The Fall of Rome, Reality Based History – and Gay Adoption

The vocal opponents of family equality are fond of making sweeping statements (in flagrant disregard of the evidence) about how marriage has “always” been between one man and on woman, how the proponents of equality are “redefining” evidence, quite ignoring the ways in marriage has been constantly redefined in the past – not least by the Christian churches. A variation on the theme has been that homosexuality has destroyed great civilizations, such as that of Rome. Illinois state Rep. Ronald Stephens has repeated this claim, blaming “open homosexuality” for the fall of Rome.

In a fun, sane response in the Chicago Sun-Times, Neill Steinberg dismisses the claim, basing his response on, well, historical fact, not what he calls Stephens’ talking points. His most important observation is that the best known extensive study of the fall of Rome, Edward Gibbons “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire“, concluded that Roman civilization collapsed not because of homosexuality, but because of – guess what? Christianity.

Would that be a argument to ban Christianity today, for fear that it could cause the collapse of modern Western civilization?

The point I want to make is not that Gibbons was either right or wrong, but to heartily endorse Steinberg’s larger point, that grand claims about the lessons of history really ought to be checked against the facts. This is certainly true in the secular sphere, but also in religious discourse. The often -repeated Vatican claims of Catholic “constant and unchanging tradition” are a smokescreen, often used to used to hide the importance of recently introduced changes, as Martin Pendergast noted recently, writing about gradualism in Benedict’s theology.

But today, I do not want to explore this theme of the Church’s constantly changing tradition. Let’s just enjoy, instead, Steinberg’s thoroughly delightful response to rep Stephens’ ignorance. Here are some extracts: Read the rest of this entry »

Blessing Same Sex Unions in Toronto

There is no longer any doubt in my mind that widepread, formal recognition by Chrisitan churches of same-sex unions, by liturgical rites in church, is on the way – one small step at a time.

One of these small steps is in the diocese of Toronto, where the local archbishop has given pastoral guidelines for blessing same sex unions. Technically, the impact will be only local, in his own archdiocese, and limited to a simple blessing, not full marriage. Effectively, though, this one of those small steps that makes subsequent strides that much easier. Civil marriage for same sex couples is already a well-established fact of life in Canada. Church blessings in Toronto will soon spread across the nation, just as civil marriage did after a purely local introduction. From country-wide blessing of civil unions, to blessing civil marriages, to full church weddings, will be easy steps. Sweden already has gay and lesbian church weddings in the Lutheran church, with which Anglicans and Episcopalians are in communion. Other Scandinavian churches will soon follow suit – as will Canadian Anglicans, just a little later.

Archbishop Johnson with Queen Elizabeth, 2010

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Another Bishop Calls For “Rethink” on Sexuality

Some conservative Catholics are aghast at remarks made by (retired) Bishop Francis A Quinn to “Inside Sacramento” magazine. To judge from the CCD report, you’d think the man was a rabid gay activist, getting an award for advancing the “gay agenda”. The CCD was especially  hysterical that he had once conducted a retreat at a centre which is also used on occasion by gay groups. This was particularly highlighted and emphasised – as if the activities of others using the retreat at entirely different times were anything to do with him. It is also true, that at the awards ceremony which prompted the interview, he was serenaded by the Gay Men’s Chorus, and his words on gay relationships were refreshingly sane – but that is not what the award was about.

To learn that, I had to go to the original source of the information, the interview in “Inside Sacramento”. In fact, the award  was to honour his long career  working with young people, as a teacher and later as a bishop taking special interest in providing services for the homeless, or helping to created affordable housing – and a retirement spent working equally hard on just the same things, as a volunteer. In other words, a lifetime doing precisely what any priest (or other Catholic) is called to do: devoting himself to service to others.

Bishop Francis Quinn

 

So what were the words that so offended the self-righteous readers at California Catholic Daily?

“Pointing to the dramatic changes made within the Catholic Church by Vatican II, Quinn asserts that it is time for a new council, this one dedicated to looking at human sexuality and its intersection with religion,” said Inside East Sacramento. “The new council, he says, should involve the entire Catholic community as well as people of other faiths.”

“So many of the issues that Catholics deal with — divorce, homosexuality, premarital sex — center around sexuality and affect how they connect with the church,” Bishop Quinn told the publication. “We need to move beyond this circular logic and look at what is really happening in people’s lives.”

