Thursday, November 8, 2012

Turning Corner with Marriage Equality (and Catholic Contributions)

And, of course, one of the biggest news stories of this election cycle, which still has not received as much attention as it deserves in the national media, is the story of the unprecedented victory of marriage equality in not one but four states.  As Ashley Fetters notes in The Atlantic, the election marks the first time in American history that marriage equality was passed by a popular vote, breaking the streak of unbroken ballot-box defeats on which the religious right, with its attendant Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus and the National Organization for Marriage, has long counted to establish precedents for denying rights to LGBT citizens.  

Or, as Wayne Besen says a little more pungently at Truth Wins Out,

Against all odds, we won four referendums on marriage equality, where we had previously won a goose egg. Not only is the monkey finally off our backs — we spanked the critter, took him to the zoo, locked him in a cage, and force-fed him a banana peel for lunch.

At his Daily Dish site, Andrew Sullivan explains why he calls Tuesday night the single biggest night for gay rights in U.S. electoral history:

Last night, 77% of gay and lesbian voters - who made up 5% of the electorate - cast their ballots for Obama, the first president to support marriage equality, and the first sitting president to mention gays in a victory speech. The 113th Congress, meanwhile, will be a groundbreaking one: voters elected America's first out US senator - Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin - and sent to the House five out gay men (two of them incumbents, and one of the first out gay person of color in Congress) and an out bisexual woman (the first openly bi member of Congress). Americans also re-elected a pro-equality justice in Iowa after three pro-equality justices were ousted in 2010. And, of course, we went four for four in the marriage equality ballot measures in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota. 

In National Catholic Reporter, Kate Childs-Graham notes--and thanks--the many Catholic voters who made possible the victory of marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington.  (I include Minnesota not because that state voted to permit civil marriage for gay couples, but because it turned back an initiative to inscribe prejudice in the state constitution for which the Catholic bishops of the state and Knights of Columbus fought long and hard, to the tune of millions of dollars.)  Childs-Graham notes the long hours and very hard work that many Catholics, including many straight allies of the LGBT community, put into these victories.

Some of these folks are people who regularly make comments here at Bilgrimage, and who in various ways support the work of this blog.  I've been hesitant to thank these stellar human beings and fellow Catholics for fear of leaving someone out.  But because they deserve notice and much gratitude from all of us who care about equal rights and justice for gay human people, I want to mention several of them now, at the risk of overlooking someone (and with profound apologies if I do so).

Some of the people who have connections to this blog and whom I know to have been directly involved in the battles for marriage equality in their own states are Michael Bayly in Minnesota, Coolmom in Maine, Phillip Clark in Maryland, and John Shuster and Michael Ferri in Washington.  Steve and I had the privilege of having brunch with Michael Bayly in Minneapolis this summer, as Steve took a work-related trip to Minnesota and we visited his mother and other relatives.

Michael has spent countless hours for a number of years now working for gay rights in Minnesota.  The strain of the relentless, grueling work was visible on his face and in his posture when Steve and I saw him a number of weeks back.  He deserves as many bouquets and kudos as we all can lavish on him, and the right to rest a bit on his well-earned laurels now.

As I've said repeatedly here, I honestly didn't think the marriage amendment would be turned back in Minnesota.  My perspective is affected by the fact that Steve's family lives in a predominantly Catholic and very conservative corner of the state, which did, in fact, vote heavily to amend the state constitution to inscribe anti-gay prejudice in it.  Steve's own family members--siblings, cousins, perhaps aunts, uncles, and even his mother--did what their parish priests instructed them to do and voted yes on the marriage amendment.  The vote for the amendment was equally heavy in the other parts of the state where the majority of Steve's relatives live, which are also heavily Catholic and conservative.

This is to say that Michael and other Minnesotans fighting for equality were working against great odds within their own Catholic community.  And so they deserve much gratitude from all of us who care about gay rights, for their determination against the odds--which carried the day.

Coolmom has left one comment after another here over the past several years, detailing her constant hard work, as a married, straight Catholic woman, on behalf of LGBT rights.  Her strong sense of compassion and hope, and her sense of humor, have carried me through days when I've felt like chucking this blog.  I've appreciated, in particular, her encouragement to me to share my "gay" recipes. I've appreciated her telling me that even postings I regard as silly, but which contribute to my mental health if to no one else's, matter.

I don't know Coolmom, don't even know her "real" offline identity.  But in another sense, I do know her, since her humanity and faith shine through her comments here.  And I am deeply grateful for the hard work she and other loving, justice-demanding Catholics in Maine have done to promote marriage equality in that state.

I also don't know Phillip, John, and Michael Ferri--not in the flesh, at least.  But as with many other readers of this blog and other internet sites commenting on Catholic issues, I've benefitted from the wisdom and compassion each of them clearly embodies in the little vineyard he tends.  Phillip's in Baltimore and has blogged about the marriage equality struggle in his state.  His voice as a younger Catholic who happens to be gay has long seemed to me very critically important to hear.  I send him and other Catholics in Maryland who worked for marriage equality in that state loads of congratulations.

Both John and Michael have supported Bilgrimage in ways that go beyond the surface.  I won't embarrass them by detailing precisely how both done so, but I will say that their encouraging notes to me online and via the mail have made a world of difference to me.  Both tell me that what I say here means something to them, and have told me they hope I'll keep writing.  John has told me a number of times that I should recognize that I really am continuing to carry on a theological vocation here that Catholic authorities and institutions have sought to block.

John is another straight married Catholic ally of marriage equality, and I know that he was directly involved in the work that resulted in a victory for gay rights in that state.  Michael has long lived in a committed relationship with his partner, which sets a powerful example for all those who tell us that if we're gay, we're doomed to futile loveless relationships.  He has also worked for many years on behalf of gay rights and women's rights, and contributed much to the struggle for marriage equality in his state.

To all these first-rate human beings and to many others who contribute to the ongoing battle for gay rights (I'm singling out these people because they live in the states in which marriage equality has just won the day, and have worked very hard for these victories), my profound thanks.  You inspire me.  And you keep me babbling here.  A job very well done in each and every state in which you labored!

The graphic shows Sister Jeannine Gramick, a longtime advocate for LGBT rights, who has been punished by the Catholic hierarchy for her advocacy on behalf of gay human beings, encouraging Maryland Catholics to support marriage equality.  The photo is from the website of New Ways Ministry, of which Sister Jeannine is a co-founder.

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