In 1965 Thomas Merton, in an open letter to the US Bishops said: The Christian is called . . . to obey the Gospel of love, for all men, and not simply to devote himself to the interests of a nation, a party, a class or a culture. He was calling for the recognition of the dignity of all the same way St. Francis of Assisi did centuries earlier. This is the faith I was raised in and that I cherish.
So it is not with indifference to the Church but with fidelity to my Catholic heritage that I, like so many others, recognize our LGBT friends and relatives as equals, entitled to the same rights as the rest of us.
When the civil unions bill was signed into law on Feb 23, 2011, the Hawaii Catholic Conference which calls itself the “public policy voice of the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Hawaii ” said that “public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a law that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the very core of marriage.”
However other “natural facts” – slavery, the subjugation of women, and the sometime sin of inter-racial marriage, for example — have crumbled in the face of science and the evolution of our moral sensibilities. According to a poll cited by Catholics for Equality, 52 % of US Catholics and 63% of young adult Catholics support marriage equality.
Lay Catholics Lead the Church
Clearly, on the issue of civil unions it falls to lay Catholics to lead the Church. Catholic parents like Susie and Randy Roth believe that their gay son is every bit as deserving of God’s grace and the Church’s full acceptance as their heterosexual children. “Just like his race and the color of his skin, our son’s homosexuality was God-given.”
In response to Archbishop Nienstedt’s refusal last year to grant communion to Catholics in Minnesota who quietly wore rainbow bands to Mass, Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, a graduate of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California said: “The church has a mission to be prophetic, to listen to the social and natural science experts around us and . . . to start living out that vision that Jesus taught us.”
Ironically, it was a pastoral letter from Bishop Larry Silva urging Catholics to work against civil unions that prompted me to become fully engaged in advocating for civil unions. Like many Catholics, I saw civil unions as a matter of social justice consistent with the Gospel’s call “to love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Native Hawaiian, gay and straight, local and mainland advocates with whom I worked through Citizens for Equal Rights last year and again this year, helped educate me on the issue and what it means to their lives. I welcome the enactment of civil unions into law with gladness for LGBT families as justice long overdue, now delivered.
Same Sex Unions Strengthens Marriage, Families
I am a happily married heterosexual with two adult heterosexual children. I believe the desire of same sex couples to make the same commitment heterosexuals make when they get married can only strengthen the institution. To feel threatened that others wish to publicly affirm their commitment to each other is perverse. Surely we should be concerned if they were unwilling to make that public commitment?
The HCC statement also expressed concern that the courts might
-Mandate that faith‐based institutions . . . be required to place adoptive or foster children with couples who have entered into a same‐sex civil union
-Refuse to protect employers who do not wish to extend family benefits to employees in a same sex civil union.
It is truly appalling that the Church would consider the opportunity for adoptive or foster children to be raised in the loving home of a same sex couple something to be resisted. It is just as appalling that the Church would be concerned about employers being asked to provide family benefits to employees in a same sex union. What exactly is Christian about not wanting same sex families to be adequately cared for?
On the basis of what they think goes on in the bedrooms of same sex couples, the Church pronounces judgment on what they might be entitled to as human beings. We do not however speculate about what might be going on in the bedrooms of heterosexual couples in order to determine their legal rights. The civil unions law is the beginning of the end of this discriminatory difference in how LGBT families are viewed and treated.
Call this one unofficial voice of the many Catholics who celebrate Feb 23, 2011 as the day Hawaii acknowledged the full equality of LGBT couples. We wait for the Spirit to inspire the Church to do the same.
A slightly longer version of this article appeared in the Hawaii Independent Mar 5, 2011