Confused English Bishops, and the Catholic “Redefinition” of Marriage.

A firestorm has erupted among some British church people and commentators over government proposals to amend the civil partnership regulations, allowing the ceremonies to be conducted on religious premises, and using religious words, symbols or music. I have avoided commenting up to now, because the precise substance of the proposals has been unclear, and has been badly misrepresented in some press reports, as providing for “gay marriage” in church. This is simply false reporting, arising from the close similarity of British civil marriage in civil partnerships in their legal import – so that many newspapers simply ignore the difference in their reporting, and routinely refer to civil partnerships as “marriage” – which they are not. This has not deterred the howls of protest in some quarters, complaining about the state’s interference to redefine marriage, and more laughably still, to restrict religious freedom.

Particularly incoherent examples of this have come from Austin Ivereigh at “America” magazine (where I really expect better). I ignored his first post last week (which I did not see until a friend emailed me a link late on Sunday), but responded to a follow-up post, in which he reported that the Catholic bishops will strenuously oppose the legislation. This was the response I placed, earlier today:

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The Catholic Push For Maryland Equality

Catholics have been prominent in the Maryland push for marriage equality – on both sides of the divide. Delegate  Heather Mizeur is a Catholic lesbian who married her spouse, Deborah, five years ago – and is a lead sponsor of the legislation now making its way through the state legislature. Governor Quinn is a Catholic, who has said that  if when the legislation is passed, he will follow his conscience – and sign. Polling evidence shows that collectively, Maryland Catholics are more supportive of marriage without discrimination than the state as a whole. New Ways Ministry, the nationwide organisation founded in 1976 by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent to promoteg sound pastoral care for LGBT Catholics and their families, and providing reliable information about sexual orientation to the Church as a whole, is based in Maryland.

 

Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo speak at the day-long conference

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry hosted a day-long conference?, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach,  to promote equality.

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Hawaii Civil Unions Approved; Marriage Equality Update

Three significant news items yesterday illustrated the continuing momentum towards marriage and family equality.

In Hawaii, the state senate has now given final approval to civil unions for same sex couples. All that is now required is for the Gobvernor to add his signature, which he has promised he will do, adding to the number which now offer marriage equality or near equality at state level. More will follow.

In Baltimore, another state senator has stepped off the fence, and announced he will vote in favour of the marriage bill next week. This makes at least 24 votes (and possibly 25) in favour, which will be enough for approval. Passage in the lower house and the governor’s signature should follow.

In Delaware, a new group (Equality Delaware) has been formed to push for civil unions, and has announced sponsors for a bill to be introduced to the legislature later this year. (A recent opinion poll showed that a plurality of Delaware voters support full marriage. This would suggest that the early prospects for the more cautious proposal of civil unions must be good).

For the record, here is the current rundown by state, for the US a.nd internationally.
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Valentine’s Day: Remember the Same Sex Lovers in Church History

For St Valentine’s day,we should remember the same sex lovers (a surprising number of them) who feature in Scripture and in the history of the Catholic Church.  In the list below, I do not not claim that the relationships were necessarily sexual (although some of them most definitely were, but all are deserve attention by modern queer Christians. (For fuller assessments, follow the links).

SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.

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My Vatican Dossier, and Papal Backing for the Soho Masses

It’s official. I now have confirmation that somewhere in the depths of the Vatican, someone (indeed, more than one) has a dossier on me. More accurately, the dossier is on the nefarious doings of the Soho Masses, in which I am infamously involved, and the “homosexualist bloggers” (c’est moi!) that it includes and shelters. These dossiers (there seem to be multiple copies of one original) were not put together by a curial official, but by the interfering busybodies who ludicrously believe that in their determination to prevent a few hundred Catholic men and women from attending a Mass of their choosing, a Mass which has the formal approval of the Westminster diocese, and was initiated by the diocese with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Vatican at the highest levels, they are somehow acting “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (PEEP!)

It would be funny, if it were not in fact so sad.

…….two of us decided to go to Rome in October to discuss just these two points and the future appointment of sound bishops in this country. As usual we took dossiers with us illustrating the present position on the SOHO Masses and the officially approved religious instruction in most schools and parishes. We were kindly received in every Curia Office we visited and we went through our dossiers with the officials we met, leaving a set behind for their further study.

SOHO Masses. This dossier contained News Letters from the Church of Our Lady and St Gregory, Warwick Street, which showed encouragement to walk in the GAY PRIDE MARCH carrying banners proclaiming “Proud to be Catholic, Proud to be Gay”; promotion of books, talks and films by advocates of the homosexual lifestyle; the spread of these Masses as they are not being stopped; the recruitment of young Catholics to join them etc. We also included addresses of web-sites run by regular members of this congregation stating their hostility to Church teaching and their programme to spread this practice quite explicitly, with names of priests and bishops who facilitate all this. ……

(from the PEEP Newsletter, February 2011)

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

At Enhanced Masculinity, I came across a post which reported on an address by Pope Benedict about the martyrdom and later canonization of St Joan of Arc. I was pleased to see this, as I have written before of the importance of Joan as a queer saint who was first martyred by the church, and later rehabilitated and honoured. Much the same will surely occur in time to those modern queer heroes who have been professionally martyred, by the Church which has deliberately destroyed their careers, for the great sin of attempting to speak the truth on sexual ethics or LGBT inclusion.

