North Carolina Bishop Distances Himself from HB2 Support

Bishop Michael Burbidge

A North Carolina bishop has distanced himself from initial support offered by the state’s Catholic conference for an anti-LGBT law the legislature is considering. The bishop is now saying the law, which criminalizes public restroom use according to one’s gender identity rather than assigned sex at birth and bans local LGBT non-discrimination protections, raises concerns that should be remedied.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh said legislators should rework problematic parts of the law, known as HB2, and he called for mutual respect and dialogue between opposing sides. Burbidge said “another remedy to the unfortunate situation created by the Charlotte Ordinance and HB2 should be considered.” The Charlotte Ordinance is an LGBT non-discrimination law passed in the state’s largest city.

The bishop suggested that a remedy should be guided by a respect for human dignity, the avoidance of bigotry, and a pursuit of the common good, among other factors. He told WRAL 5 that legislators could “come up with something better” that is not understood to be bigoted or misconstrued. His statement at a media luncheon continued:

“No person should feel as though they are unwelcome in our communities of faith. The priests of this Diocese, myself included, remain committed to speaking with anyone who has concerns about how we operate or what we believe. This applies regardless of one’s gender or gender identity. Building strong relationships is fundamental to healthy faith communities. All people are made in the image and likeness of God as man and woman, and we stand ready to continue accompanying all people in their faith walk.”

Burbidge, however, defended the diocese’s policies for “gender specific multi-stall bathrooms and said organizations’ decisions about their own operations “should be respected.” He closed with an appeal for civility in what has become a most contentious debate:

“My hope and call, is that before this issue takes another step in either direction, both sides will treat one another with decency, love, and mutual respect.”

These are Burbidge’s first public comments on HB2 since it was passed in April, although it should not be considered his first time weighing in on the matter. Catholic Voice North Carolina, the bishops’ public policy arm, asked Catholics to oppose the Charlotte LGBT protections ordinance to which HB2 was responding, and said the state law had “yielded a favorable outcome for religious liberty.” Later, a spokesperson for the Raleigh diocese then said that “the Diocese does not have a position on HB2.”

Attacks continue against HB2. The U.S. Department of Justice notified Governor Pat McCrory that this law violates federal civil rights laws, specifically the rights of state workers and students who should be able to access public restrooms. The federal Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development are inquiring as to whether their civil rights policies are being violated too. Whether Bishop Burbidge’s distancing is tied to the shifting realities in law and in public opinion, or whether he is waking up the fact this law is unjust discrimination is not clear.

Thankfully, as with marriage equality, U.S. Catholics are among the most supportive religious adherents for non-discrimination of LGBT people. New polling from Reuters/Ipsos showed U.S. Catholics evenly split on the question of whether restroom use should be according to one’s gender identity or assigned sex at birth. While more education is needed to improve these numbers, Catholics are more supportive of transgender protections than religious people overall and mirror trends which find people in the U.S. overall split on the issue.

One high-profile Catholic from the Carolinas is speaking out for LGBT equality. Stephen Colbert who hosts CBS’ The Late Show shared his thoughts about the restroom controversies, saying, “And to all those lawmakers out there who are so obsessed with whose using what bathroom and what plumbing they’ve got downtown, newsflash, you’re the weirdos.” You can watch Colbert’s thoughts below or by clicking here.

Ellen K. Boegel, a legal scholar at St. John’s University, wrote in America that these anti-LGBT laws really reflect “a deeper societal divide and [illustrate] the need for reasoned use of political power.” She continued:

“Regardless, politicians and advocacy groups serve their constituents best by avoiding unnecessary controversy and looking instead for mutually beneficial solutions. . .Focusing on outcomes that are universally beneficial will not end all disputes regarding the appropriate balance between civil rights and religious rights, but it would be better government.”

Passing laws which are blatantly unconstitutional undermines government credibility and faith in the democratic process, Boegel wrote, especially when religious liberty is already well-protected. She pointed out, too, that non-gender-specific facilities benefit women, families, and persons with disabilities, in addition to trans* people.

Most bishops, led by the USCCB’s partisan fight over religious liberty, have thus far refused to admit the harm that anti-LGBT state laws can cause.  They do not see that these laws as violating the common good. Protecting LGBT people from very real and harmful discrimination is not on the bishops’ agenda. They seem to forget the many times in the 1970s and 1980s when their episcopal predecessors supported ordinances and laws aimed at curtailing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

But this admission from Bishop Burbidge that HB2 is questionable and may indeed advance discrimination could be the first sign of a shift. His outreach to dialogue with people of all gender identities may open the door for further progress. Let us hope so.  In the meantime, lets keep focused on what we as Catholics can do to ensure every person is protected under the law and respected as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “North Carolina bishop calls for bathroom bill alternative”


In North Carolina, Lay Catholics Take the Lead to Support Marriage Equality

Voters in North Carolina go to the polls today to vote on a constitutional amendment which would ban marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in that state.  While the Catholic bishops of the state have campaigned hard for passage of the amendment, at least one Catholic parish in Charlotte, NC, has promoted having an open mind about the matter.  And scores of Catholic lay leaders are working for the amendment’s defeat.

