Saturday, April 13, 2013

This Was a Week: As Gay Rights Breakthroughs Occur, Backlash Among Some People of Faith Continues

This was a week. It was a week in which the French Senate voted through legislation enacting marriage equality and adoption by same-sex couples, and in which the House in Uruguay also approved a bill for marriage equality, making that strongly Catholic nation the second in Latin American to permit same-sex marriage nationwide.

It has been a week of stepped-up vituperation against LGBT human beings that I've been monitoring (and experiencing) in my own Catholic circles, as the Supreme Court cases about marriage equality open national discussion of gay rights. It was a week in which Roger Gorley, a gay man, was removed in handcuffs from the bedside of his spouse in a Missouri hospital, while a former employee of the hospital posted statements online about how the "f*ags" were causing problems--sounding to my ears, as she wrote this, very much like some of my fellow Catholic who have logged into this site in recent days to engage in their own bit of Catholic-driven gay-bashing.

In the past several weeks, more and more public figures have expressed support for marriage equality, including a second Republican senator, Kirk of Illinois. The National Hockey League has just announced that it has teamed up with the You Can Play Project to support gay rights and combat homophobia in professional sports.

In Catholic news in the U.S., issues of justice and equality for LGBT persons are front and center in the story of Nicholas Coppola's removal from various ministries in his parish, St. Anthony's in Oceanside, NY. Jamie Manson updates that story at National Catholic Reporter yesterday. An out gay man, Coppola was ministering as a catechist, lector, fundraiser, and altar server in his parish, until someone sent an anonymous letter to Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Center:

"The problem is he is a homosexual. He was recently married to another man. He does not hide this or keep it silent," the letter stated.

After this, Coppola was removed from ministry in St. Anthony's parish. He had married his partner last October.

What has been done to Coppola is provoking national dialogue among American Catholics, since it comes right on the heels of the Easter-day statement of Bishop Murphy's superior, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, that the Catholic church has sometimes failed in its pastoral outreach to gay people, and that the church loves gay folks! As Jamie Manson reports, over 18,000 people have signed a Faithful America petition asking for Bishop Murphy to revoke Coppola's removal from ministry, and Coppola presented that to Murphy's office Thursday, though Murphy himself has refused up to now to meet with Coppola.

As Manson also notes, Coppola's story is drawing attention to the fact that many gay and lesbian Catholics have been treated as Coppola is being treated by church officials:

"This is not an isolated incident," Ross Murray told the press gathered outside the diocesan offices. In his post as director of news and faith initiatives for GLAAD, an advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Murray has heard numerous stories of Catholics "denied the sacraments and removed from jobs." It was GLAAD that first broke Coppola's story last week.

And so there's a lot of discussion of love in the air these days, as the public discussion of human rights for gay people (and of gay humanity itself) provoked by the Supreme Court hearing opens national debate about these matters, and as that national debate impacts communities of faith like my own Catholic community. What does love mean, concretely? Is love what some people of faith have been about all along, as they have sought to deny rights to LGBT persons and to exclude them from full participation in the life of the church?--something that has just happened in a shocking way to Nicholas Coppola in his New York parish.

Anti-gay Christians are becoming increasingly nervous about the term "love." As Hunter Walker notes for Talking Points Memos Thursday, a group of social and religious conservatives including longtime Catholic anti-gay activist Phyllis Schlafly just sent Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus a letter threatening rebellion against the GOP if it softens its stance towards gay folks (news flash: as Sarah Posner reports at Religion Dispatches, the RNC listened to these folks; it didn't soften its anti-gay stance one bit at yesterday's RNC meeting). The letter shows that these social and religious conservatives are on the defensive about criticisms that they haven't really loved gay folks as they have judged, condemned, attacked, and excluded those who are gay: 

"We deeply resent the insinuation that we have treated homosexuals unkindly personally," they wrote.

Love is increasingly a big problem for anti-gay people of faith. There's great irony in this development. It represents an historic reversal of grand proportions. For a long time now, anti-gay religious believers have sought in every way possible to problematize gay love. Many anti-gay people of faith have maintained that gay people don't love (it's all about sex) and can't love (they're intrinsically disordered). 

Anti-gay people of faith have maintained that the word "love" belongs exclusively to religious people, who uniquely understand what this word means, who determine its meaning, and who will dole out tidbits to those who are gay according to their own definition of the word "love." But as more and more people in many cultures of the world begin to realize that they actually know and love gay family members, friends, and co-workers, and that many of the gay people whom they know do lead lives of love, it's increasingly the claim of anti-gay people of faith to be about love in their dealings with gays that is becoming seriously problematic.

Anti-gay people of faith are now on the defensive as a cultural shift of epic proportions occurs and more and more people discover that they know and love gay human beings who are perfectly capable of real love in their connection to others. As this shift takes place, anti-gay people are now being forced to explain to the world precisely how they have been demonstrating love as they judge, condemn, attack, and exclude those who are gay. 

There's an irony in this historic reversal that some of us might be tempted to find more than a little delicious, don't you think? There's an irony here that people like Nicholas Coppola, Roger Gorley, and many others who have been the object of the "love" of people like Phyllis Schlafly, Timothy Dolan, Salvatore Cordileone, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ken Cuccinelli, Sam Brownback, Bill Donohue, Antonin Scalia, et al. might be tempted to find more than a little karmic, wouldn't you agree?

It's almost as if, while they've been claiming that what they're about is defending the traditional definition of marriage, which has not shifted from the beginning of history and which we change at the risk of undermining civilization itself, they've been missing the real point of this historic conversation about the humanity and rights of gay folks. That point, the really important point that more and more people now want to discuss, is how anti-gay people of faith themselves have been trying to redefine the meaning of love itself, whose meaning has been clear from the start of human history in culture after culture, in religion after religion, so that if we turn its meaning on its head as anti-gay Christians are seeking to do in their "love" for their gay brothers and sisters, we turn civilization itself upside down.

The graphic is from the mosaics of the biblical creation story in the Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo, in which some commentators have heard echoes of Dante's observation that love is the force that moves the sun and stars.

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