The repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) provision for the U.S. armed forces was welcomed by a majority of the American public, and in this season of family Christmas celebrations, the change in social attitudes towards gays and lesbians will pose some important choices for America’s Catholics sitting around the holiday table.
If there are ten people in a home celebrating the birth of the Savior, chances are at least one gay or lesbian is participating in the festivities, since homosexuals account for about 10% of the population. In the past, families like mine excused homosexuality as long as it was hidden, our own form of DADT. Of course, there were always some who considered exclusion of gays and lesbians from the family home to be a virtuous practice of religion.
Exclusion was not limited to sexual orientation. The coldness was often shown to divorced Catholics or those married outside the Church. It was not just Catholics either. The Broadway piece, “Fiddler on the Roof” renders a Jewish milkman dickering with God about when to bend and when not to break with tradition. Many of today’s Muslims are undergoing similar conflicts with the old ways and the new demands.
But if families back then anguished over whether or not a ne’er do well nephew was invited to dinner because his relationship to his “girl-friend” was considered scandalous, the debate would have ended if the name of his partner was “Charles” and not “Charlene.”
Even so, Catholic teaching on homosexuality is not as far-right as for some Evangelical denominations. It is not the condition of “being gay” that is sinful in our faith: it is the practice of homosexual acts outside of marriage that is condemned (for heterosexuals too, but then they can marry in the Church). But while that distinction between “being” and “doing” separates Catholics from some, Church teaching does not allow us to join with other faiths that see no fault at all in homosexual activity.
We Catholics view our ethics through the prism of the natural law. The Vatican has classified homosexuality as “objective disorder” on the natural law premise that sex is supposed to be used for procreation; when it is not, states the Vatican, the disorder is “objective.” (This is shaky logic since obligatory celibacy would then also become an “objective disorder” since it does not allow sexuality to be used for procreation…but this is another long-debated issue in Catholic apologetics.)
Ironically, along with changing cultural views of homosexuality, science is now suggesting that there is a “gender orientation gene” that makes homosexuality the result of nature and not just a personal choice. Such an interpretation would reverse the theology of homosexuality today, much as Jesus reversed the belief that blindness was a punishment for sin (Jn. 9:1-3)
Most of Catholic America will not be entering into theological arguments about homosexuality or divorce this Christmas as we sit alongside family members. We will soon be aware of which relatives are happy and which are depressed. I remember my joy upon seeing that a family member finally abandoned an unhappy marriage and found someone new. This feeling is based on love for the person rather than intellectual reasoning about Church law. Sometimes, I think, we should not pose as judges over other peoples’ morality.
Many Catholics accept divorced and remarried relatives at a Catholic Christmas celebration, because “…at least they are happy again.” I can’t understand how this compassion would not be extended to gays and lesbians who “come out.” I see no virtue in using the Christmas dinner to denounce human happiness.
I am not arguing for repeal of Catholic teaching: but only for remembering the Christmas message. If the Baby Jesus was honored with the presence of rough shepherds, pagan Magi, dumb oxen and foul-smelling asses, surely we ought not refuse to put up with our relatives for a few hours – even if they happen to belong to another political ideology, religious leaning or sexual orientation. Instead of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a Catholic Christmas rejoices to be loved by Love Himself.