Friday, March 25, 2011

Celebrating (?) U.S. Lay Catholics' Support for Gay Rights

News about recent poll findings showing American Catholic support for gay marriage growing by leaps and bounds has been making the rounds of blog sites recently.  A recent report compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute finds American Catholics more supportive of legal recognition of same-sex relationships than members of other Christian faith communities and the public at large.  Catholics also support legal protection for the rights of gay and lesbian persons at a somewhat higher rate than does the public at large.  Journalist Lawrence O'Donnell devoted one of his "Last Word" broadcasts at MSNBC to a discussion of these data recently, calling on those who speak of "the Catholic vote" as predictably conservative to stop misrepresenting what a majority of American Catholics think about gay issues--in contrast to what Rome and the bishops dictate.

And as I said recently when I noted Andrew Sullivan's response to similar findings in an ABC-Washington Post poll, I celebrate the fact that a majority of American Catholics support the rights of LGBT persons.  The strong support of American Catholics for gay rights (and the trend of increasing support) has been known for some time now, as a matter of fact.  

However, as I also noted in the posting responding to Andrew Sullivan on this topic to which the preceding link points, I remain skeptical about the developing tendency to celebrate lay Catholic support of gay rights in the U.S.--when that celebration causes us to ignore some still-alarming data about the involvement of powerful American Catholics in movements to block gay rights in the U.S.  I'm convinced that, if we're truly committed to justice and equality for gay Americans, our celebration of Catholic support for gay rights has to be tempered with sober recognition of the continued ability of some American Catholics to keep dealing out significant misery to their gay brothers and sisters.

And I think that even as we celebrate, we American Catholics who stand in solidarity with those who are gay and lesbian need to continue working to block the fervent, powerful, and often very successful attempts of some Catholics in the U.S. to set the cause of gay rights back at every turn.  Here are my concerns:

No matter how strongly a majority of American Catholics stand in support of gay rights, there remains the undeniable fact that some of the most powerful and highly placed opponents of gay rights on the American political scene are Catholics.  Who have strong funding support--or so it seems--from Catholic groups, as they work constantly to overturn legal recognition of the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons.  These Catholics frequently note that they are pursuing their work of blocking gay rights precisely because they're Catholic.

These include Maggie Gallagher, whose National Organization for Marriage has strong ties to the Catholic church, and whose funding--insofar as we have any evidence at all about it, since NOM persistently fights attempts to force the organization to disclose its funding sources--comes largely from Catholic (and apparently Mormon) sources.  They also include Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, who is routinely trotted out as "the" Catholic voice on gay and other issues, when the media want a Catholic opinion. 

They include the financially powerful Tom Monaghan, whose money runs anywhere in the nation that right-wing causes, including the attempt to block gay rights, are pursued.  They include Erik Prince, who is thickly connected to various right-wing interest groups in the U.S., and whose family's money helped turn back gay marriage in California in the prop 8 battle.  They also include Newt Gingrich and Deal Hudson, both of whom have worked extremely hard inside beltway circles to combat gay rights.

They include a number of Catholic justices on the Supreme Court who have not displayed conspicuous sympathy for gay rights, and whose judicial support for rulings in favor of the rights of gay and lesbian Americans is not likely to be counted on.  They include the powerful and well-funded Knights of Columbus, who donated a huge amount of money to the fight to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of California, and who are thought to have played a key role in producing and disseminating the anti-gay marriage video that the bishops of Minnesota sent to all Catholic households in that state in the 2010 elections.  They also include the Catholic cult group American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, which sent representatives to march in favor of prop 8 in California, and which organizes rosary crusades throughout the U.S., often disseminating anti-gay literature at these events.

I'm deliberately refraining from cluttering this posting with links substantiating each of the claims I make above.  There's plenty of good evidence to support each statement I have just made, much of it easily accessible online, and much of it available right here on Bilgrimage, for anyone seeking more information about what I've written re: any of these figures and issues in the past.  

To repeat my point: no matter how strong and widespread lay Catholic support in the U.S. for gay rights is, as long as these powerful anti-gay players--Catholic anti-gay players, who cite their Catholicism as the reason for their opposition to gay rights--remain on the scene, working tooth and nail to block gay rights in many areas, the widespread lay Catholic support for gay rights doesn't ultimately mean a great deal.  Not, that is, until and unless lay Catholics in the U.S. not only work to support gay rights, but also work against the malicious attempts of some of their own co-religionists to block gay rights and demonize gay people.

A second think-carefully-as-you-celebrate point I feel compelled to make, as we look at the growing support of American Catholics for gay rights: as what happened at Marquette University last year demonstrates, many Catholic workplaces in the U.S.--a majority of them, I'd propose--continue to discriminate actively against those who are gay and lesbian.  Many Catholic institutions base hiring and firing decisions solely on sexual orientation; they have long done so, and they continue to do so.  And the U.S. Catholic bishops continue to fight for the "right" of Catholic institutions to engage in discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring and firing decisions.

Precipitous celebration of Catholic support for gay rights means little--in the real world--until lay Catholics push hard against this kind of obscene (and still widespread) discrimination in Catholic workplaces throughout the U.S.  Pretending that we support gay rights when, in fact, we actively discriminate against people on grounds of sexual orientation in our own institutions is not merely disingenuous: it's morally reprehensible.  As long as some Catholic universities can refuse to hire a faculty member solely because she is an out and vocal lesbian, or a gay Catholic couple can be told by a Catholic school that their children are not welcome in the school because their parents fail to adhere to Catholic teaching, or an out gay faculty member at a Catholic university can be fired with a statement that his being publicly gay contradicts church teaching: as long as these and many more acts of blatant discrimination against gay and lesbian persons continue to occur in Catholic institutions throughout the U.S., our celebration of Catholic support for gay rights is premature.

And misplaced.  Since we're covering over discrimination (and we're also further dehumanizing and marginalizing the many gay and lesbian persons who have reported such incidents of discrimination in Catholic institutions) with our glib, premature celebration.

Though we can and should celebrate findings that American Catholics are following the moral arc of the universe as it bends to justice for LGBT human beings, there's still work to be done.  Abundant work.  That work is the work of translating what we American Catholics believe and say into action--action on behalf of justice.

And some of that action--a large part of it--will require much stronger pushback, organized pushback, from lay Catholics in the U.S. against both homophobic Catholic bishops and the Vatican, and the minority of lavishly financed homophobes who continue to bring disrepute to Catholics in general by using their Catholicity as a cover for prejudice and discrimination.

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