdiocese:
” ‘We would like to hear your stories,’ Turner said. ‘We want to hear from you, we want to hear your experiences and your concerns about how the money is used that you donate to your parishes and that some of which ends up in the archdiocese.’ “
As Catholics begin to ask for more transparency and accountability, church leaders are going to find that they will have to be honest or that Catholics will vote with their pocketbooks by refusing donations. What would be interesting to know is how much Catholic money was raised FOR marriage equality efforts. As the number of Catholics who support marriage equality continues to grow, the total of their individual donations to marriage equality campaigns will is sure to grow.