Bishop Quinn doesn’t simply join Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna and  Portuguese military ordinary, Bishop     – he goes a great deal further than they have done, calling for Vatican III, to be devoted primarily to consideration of sexual ethics. The “Catholic Caveman” is horrified (are you surprised, with that self-description?) . I am thrilled. It will not surprise my regular readers that I am right behind him on this.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on the panicked, selective reports at the usual places. Go to the original interview at Inside Sacramento, and read what he actually said – he’s a far more orthodox Catholic than his detractors would like you to believe.

Progress to Marriage Equality (1): Ireland.

In Ireland, the Dáil (the parliamentary lower house) has passed the long-expected Civil Partnership Bill, without requiring a vote, and to applause from the public gallery. It is expected that it will pass in the  Seanad within a fortnight or so, and is most likely to be signed in the autumn, to come into effect in the new year.  The legislation is modelled on the existing British law, which gives couples virtually the same standing in law as married couples, except for the name. In Ireland, the law explicitly does not include adoption rights. There is also provision for a divorce equivalent, on exactly the same terms as existing divorce law.

This will leave Italy and Malta as the only countries in Western Europe with no provision for any form of legal recognition for same sex-partnerships. Resistance in Italy has come on the back of strenuous opposition but the Catholic bishops, but as the Irish example has shown, Church resistance elsewhere has come to nothing. How much longer can Italy hold out?

This will be the state of partnership recognition in Europe after the Irish law takes effect

(Dark blue – full equality; Light blue – civil unions; Red – constitutional restriction to opposite sex couples only; Yellow – under review)

 

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Steady Advance of Gay Marriage – and Christian Divorce!

In Ireland, Marriage Equality have launched a publicity campaign, “We Are Family” for gay marriage to the June month of of Pride. This is timely. Although the Irish government made a clear commitment last year to provide for strong civil partnerships on the British model (not quite full marriage), the timetable seems to be constantly stretching. the Civil Partnership was originally published in June 2oo9, with a promise it would be operational by the end of the year. Enactment is no longer expected any time sooner than October 2o1o.

Checking the progress of marriage equality in Ireland led me also to check on the other countries which have had big announcements, in some cases followed by silence.

Marriage in Europe, June 2010 (Wikipedia)

Portugal

This is the highest profile story, and the battle has already been won. The bill has been ratified, and will take effect as soon as next week.

After Portugal and Slovenia, the most likely contenders to be next in line are the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Iceland and Finland.  (Sweden and Norway already have full equality. In Sweden, that includes church weddings.)

Slovenia

Last year, a ruling by the Constitutional Court forced action on equality on the government, who announced moves to full equality. The Equality bill which ensued was duly passed by the country’s lower house of parliament on March 2 this year. Since then, I have been unable to find any reports of progress in the upper house. As the bill was mandated by court decision, I assume it must eventually become law – but who can say when?

Denmark

This was the first country anywhere to accept gay civil unions, more than 20 years ago. Right from the start, these were popularly thought of as “gay marriage”, and are by now so familiar that acceptance of full marriage is widely accepted in principle – but low in priority.  A news report earlier this year suggested that government had accepted the principle of gay marriage, but that the delay at present was just waiting to get approval from the Danish Lutheran Church for their own acceptance of same sex weddings in church, as in Sweden.

Iceland

As in Denmark, the political will is there (with an openly lesbian PM, how could it not be?), but there is some delay while they attempt to achieve the backing and support of the Lutheran Church.

Finland

The leaders of all the main political parties have accepted the principle of a move from civil unions to full marriage, but the issue does not appear to have any great priority. Equality for Finns will surely come, but do no expect any progress until after the next general election – another couple of years to wait, then.

Cyprus

A news report from the Cyprus Mail back in February that the government had promised to “look at” gay marriage led me to ask breathlessly “Would Cyprus be next?”. As there has been not a whisper since, anywhere, I think I can answer confidently “No.” The government may well have “looked” at the question – and then looked away. It takes more than looking to achieve change, it requires political will and action. (Will David Cameron’s promise before the UK election to look at gay marriage go the same way?)

