Illinois Civil Unions – Welcomed by Some Religious Leaders

As expected, the Illinois legislation approving civil unions for same sex couples easily passed in the State Senate. The bill now goes to the governor, who has promised to sign. This should take effect from June 1.

What impressed me in the reaction, is that in marked contrast to the familiar claims that this would somehow hurt traditional marriage and harm religion, some religious leaders specifically welcomed it.

Some religious leaders welcomed the legislation. In Chicago, Rabbi Larry Edwards said he’s looking forward to planning celebrations for couples in his Jewish congregation who may decide to form civil unions under Illinois law.

“To those who say it’s a slippery slope and eventually will lead to marriage, I say, ‘I hope so,'” said Edwards of Or Chadash synagogue. “I would like to be on a slippery slope that slides in the direction of justice.”

The Rev. Vernice Thorn, associate pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said she considers the vote a hopeful sign. “Same-sex legalized marriage is going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.”

-Washington Post

Precisely – not if, but when.

The usual Catholic spokesmen were less enthusiastic.

The prize for the most outlandish commentary must surely go to the Illinois Family Institute, who complained that the supporters of the bill had failed to examine the issues clearly, and had engaged in emotional, sentimental arguments instead.

The Illinois Family Institute said legislators failed to examine the legislation clearly.

“Proponents engaged in embarrassing and maudlin displays of sentimentality intended to emotionally manipulate rather than intellectually persuade their colleagues,” said executive director David E. Smith.

Really? I did not follow the Illinois arguments (on either side), but the opponents of marriage or family equality are the ones who have consistently failed in court to back up their claims with any evidence whatever – as in the California Prop 8 trial, and in adoption cases in both Florida and Arkansas. It’s unlikely that the Illinois opponents found any more persuasive rational arguments against civil unions: there aren’t any. Their case is based on the completely false idea that extending civil the civil benefits of marriage will somehow harm religion and its value for full marriage – and  selective morality.

Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, accused some opponents of hypocrisy.

“I hear adulterers and womanizers and folks cheating on their wives and down-low brothers saying they’re going to vote against this bill. It turns my stomach,” Hendon said. “We know what you do at night, and you know too.”

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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 Lesbian Parent: Authentic Catholicism

Yesterday, I referred to a lengthy piece at dot Commonweal, in which a lesbian mother describes her positive experience of having her sons accepted in a Catholic school.  The full piece however is about far more than just the school: rather, it goes to the very heart of what it is to be gay and Catholic, and to the issue of gay adoption, which is so strenuously opposed by both the institutional Catholic Church, and by other religious conservatives. Their arguments that adoption by gay or lesbian parents is somehow contrary to the interests of the child have been widely discredited by professionals with expertise in child psychology or child welfare, while many adoption agencies actively seek gay or lesbian adoptive parents, on the grounds that for some children, they may even be more suitable than straight applicants – or because they may be willing to take on difficult children that other parents shy away from.

But this story tackles church opposition from a different angle:  she describes how she was led to the decision to adopt children not in spite of her Catholicism, but very much because of it. She tells of how her upbringing as a Catholic, with an education steeped in religious teaching :

The fact of the matter is, I am you. More than many of you seem to realize. I went to Catholic grade school with you, was perhaps even more pious than you, unless you also rode your bike to daily Mass in the summertime and got a ride with the neighbor lady to Friday evening Stations of the Cross during Lent. Unlike you, who never had uncles who worked for Jesse Helms, I had the opportunity to kiss Senator Helms on the cheek when I was eight. (People intent on finding an explanation for my orientation may wish to ponder that fact.) Each week I brought the Baltimore Catechism to my mother to demonstrate my mastery of another chapter.

In Catholic high school I aced all my classes, as had my brothers and sisters before me. At home, I scanned the reading material at hand—the National Review, the Moral Majority newsletter, and the Hillsdale College newsletter—and watched Firing Line with my father. I attended a Reagan campaign rally on the picturesque green of my New England hometown. In our home, Reagan, Buckley, and Falwell enjoyed a kind of trinitarian status. Wanting to attend a Catholic college or university, as had three of my four older siblings, I set my sights on the University of Notre Dame, applying there and only there.

At Notre Dame I majored in theology and held an office in the campus prolife group. As a student there I had my world expanded exponentially, albeit still within the Catholic bubble.

This, and later formal theology, gave her a firm belief in the importance of reaching out to the underprivileged, and particularly to children.  If the insists on the right to life and opposes abortion, it then has a corresponding obligation to take care of the children coming into the world whose biological parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. As a member of the church, she believes strongly that she shares in that obligation. And so arose her desire to adopt. In total contrast to Mike Huckabee’s assertion that gay parents’ desire to adopt arises from some form of selfishness, she asserts the opposite. Her motivation came from a very Catholic selflessness, putting the clear needs of others (in this case, the children) ahead of her own comfort.

Those of you who attended Catholic grade school in the 1970s may have enjoyed, as I did, repeated viewings of a documentary film about the DeBolt family: a husband and wife and their nineteen kids, fourteen of them adopted. Their home life was a smorgasbord of races, personalities, abilities, disabilities, newspaper routes, doctors’ appointments, chores, spills, laundry, laughter…you get the picture. I was enthralled. Adoption, I thought, was definitely something I wanted to do. “Each one take one” was, it seemed to me at the time, a great plan for meeting the needs of orphaned children the world over. I wondered why it wasn’t more common. I was sure I would adopt, knowing that the only obstacle would be an unwilling spouse. In my teens and twenties my conviction never wavered, and I wondered why every self-respecting couple who identified as prolife didn’t at the very least strongly consider adopting. When at last I came to terms with being gay, I never for a moment felt that I should stop saying what I’d been saying inside for decades: “I’ll take one!” Being gay seemed to me quite beside the point.

This will sound hopelessly lefty, but the truth of the matter is that at the age of thirty-three I sat one Sunday morning reading the New York Times in a coffee shop a block away from the Newman Center where I had just been to Mass. The Magazine cover piece was “What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans?” Alone at my table, I murmured, “I could take one.” I read the piece through until the end and had the feeling that I was living the first day of the rest of my life. My partner and I had dated and maintained separate households for four years, but were set to begin our committed life together in a few months, and we had talked enough about adoption for me to know that she was open to it. We fished out the Times article from my files nearly two years later, contacted the agency mentioned in the piece, and—after much soul-searching and research and home studies and whatnot—we eventually welcomed two small boys to our family.

I may be as selfish as the next person in many unlovely areas of my personality and life, but I can say without crossing my fingers that adopting my sons was the most unselfish thing I have ever done and likely will ever do.


And yet, as she points out, she and other aspirant gay parents are criticized by the Church for doing precisely what other aspirants are praised for – wishing to reach out in love to offer a home to young orphans.

In earlier posts on “What is a gay Catholic to do?”, my main emphasis has been on how does a gay or lesbian Catholic resolve the tensions between Catholic teaching on sexuality and one’s own internal knowledge.  This thoughtful post shows how the issues to be resolved go much deeper:  how do we as gay and lesbian Catholics interpret wider Church teaching, applicable to all Catholics, in our particular circumstances?




(Read the full story from Dot Commonweal)