Last weekend the office of a LGBT group was vandalized at Boston College Law School. According to sources cited in BostInno’s article, the office building and doors were unlocked, and Boston College and the Newton police departments are now investigating the incident. The administration promptly responded to the incident, with Law School Dean Vincent Rougeau sending a letter to the college community which stated:
The administration of Boston College Law School condemns this reprehensible action and will not tolerate hateful or threatening speech of any kind. This behavior is the antithesis of all we stand for as an institution, and is an assault on our shared values of a welcoming, loving, and inclusive community.
The dean’s message was well-received by the LGBT coalition, co-chaired by Jason Triplett, who told Above the Law that the BC Law Community has been “overwhelmingly supportive.” Rather than have the administration remove the hateful graffiti, Triplett says Lamba will be holding a meeting to generate ideas on how to turn the situation into something positive for BC Law and LGBT members of Lamba Law.
While BC is a Catholic (Jesuit) school, Triplett said that “students and faculty at the BC Law School are very accepting of the LGBT community.” The article cites BC’s Lesbian, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Leadership Council’s (The GLC) launch of “Ellen2BC,” a social media campaign that hopes to bring comedian and LGBT supporter Ellen DeGeneres to the BC campus in order to raise awareness for the Jesuit Catholic Schools LGBT community.
So what’s the bigger picture behind all of this? Of course, we know that the hateful vandalism of the LGBT office is detestable, but besides that, the vandalism is also a tangible reflection of the Catholic Church’s active lobbying against gay rights, especially gay marriage. In light of this incident, it is not inappropriate to ask, which is worse? A fleeting incident of vandalism against an LGBT organization, as this unknown perpetrator(s) has done? Or an on-going assault on gay rights by one of the most powerful religious institutions in the world?
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the United States, with an estimated 62 million members — including myself. While the church has accepted celibate gay and lesbian people, it is increasingly becoming more intolerant. Most recently, the Vatican has issued plans to release a document that will bar celibate gay men from Catholic seminaries, an action that may signal the church’s shift towards a more aggressive anti-gay stance. In addition the Church has been a vehement opponent of gay marriage and adoption by gay and lesbian parents. Gay marriage, in particular, is an issue that the church vigorously lobbied on, despite their stance against discrimination.
So, while the church has condemned the legal discrimination of gays* and supports the increased research into the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, it has deemed that sex and marriage are intended for procreation only. For heterosexual Catholics then, that means remaining celibate until marriage and then refraining from using birth control. For a gay or lesbian Catholic though, this means remaining celibate for life. Failure to do so is considered a sin, although compliance can result in the achievement of “Christian perfection.”
The church has backed its opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples through a number of platforms, one being the statements issued by the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The church has also been actively engaged in influencing the political process concerning marriage equality, urging Catholic lawmakers and voters to reject marriage rights for same-sex couples. For example:
— In 2003, the four Massachusetts bishops sent a letter to every Catholic pastor in the state, directing them to read a statement during Sunday services that denounced marriage rights for same-sex couples
— In July 2003, the Vatican denounced same-sex unions as “evil” and called upon Catholics to oppose any legislation that would grant them equality.
— In spring 2004, several Catholic bishops announced that they would refuse communion to politicians who failed to adhere to the church’s stance on a variety of issues, including marriage rights for same-sex couples.
— Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, went a step further in May 2004, writing a pastoral letter that stated that any Catholic who voted for candidates who supported such issues should be refused communion
— In June 2004, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all U.S. bishops asking them to encourage their senators to support the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment.
— In March 2005, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom received national media attention when he refused to allow a funeral to be performed in a local Catholic church for a gay man, John McCusker, who ran several gay nightclubs. Brom called McCusker’s business activities “contrary to sacred Scripture and the moral teachings of the church” and said that by denying him a Catholic funeral, he was trying to avoid a “public scandal.” After McCusker’s funeral was held in an Episcopal church, Brom apologized to McCusker’s parents and offered to celebrate a Mass for him.
Despite the Church’s lobbying efforts, on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage. Connecticut (Nov. 12, 2008), Iowa (Apr. 24 2009), Vermont (Sep. 1, 2009), New Hampshire (Jan. 1, 2010), New York (Jun. 24, 2011), Maryland (Nov. 6, 2012), Maine (Nov. 6, 2012) and Washington (Nov. 6, 2012) all followed suit. But the U.S. is not alone in this civil rights shift. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Iceland and Portugal all allow same-sex couples to marry. What these numbers show is a shift in public opinion — perhaps universally.
Is the Catholic Church just being stubborn, unwilling to part with long-held seemingly static beliefs? Why is so much weight given to the issue of same-sex marriage and not, for example, child molestation? Up until recently, gay marriage opponents have looked to Scripture and church teachings to justify their resistance to gay marriage. But with more and more state lawmakers poised to consider the approval of same-sex marriage, including Rhode Island most recently, Roman Catholic bishops and other advocates of “traditional” marriage have changed their tune.
Opponents now say that the reasons for opposition don’t have to do with the teachings of the Church, but with natural law — a law that gay marriage violates, according to proponents of this emerging view. In a recent interview, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said that marriage came from nature. He continued to say that marriage is based on “the complementarity of the two sexes in such a way that the love of a man and a woman joined in a marital union is open to life, and that's how families are created and society goes along. … It's not in our doctrine. It's not a matter of faith. It's a matter of reason and understanding the way nature operates.”
What’s questionable about this new stance is the cardinal’s assertion that marriage comes from nature. Does it? The origins of marriage are debated across cultures, but one thing that is certain is that the institution of marriage has certainly changed across demographics and time. Essentially, civil marriage is a legal contract between two people, and this contract can be recognized by a state, a religious affiliation etc. If the Catholic Church does not want to recognize same-sex marriage, they never have to but they shouldn’t impose this belief on any sovereign state.
What’s also changed across demographics and time is the idea of “traditional marriage” and the “traditional family.” Does that even exist anymore? There is no such thing as traditional marriage. Given the prevalence of modern and ancient examples of family arrangements based on polygamy, communal child-rearing, the use of concubines and mistresses and the commonality of prostitution, heterosexual monogamy can be considered "unnatural” in evolutionary terms.
What’s more, if marriage is about reproduction, then infertile couples would not be allowed to marry. The ability or desire to create offspring has never been a qualification for marriage. Today, there are a number of ways to have children that are not considered traditional: adoption, artificial insemination, and surrogacy for example. To the Church I say is bringing a child into a loving family wrong if it wasn’t done the “traditional” way?
Whether someone is gay or straight or bi-sexual or trans-gender should not matter in the land where all men are created equal. Sexual orientation is not removed from the fact that we are all human beings and should all share the same rights and benefits regardless of who we love or want to marry. Any two people that love one another should be able to publicly celebrate that commitment and receive the same benefits of marriage as other couples. Denying same-sex couples this right stigmatizes gay and lesbian families as inferior and sends the message that discrimination is acceptable. That message is far more detrimental to a child than any other.
States also need to consider that bishops arguably misrepresent the Catholic population as a whole, at least in the U.S. The fact is that the bishops are far more extreme on all issues ranging from abortion rights to gay marriage. For example, a Pew survey estimated that only one in five Catholics in the U.S. believe abortions should be banned in all circumstances — far out of line with that the bishops are preaching. Yet, they still seem to inspire fear in the lawmakers they are lobbying. Will the Obama administration end up caving to the clerical lobby, despite the president’s declaratory show of support for gay civil rights during his second inaugural address?
For equality's sake, hopefully not.
* On December 10, 2009, the Vatican released a statement which opposing “all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons,” particularly “the murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State.” The statement didn’t reference Uganda by name, but that last statement was taken as an oblique reference to the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Shortly before Christmas Day that year, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Uganda, Cyprian Lwanga, denounced the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill in his annual Christmas message from Rubaga Cathedral. That message was broadcast over several Ugandan television channels.