Two recent items about immigration reform from prominent Catholics–one an archbishop and one a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter–merit some commentary.
San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone spoke out in favor of the immigration reform bill, which would allow immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally a path to a green card and citizenship. However, he also spoke out against an addition to that bill which would allow members of same-sex couples to legally sponsor their foreign partners for entrance into the U.S.
Speaking at a press conference at Mission Dolores this week, Cordileone’s statements seemed somewhat contradictory. According to KCBS-TV, he offered his support of the bill by stating:
“One concern for us is to keep families together, so it fits in very highly with our overall priorities.”
Yet, later, in discussing the provision for same-sex partners, he stated:
“We couldn’t support something like that. We’re willing to debate the issue, but it should be debated on its own merits, not as a part of another issue where we’re actually beginning to attain some national unity.”
The contradiction lies in the fact that the provision for same-sex partners indeed fits very well with the archbishop’s concern for keeping families together. The provision would keep all families together, not just those who have heterosexual partners in them.
Furthermore, Cordileone seems to want to extract the debate about legal recognition of same-gender partners from the social realities that such couples face. His comment that legal recognition of partners should be “debated on its own merits” misses the point entirely. It is precisely for access to social goods such as residency and citizenship that advocates for marriage equality work. The issues are not separate. They are intimately intertwined.
MissionLocal.org also covered the press conference, and they quoted a different, but similar statement from Cordileone:
“ ‘It’s an unrelated issue,’ he said of same-sex partnerships. ‘Let’s just focus on immigration reform in this bill.’ If the bill failed because of a controversial same-sex partnership amendment, he added, ‘it would be a tragedy.’ ”
Again, Cordileone misses the point. This bill should be about comprehensive immigration reform, not just immigration reform for heterosexual people. And the real tragedy would be that a bill gets passed that doesn’t protect everyone.
Recently, Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter wrote about the politics of the immigration bill. Winters supports the idea of including lesbian and gay couples in the bill in principle. He even goes so far as to say:
“I wish that conservative Republicans and the religious groups backing immigration reform, including the USCCB, did not view the inclusion of same sex couples as a deal-breaker. I think they are wrong on the merits. . . “
But Winters ultimately feels that political reality necessitates excluding same-gender couples this time around so that the bill can pass with less controversy. His reasoning:
” . . . the Republicans in Congress, living as they do in gerrymandered districts, are probably right on the politics: Voting for immigration reform will be enough to earn some of them a primary challenge. Voting for immigration reform that includes back door recognition of same-sex marriage guarantees a primary challenger who will likely win. We can wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. In addition to Hispanic Democrats, Republicans who are supportive of gay rights must also make the case to the gay rights lobby that immigration reform is tough enough already, and that this is not the issue on which to make a stand.”
Winters explains the reason why he doesn’t blame the Republicans, though:
“This is politics and if you don’t want to consider politics, you should not be in the game. Which is why my anger is not directed at the conservative Republicans. My anger is directed at the gay rights lobby. They are not being asked to abandon their cause or sacrifice their dignity. They are being asked for a bit of patience. Anyone can look at polling on the issue of same sex marriage and conclude that the issue will become a non-issue within a matter of years. There will be front door federal recognition of same sex marriage within my lifetime. I do not doubt it. But, when trying to get back door recognition of same sex marriage threatens to derail the best shot we have at immigration reform in years, shame on the gay rights lobby.”
So much wrong in this previous quotation. For instance, doesn’t it seem like a big sacrifice of dignity to be forced to acquiesce in the wrong idea that one’s family commitment does not matter? Is it true that they are only being asked for patience? How long have same-gender couples already waited patiently? And why does Winters characterize the inclusion of lesbian and gay couples in the bill as “back door recognition of same sex marriage” instead of what it truly is: a quest for justice and equality.
Winters also wants gay and lesbian people to wait on immigration reform because he sees them as a powerful lobby group who will eventually be able to get what they want:
“There was a time when gay rights groups had the moral stature of speaking for a group of people who were marginalized. Surely, today, in Washington, LGBT groups have political clout far beyond their numbers. . . . In Washington today, however, two days after the President of the United States called Jason Collins to compliment him on coming out of the closet, and overstays his press conference to praise Collins, well, the idea that gays lack clout is a bit far-fetched.”
I would love to ask Winters: If you think that lesbian and gay people are so politically influential, then why are their political “friends” willing to sacrifice them in this immigration debate. A truly powerful political lobby would never have to worry about such a thing happening.
Both Winters and Cordileone see lesbian and gay people as added baggage to this bill. Were they to walk in the shoes of a same-sex couple who is separated by national boundaries and ignorant laws, they might think differently.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry