By Francis DeBernardo
Faithful Catholics who follow the debate on same-sex marriage have grown accustomed to our bishops making embarrassing and insensitive statements, and Monday’s missive from the three bishops who exercise jurisdiction in the state of Maryland was no exception.
The trio advance hoary and discredited arguments steeped in ignorance.
There is, for instance, no evidence of any sort that allowing same-sex couples to marry will lead to a further erosion of the two-parent household. Indeed, many of these couples already live in two-parent households with their children, only without the legal protection that the law bestows on straight couples.
Likewise, the notion that marriage is intended primarily for procreation finds no support in Catholic theology, and conflicts with the Church’s own willingness to marry couples who cannot have biological children.
The bishops’ other arguments range from the disingenuous to the disquieting. They acknowledge that “over the ages” couples have “come together in a variety of ways, physical, financial and social,” but say “these various unions have always had other names because they are not marriage.” The implication is that Catholic bishops could live with the legal recognition of some other sort of union, but you will look in vain for an instance in which this has happened.
The most disturbing of the bishops’ arguments is that the bill currently before the state’s House of Delegates impinges on the religious freedom of those who oppose same-sex marriage on theological grounds. Catholics manage to live untroubled lives in a society that permits its citizens to purchase birth control and to remarry without the benefit of an annulment. Our political leaders frequently pursue actions at odds with Catholic teaching without much protest from the hierarchy. Yet, we are to believe that making civil marriage available to same-sex couples violates the bishops’ freedom of religion. How?
The bishops don’t say, preferring to raise the specter of religious persecution without attempting to persuade us whether it should be taken seriously. They cast themselves, rather than those they discriminate against, as the victims in this struggle. But the bishops are not being persecuted; they are simply being disagreed with. And anyone who has ever been persecuted can tell the difference.
Most Catholic voters in Maryland support marriage equality–not in spite of our faith, but because of it. We do not seek to change the definition of traditional marriage; we simply want to expand the definition of who may participate. In this we are influenced by Catholic social teaching which requires that people be treated with dignity, regardless of their state in life or their beliefs. Our moral tradition values increased access to health care benefits, the protection of children and dignity in end-of-life choices. All of these values would be expanded if marriage equality were written into law.
In my work with Catholic parishes, schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and many other institutions, I have learned that there is a tremendous concern about the protection of same-gender couples among the “middle managers” of the church–principals, pastors, leaders of communities of priests, nuns, brothers–in spite of what you hear from the hierarchy. It is clear to them, as it is to me, that without marriage equality, families that are headed by lesbian or gay adults will never have the full protection of the law. And what is more Catholic than wanting to protect families and children?
We Catholics are told repeatedly that the Church is not a democracy. But Maryland is. And in a democracy, the views of a church hierarchy that has been on the wrong side of issues ranging from slavery to the charging of interest on loans to the position of the sun in the solar system, are due no special deference. Most Catholics, and, I hope, most Catholic politicians, will do as Catholic moral teaching urges them to do and follow the dictates of their own well-formed, faithfully Catholic consciences when making decisions about marriage equality.
–Francis DeBernardo is executive director of New Ways Ministry, a national Roman Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian/gay Catholics and the wider church community, and is a leader of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholics that joins the work of four national Catholic organizations who have a combined history of working for over 112 years on LGBT issues in the Catholic church.