by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Religion and marriage. For many Americans, separating the two is an impossibility.
Others, however, take a personal journey, like Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and come out the other side as a supporter of marriage equality. Gregoire is a Catholic. So is Washington State Senator Ed Murray - a man who has championed every major piece of LGBT legislation for nearly two decades. In fact, a recent poll (and there are many others to back it up) states that over half of all American Catholics support same-sex marriage, even if the Church's hierarchy does not.
Catholic money supports anti-Gay legislation and campaigns. That is most of what some members of the LGBT community know about religion. And while that might not be an inaccurate statement, according to many national (and local) Gay Catholic groups, we might just be surprised how progressive the 'Catholics in the pew' really are.
'As an activist Gay Catholic, I was heartened by Gov. Chris Gregoire's compassionate, principled, and rational support for marriage equality for Gay couples,' said Leo N. Egashira. 'Some readers might find it surprising that many of this state's progressive leaders are Catholic.'
'But, it shouldn't be surprising. For the vast majority of Catholics, the social justice teachings of the church trump the conservative and institutional inertia of the Vatican and its hierarchy,' he continued. 'Indeed, 63% of Catholics in this country support marriage equality, a rate that is 10% higher than that of the general public [ABC News/Washington Post poll, March 18, 2011]. Catholics will no more heed official Archdiocesan opposition to marriage equality than they do the church's head-in-the-sand proscription against birth control.'
'While putting the civil rights of a minority segment of the population to a vote is inherently flawed, were it to come to that, I can count on my fellow Catholics and other principled people of faith to vote overwhelmingly for justice and equality,' he said.
CATHOLICS FOR EQUALITY
Catholics for Equality, a national social justice campaign of Catholics putting their faith into ethical and effective political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families, were quick to praise Gregoire for her endorsement of marriage equality.
'Governor Gregoire's support for marriage equality represents not only the will of the majority of Washingtonians, but the will of the majority of Catholics throughout the state and the country,' said Catholics for Equality Executive Director Phil Attey. 'Governor Gregoire follows not only the recent examples of Catholic leaders like Governors [Andrew] Cuomo and [Martin] O'Malley, but the legacy of President John F. Kennedy in reaffirming that American Catholics can be trusted in our political system to be faithful Catholics, while being champions of the Constitution and legal equality for all citizens.'
An independent poll by Strategies 360 shows that 54% of Washington voters support marriage equality. 'Though this poll did not identify religious affiliation, in most recent national polls, a supermajority of American Catholics support civil marriage for Gay and Lesbian couples,' said Attey.
BISHOPS, POPE PUSH AGAINST EQUAL RIGHTS
At first, all looked good for the Catholics in Washington state. The Rainbow Sash Movement, an international Catholic organization of LGBT Catholics who don a rainbow colored sash, congratulated the Roman Catholic Bishops of Washington state for their silence on Gov. Gregoire's support for marriage equality.
'Unlike the bishops of New York and Illinois, the bishops of Washington state appear to be fatigued arguing against reason and common sense,' said Bill O'Connor, a spokesperson for the Rainbow Sash Movement.
That was on a Thursday. By Sunday, the bishops did speak out and, as what has become expected behavior, came out against marriage equality.
'Legislation has been introduced in Washington state to change the current law defining marriage. The present law states: 'marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female.' & This same law also prohibits marriage to close-blood relations, a clear indication that the definition of marriage is related to bringing children into the world and the continuation of the human race. The legislation to redefine marriage, therefore, is not in the public interest,' said Washington State Catholic Conference officials. 'Upholding the present definition of marriage does not depend on anyone's religious beliefs. Washington state's present law defining marriage as 'a civil contract between a male and a female' is grounded not in faith, but in reason and the experience of society. It recognizes the value of marriage as a bond of personal relationships, but also in terms of the unique and irreplaceable potential of a man and woman to conceive and nurture new life, thus contributing to the continuation of the human race. A change in legislation would mean that the state would no longer recognize the unique sacrifices and contributions made by these couples, thereby adding to the forces already undermining family life today.'
The following day, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a gathering of international diplomats, telling them that marriage equality threatens 'the future of humanity itself.' His comments were described by several media outlets as his strongest anti-LGBT comments to date.
Pope Benedict was quoted, 'This [the traditional family] is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.'
While the pope and Roman Catholic hierarchy have been consistent in their opposition to LGBT equality, they are not in line with everyday Catholics who live, work, and worship with LGBT people in their daily lives, maintain some LGBT Catholic organizations.
'It's important to remember that the institutional Catholic Church is not a democracy,' Phil Attey, executive director of Catholics for Equality, told Seattle Gay News. 'Church policy is decided by our pope, not through a democratic process like many Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues. There is also no structure for the laity [Catholics in the pews] to dissent or influence church reform. So it's easy to imagine a host of issues, from contraception to LGBT equality, where there evolves a wide divide between what's being dictated by the Vatican and what's being decided at Catholic dinner tables across the country.'