Benedict’s frank admission of the patent error of the church theologians who presided over Joan’s trial and passed sentence on her, together with his quotation from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium on the constant need for purification, made a welcome contrast with the usual glossing over of past mistakes and the insistence on a constant and unchanging tradition. His words also immediately reminded me of the words of a much younger man, when he as Fr Joseph Ratzinger he wrote a commentary on the Second Vatican Council:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

So, in addition to the significance of this address to my own arguments about the relevance of the queer saints and martyrs, it also relates to the current theological ferment on sexual ethics and widespread criticism of the institutional church. When I then crossed to the Vatican website and read the address in full, I found even more in Pope Benedict’s words that can guide and inspire gay in lesbian Catholics in our struggles to withstand the hostility of the traditional, disordered teaching on homoerotic relationships. Read the rest of this entry »

The GOP/ Evangelical Quiet Revolution on Gay Rights

The Washington Post has a useful analysis of what it calls The GOP’s quiet evolution on gay rights. This has obvious and fundamental importance for gay politics and (marriage equality in particular) in the US. It has wider significance because it is also mirrored in a parallel quiet revolution towards queer inclusion in the Christian churches – a movement that is now becoming visible in some traditionally conservative denominations, as well as the more liberal Mainline Protestants.

In the Evangelical churches, this has sometimes been seen in the emergence of some prominent straight allies speaking up for inclusion on theological grounds, or a handful of openly gay pastors and welcoming churches  – but these remain rare (for now). On the other, there are also some who do not specifically advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians, but are actively promoting a greater degree of dialogue and understanding, a toning down of the rhetoric and virulent homophobia. (This is a trend that I believe to be occurring also in the Catholic and Mormon Churches). Both of these trends are welcome. One of the second group is Philip Yancey, said to be one of the world’s most successful evangelical authors:

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British Adoption Agency Seeking Gay Parents, Dispels Myths

A Welsh children’s charity, Barnardo’s,  is actively seeking gay and lesbian prospective parents, in yet another demonstration that those in the know, the professional experts working in the field, recognize that parenting ability has nothing at all to do with gender or sexual orientation.   What matters far more, is the quality of love and the emotional stability of the home. Abundant scientific research has amassed reams of evidence, frequently disseminated by the professionals, and other agencies before this one have likewise made the same plea for more queer applicants – but the myths, freely promoted by ignorant Catholic spokesmen, still survive.

The resulting prejudice is one of the factors that discourages some potential prospective parents from applying. This is in direct conflict with the interests of the children, which the Church falsely claims to be promoting. The best interests of the children, the professionals know, lies in admitting the largest possible pool of applicants, irrespective of orientation, so that each child may be matched with the best possible parents. At present, there are an estimated 64,000 children in the care system in England: one quarter of whom will never find a family.  Excluding same-sex couples even from consideration as adoptive parents, as the Catholic bishops would like to do, cannot possibly improve the chances of that 25%, and could lead to some of the others being placed with parents who are possibly not necessarily the most suitable just the best suited heterosexuals.

 

Queer Families at Gay Pride, Rome

Fortunately, British law recognizes the facts, and does not allow agencies to practice discrimination. Now, we need to ensure that public opinion catches up with the facts, to eliminate the continued self-exclusion by some gay couples, who might otherwise to offer their help to children in real need. The tragedy here is that some Catholic agencies, rather than filling their obligation to do the best for the children, have simply stopped finding homes for children at all.

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No Room at the Inn: The False Divide of Gay v Christian

The recent award of damages to a same-sex couple who were denied accommodation by Christian hoteliers, continues to draw extensive coverage and comment in the British press. On the one hand, it seems that the B&B/hotel hosts are now receiving extensive hate-mail and nuisance calls and other harassment, including numerous attempted bookings by other gay couples threatening to launch follow-up legal actions if their bookings are denied. (The place is currently closed for the off-season, so no bookings are being accepted for anyone. Mrs Bull has not indicated what she will do if these bookings continue in the summer). Such harassment is clearly despicable and uncalled-for.

On the other, this harassment has led to her being portrayed in some quarters as a Christian martyr, standing up for her religious convictions. This is patent nonsense. If her religious convictions lead her to disapprove of lesbian sex, she need not engage in it. Religious freedom does not extend to the freedom to impose her religious beliefs on her guests. Presumable she also disapproves of masturbation. Does she have signs in her rooms warning that jerking off in the bath is forbidden?

She claims that she is not discriminating against gays in particular, but only against unmarried couples. This too is hogwash. In British law, here guests are married –  except that the technical legal term for their union (unjustly) is “civil partnership”, not marriage.

But the most serious complaint against their action, for a couple claiming to be acting from Christian belief, is that is totally contrary to the Christian Gospels, and the practice of Jesus Christ himself.

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Civil Unions Now Imminent in Hawaii

The Hawaii state Senate yesterday approved civil unions legislation for the state. Approval by the state House, which last year passed similar legislation before it was vetoed by GOP Governor Lingle, is surely just a a formality. The new governor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, has already promised to sign the legislation when (no longer if) it reaches his desk. Near-marriage, marriage in all but name, is on the way in Hawaii.

I particularly likes this statement from Senator  Solomon of Honokaa. In his formulation, this expression of Aloha sounds to me remarkably like a statement of the true spirit of Christianity:

“Let’s get beyond this. Let’s realize what the spirit of aloha is all about, which means including people no matter their color, no matter their gender, no matter their lifestyle,” said Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Hilo-Honokaa.

In my mind, only three questions remain:

  • When will the new legislation take effect? How long will it be before Hawaii’s same-sex couples will be able to tie the knot, and have their unions recognized by the state?
  • Which will be the next state to follow suit?
  • How long must we wait for “near-marriage” to  become full marriage equality, including the name?

From NECN:

Hawaii Senate approves same-sex civil unions

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Senate on Friday overwhelmingly approved civil unions for same-sex couples, a major step toward the proposal becoming law.

The state Senate voted 19-6 for the bill, which now goes to the state House of Representatives, where a nearly identical measure passed last year before it was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.

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