Queer Families: A Personal, Catholic Case For Gay Marriage

Brian Cahill is the former executive director of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, a pillar of the local church. He has also incurred the wrath of the readers of California Catholic Daily, for daring to speak honestly about family realities and gay marriage, instead of simplistically spouting quotations from Catholic rule books. The vitriol in much of the comment thread at CCD responding to the article  is saddening. To simply quote reflexively the Catechism teaching is not helpful: what has so enraged the readers is no more than what most rational Catholics have known for years: that the Catechism content on sexual ethics is deeply flawed, and desperately in need of revision.

Theoretical arguments making the case for change are freely available. Mr Cahill makes his case on other, more personal grounds: his son is gay. Personal stories are powerful, and our families and friends our most valuable allies. (This is the perspective of a parent. In my accompanying post today, I offer that of a young son of two dads).

Here is his article for the San Francisco Chronicle, which has so enraged the CCD:

My gay son: the face of church’s lack of respect

I am a Catholic who voted against Proposition 8 in 2008 and contributed $1,000 to the No on 8 Campaign, a Catholic who is sustained by regular Mass, scripture and prayer. I am also the father of a gay son, from whom I was slow to learn how painful, debilitating and denigrating are the constant legal and social reminders that he and those like him are not fully accepted members of the human community.

In their statement supporting Prop. 8, the California Catholic Bishops declared that marriage is “intrinsic to stable, flourishing and hospitable societies.” Ironically, this is one of the compelling reasons gay and lesbian couples wish to be joined in civil marriages. They are seeking a structure and context for their love, commitment, fidelity and mutual support.

Many believe that the ideal for children is to be raised by a mother and a father, yet we know what the divorce rate is among heterosexual couples. We know there are 75,000 children in the California foster care system, a quarter of them waiting to be adopted. We know that these children have been victimized by the inability, neglect or abuse of their heterosexual parents. These mothers and fathers are living proof that sexual orientation is not a reliable indicator of good parenting.

Our bishops are clear that gays and lesbians must be respected and not disparaged, and I know they mean it. The archbishop of San Francisco, regardless of his position on Prop. 8, means it. His first response to specific issues regarding gays and lesbians is always pastoral.

But when gays and lesbians are referred to in a 2003 Vatican teaching as “objectively disordered,” it is difficult for them to feel respected. When gay and lesbian couples are willing to assume full, loving parental responsibility for abused and neglected children who would otherwise languish in the foster care system, and church teaching characterizes them as “doing great violence to children” by raising them in same-sex households, it is difficult for those parents to feel respected. And if gays and lesbians were to read some of the bloggers on conservative Catholic websites, they might have difficulty distinguishing the comments of thoughtful conservative Catholics from those of irrational, homophobic extremists, and they would definitely not feel respected.

Prior to the passage of Prop. 8, the California Supreme Court ruled that as a matter of constitutional law, gays and lesbians have a right to form a family relationship. From the court’s perspective, a family relationship is much more than a domestic partnership. It is about marriage.

In August 2010, the federal District Court ruled that laws defining marriage as heterosexual are unconstitutional and unjust. Even if the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows the resumption of same sex-marriages, this issue will continue through the courts.

The issue of same-sex marriage will also be on the ballot again. The proponents of Prop. 8 have said that the voters’ wishes should be respected. They should be careful what they wish for. In 2000, they won with 61 percent of the vote. In 2008, they won with 53 percent of the vote. In 2012, we will see how well they respect the voters’ wishes.

I know that my son and his partner are made in the image and likeness of God. They are not perfect, but they are brilliant, creative, personable and moral. They are certainly not objectively disordered. I know, as do many fathers, mothers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow parishioners of gay and lesbian individuals and couples, that the relationship, the love, the friendship, the personal association, the proximity, put a human face on this issue and let us see that in the context of the human spirit, none of us are different and none of us should be anything less than fully accepted members of our human community.

It should be obvious by now that there is a critical and urgent need for a serious and comprehensive rethink on Catholic teaching on sexuality – a rethink that must include contributions from people with real life experience of love, sex and family. Most Catholics disagree with the orthodox Vatican doctrine on many major element of sexual ethics. That has been known from empirical research for years. It is now becoming clear that many, possibly most, professional theologians agree that revision is needed.  To that we can add a large (but indeterminate) proportion of priests, informed by the pastoral experience, and even (privately) by many bishops.

The re-evaluation of moral theology which will surely come, must be influenced by the insights of people with real life experience of love, sex and family – and not simply the tired repetition of academic formulations of celibate men from the middle ages. Personal and honest reflections, like this one by Mr Cahill, form a constructive and important contribution to the coming debates.

Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Jordan, Mark D:Authorizing Marriage?: Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

Jordan, Mark D:Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage

Pomfret, Scott:Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir

Salzmann & Lawler: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology

Sullivan, Andrew:Virtually Normal

Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con

My Related Posts:

Won’t someone please think of the kiddies?

Children’s Charity Wants MORE Gay Parents

Pope Benedict’s Strong Argument for Gay Marriage, Queer Families.

Pope Benedict, On the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.

Theologians’ Revolt Exposes a Vatican Myth

Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion: Is Homosexuality Unnatural?

Sexual Ethics and the Sensus Fidelium

Church & Laity: More on the Sensus Fidelium


One Response to “Queer Families: A Personal, Catholic Case For Gay Marriage”

  1. John McNeill Says:

    Likt to recomend my most recenr book: SexAs God Intended. This book deals critically with all the issues in your article

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