So what about the money that pours in from the Catholic hierarchy to fight pro-LGBT causes? 'Catholics donate to our local parishes out of a tradition of community solidarity and philanthropy, not because of any particular policy that comes out of the Vatican or a bishop's office,' said Attey. 'And few Catholics have a clear understanding of where our money goes, after it leaves our parishes. Most believe it goes to fund our many charitable efforts, but in fact, in most states the overwhelming majority of funding for Catholic charities comes from the government - not private or church funding. Worse, even if an individual parish wanted to stop their money from going toward their bishop's anti-equality campaign, there's no way of doing that short of closing down the parish.
'If a parish fails to raise enough money through special collections to fund the bishop's appeal, the bishop's office takes it from the parish's general operating fund,' he said.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA - the nation's oldest and largest organization of LGBT Catholics, families, friends, and supporters - agrees with Attey.
'We make the important distinction between the Catholic hierarchy (the bishops, cardinals, and pope) and the Church, which is all of us people of God,' she said. 'Like on so many other issues - divorce, birth control, whether women should be ordained - Catholics strongly disagree with Church officials on whether loving, committed same-sex couples should be able to be married. And the divide is growing all the time, as more and more LGBT Catholics come out to their families, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.'
'A lot of the money being given to the bishops to support their anti-equality campaigns is coming from the Knights of Columbus. Most Catholics think of this group as a charitable organization, and the truth is they do a lot of good in local communities,' continued Duddy-Burke. 'But at the national level, they are really a huge insurance company, and it appears they are using the proceeds from that business to fund national and state-level campaigns against us. They team up with NOM (the National Organization for Marriage) to fund television campaigns that are downright lies.'
LGBT CATHOLICS AND THEIR FAITH
When pressed about the difficulty of being an LGBT Catholic, most Gay Catholics say they wouldn't trade their faith for anything.
'For many of us, being LGBT and Catholic bring together two very important aspects of our lives,' explained Duddy-Burke. 'We treasure our faith, and the blessing of who we are. Yes, it can be hard to come out when you've heard all your life that your Church is against who you are. But more and more of us understand that the Church leadership is simply wrong on this issue, and that they represent just a small proportion of Catholics.'
'The reality of our day-to-day lives is that most of our fellow Catholics - our families, friends, coworkers, the people we see in Church - know exactly who we are and love us,' she continued. 'For 20 years, every poll taken on the issue shows that Catholics are more supportive of LGBT people than people from any other denomination. Our work is to make that reality better known, and to raise our voices so that the bishops aren't the only ones heard.'
But that's not saying that it isn't hard, says Attey. 'It's devastatingly difficult for LGBT Catholic children to grow up in a church whose hierarchy calls them 'intrinsically disordered' and tells them to lead a life of celibacy and second-class shame,' he said. 'This not only emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually scars our children, but rips apart our families, who are struggling to protect and support their family members, but stay faithful to the church.'
'Those who are able to keep strong their ties to our faith, are able to internalize that while their well-being and dignity may not be supported by our hierarchy, the people sitting next to them in the pews every Sunday love them and support them,' said Attey.
According to DignityUSA officials, American Catholics' support of marriage equality should not come as a surprise. 'The social justice teachings of our Church are very important to Catholics. They teach us that since every person is created and loved by God, we are all equal, and that we need to be part of removing the barriers to equality and fullness of life faced by so many people. In addition, almost every Catholic I've ever met knows and loves at least one person who is LGBT. That personal experience clearly makes people look at the official Church teachings and realize they are not based in truth. Finally, our rich sacramental tradition teaches us to recognize the holy wherever it exists. People see same-sex couples who have deep commitments to one another, and recognize that these relationships are just as sacred as any others. We know marriage when we see it!'
Catholics for Equality officials agree, saying, 'We believe in marriage equality mostly because we see happy and healthy Lesbian and Gay couples in our families, our parishes, and our communities, and we know love and commitment when we see it.'
'We base our understanding of the world not from the heavy-handed dictates of our bishops, but by what we see and know to be true in our everyday lives,' said Catholics for Equality. 'We follow in our community's longstanding tradition and commitment to social justice. And because of that, we believe that all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, should be given the same legal rights and responsibilities as every other citizen.'
For Joe Murray, executive director of the Rainbow Sash Movement, marriage equality goes beyond just his religion; it's personal.
'I had a lover for 33 years,' Joe told Seattle Gay News, as he began to weep. 'He passed away. He lost his battle against cancer last April. That's why I believe in it.'
The two men were never married, despite their committed loving relationship spanning three decades.
He says that he's seen a change in the way the 'people in the pew' view the LGBT community and marriage equality. And he's quick to point out that 'Catholic legislators are leading the struggle.'
'The people in the pew are rational and reasonable,' said Murray. 'They've taken the journey like a lot of people have on this matter. They've gone from a place of misunderstanding to a place of understanding. This is due in part to the way members of the LGBT community have approached debating the subject of marriage equality. We've not allowed ourselves to be led into a place of name-calling. That touches people.'
While the pope and bishops aren't going to run through the halls of the Vatican and sing the praises of same-sex marriage anytime soon, some American Catholics are saying we've got their vote.
'American Catholics are the most LGBT equality supportive faith community in the country,' concluded Attey. 'We're also the largest faith community in the country. We hope that when the history books are written on LGBT civil rights in America, our community will be judged, not by the anti-equality stands of our hierarchy, but by the heroic stands for equality by great American Catholics like Governor Gregoire.'
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