Albania

In Albania, the delay is because ME has become embroiled in wider, much more serious constitutional issues. The governing party has declared support and promised a marriage bill. The opposition socialists would also support the proposal – but do not recognize the validity of the government since the last elections, for which they dispute the results.  They have paralyzed parliament by boycotting it. Gay marriage, it seems, will pass when parliament reconvenes: but nobody can say when that will be.

Outside of Europe, the brightest hopes are in Argentina and Nepal.

Argentina

A bill to approve both marriage and adoption rights for gay couples has already passed the Lower House of parliament, and is currently before the Senate. In an innovative move to take debate around the country, a Senate committee is touring major provincial cities to sound public opinion. The country’s president and Senate leader have both said they will not obstruct debate, nor veto the bill if approved. However, my own gut feeling is growing more pessimistic. Declared sympathies of senators are running about even, but a large bloc will not disclose their views, which I do not take as a promising sign.

Nepal

As in Slovenia, equality has been mandated by the courts, and must come. As in Albania, the process has been clouded by bigger issues of fundamental constitutional change. Until they have been resolved, marriage equality is unlikely to be enacted. It is clear thought that the political will is now there: the money men have recognized the potential value of the pink pound to the country’s crucial tourism industry, and regularly float stories in the Western gay press promoting Nepal as a wedding and honeymoon destination. They will not want to backtrack now, but I am not going to stick my neck out and predict timing on the wider political issues.

Australia

Possibly the biggest marriage story I have not been reporting on comes from Oz, where I have a sense of a steadily growing groundswell of public support. However, their has not yet been acceptance by the two major political parties for anything beyond civil unions, and even they are limited to certain jurisdictions. However, there is widespread de facto recognition of same sex couples, the small but important Green party has embraced the cause, and if I am right that public pressure is growing, this could become a high profile issue quite suddenly, at least in the key states of Victoria (Melbourne) and New South Wales (Sydney).

New Zealand

?

New Zealand was one of the earliest countries to adopt strong civil unions, which offer marriage in “everything but name “- and adoption rights. But I have never seen any reports of pressure for anything stronger. What gives? Are Kiwi queers so laid back that the name doesn’t matter? Are they not interested in adoption? Or have I (and Wikipedia) simply been missing the news stories?

Christian Divorce.

Meanwhile. my research for this post led me stumble upon this delightful snippet, on religion and divorce. Which religious grouping (in the US) do you suppose has the highest divorce rate? Evangelical Christians. Which has the strongest opposition to gay marriage? (Oh, right that;s too easy – Evangelical Christians).

And which has the lowest divorce rate? Catholics. Which has (among) the lowest opposition to gay marriage? Catholics, again.

Perhaps that is why the religious right is so opposed to marriage equality – they are so desperate to rescue the parlous state of their own, that they will try anything, no matter how far-fetched. While Catholics, feeling less threat to their own marriages, are happy to share the benefits more widely.

OK, the preceding paragraph badly oversimplifies, and the data on divorce is ten years old, from a research outfit I’m not familiar with. This needs more careful analysis. But prima facie, I thought it fascinating.

 

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20 Years ago: Berlin Wall Falls; Death Knell for Apartheid; Birth of Marriage Equality

David Mixner last week, like many others, was feeling angry. Still, he said he had tried to set aside the anger and write more objectively. This is part of what he wrote:

Call this campaign against us what it is – Gay Apartheid. Refuse to allow any of our fellow Americans, President Obama or our allies to view this as a political issue who time hasn’t quite come. America is in the process of creating a system of Gay Apartheid.

I have no quibble with his impatience and anger, nor with his proposals. But as someone who lived in South Africa for half of the 20th century, to suggest that we are seeing the rise of gay apartheid in the US is preposterous. On the contrary, what we are seeing is the gradual erosion of the discrimination that has always been present. Even if that erosion is not fast enough, even if there are heart-breaking setbacks, looking back just a decade shows how much progress there has been. Still, the reference to apartheid is appropriate in two ways: the destruction of apartheid was a long process – nearly 80 years from the formation of the ANC to the first democratic parliament, and the remnants and legacy still remain.

This week, the celebrations in Berlin, coming on top of Mixner’s comments led me to reflect on my own life 20 years ago this month, and on another anniversary this year, one important in this context but one I have not seen noted anywhere else.

South Africa 1989 : The Beginning of the End For Apartheid

BIO-MANDELA-WINNIE-RELEASE

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