St. Peter’s Church, Charlotte’s oldest parish, hosted a forum on the amendment this past month where both sides of the issue were presented. (St. Peter’s has long been listed on New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly parish directory.) According to a news story in The Charlotte Observer:

“The event made some diocesan leaders uncomfortable. Bishop Peter Jugis, the spiritual head of some 500,000 Catholics, has been an outspoken leader in the campaign for the amendment’s passage.

“While members of St. Peter’s say they tried to avoid controversy with their leaders, they don’t apologize for what they did.

“ ‘Faith … it’s a struggle and a journey,’ said parishioner Robert Singagliese, who helped organize the event. ‘Open conversation and discussion, no matter where it leads, can only enhance that.’ “

Though the parishioners alerted the diocesan office about the two-sided discussion, and even arranged for the diocesan spokesperson, David Hains, to be a participant, Hains dropped out of the event three weeks before it occurred.  According to the Observer story:

“In an email to Singagliese, Hains said he had thought he was to be the night’s only speaker, as was the case during all his visits to other parishes. A panel discussion, he said, would challenge the authority of church teachings.

“Asked about his decision this week, Hains said he had discussed it beforehand with Jugis.

“ ‘I felt, and the bishop agreed, that church teachings do not belong in that kind of context,’  he said. ‘So I withdrew.’ ”

Interestingly, parishioners remain divided on the issue of the amendment:

“Panelist and parishioner Jerry Schmitt said he believed in fairness for all but that his Catholic beliefs would lead him to vote yes Tuesday.

“Jeremy Needham said his same beliefs would lead him to vote no.

“Needham, a longtime lay leader at St. Peter’s, is gay. He and his partner, Rick Hudson, often help Earl on the altar during mass.

“They have two adopted sons, Luke and Rudy. Both were baptized at St. Peter’s.

“The couple says they had cut back on their activism in recent years to focus on being parents.

“ ‘But then this amendment came up,’ Needham said. ‘And now we want our children to see us as vocal and standing the ground on something we truly believe in.’

“During the forum, Needham was among the last to speak.

“ ‘Gay people don’t choose to be gay, but we choose to live honestly,’ he said. ‘We are created in the image of God just like you. God did not make a mistake when he created me.’ ”

An article in The National Catholic Reporter on the amendment examines how other lay people, particularly parents,  in the state are working to defeat the amendment which the state’s bishops support.   Stan Kimer, a former Catholic who is president of the North Carolina Council of Churches has been leading the religious campaign to defeat the amendment, and that he is supported in that effort by his Catholic mother:

“His mother, Fran Kimer, has been a member of Raleigh’s St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church since 1970.

“Fran Kimer says she supports the church’s view on marriage, but for her, freedom trumps theology. ‘The way I feel, a marriage should be between a man and a woman, and they have children, but I respect the lesbians and the gays, and I feel that they should be given every single opportunity and every advantage that I myself have,’ she said.

” ‘I was brought up to be very broad-minded and accepting of everybody; it’s my background,’ she said. ‘I believe as long as you’re a good person, which my son is — he’s an excellent son — as long as you’re a good person — you obey the laws, you don’t steal, rob, kill — to me, you should be accepted. Most of my friends are very accepting of lesbians and gays. A few them, I just don’t understand how they feel. To me, they are not good Christians. They say they are, but they’re not.’ “

Mrs. Kimer’s position in the article is supported by another vocal Catholic North Carolinian parent:

“Gail Phares of Raleigh is a former Maryknoll missionary and cofounder of Witness for Peace. Her daughter is gay.

” ‘As a Roman Catholic with a beautiful daughter who is gay, I am deeply saddened to read about some of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ stand against gay people and gay marriage,’ she said. ‘I believe that God loves us all more than we can imagine — everyone. I believe that God loves people who are born gay just as God loves everyone else. Why would any church leaders take a stand against some of God’s beautiful and gifted people? The Gospel is very clear — love one another.’ “

Enough said.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: February 24, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) Sister Maureen Fiedler, who blogs for the National Catholic Reporter, comments on the passage of the Maryland marriage equality bill by suggesting that “Catholic bishops should read the writing on the wall for same-sex marriage.”

2) In a essay, Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, observes that “Same-Sex Marriage IS Dangerous — to Church Workers .”  She is commenting on the recent firing of a Catholic parish’s music director, which Bondings 2.0 reported on here.

3) North Carolina’s two Catholic bishops are among the supporters of a proposed state constitutional amendment to define marriage heterosexually, according to “Both sides gear up in N.C. gay marriage fight,” which appeared on The Washington Post website.

4) Maryland’s Martin O’Malley and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, two Catholic governors who have opposing views about marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, will square off on TV’s “Face the Nation,” Sunday, February 26, 2012, on CBS.  While the topic for their segment is the 2012 presidential race, since both governors have been so visible about marriage equality, it will likely come up as a topic of discussion.  For more details, check out The Washington Post’s article  “O’Malley, adversary Chris Christie booked on ‘Face the Nation.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry