Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Gift from America: Catholics Should Raise Voices to Defend Human Rights of LGBT Persons

The latest editorial of the Jesuit journal America makes a strong statement (keying off Hilary Clinton's recent Geneva address) about the need of the Catholic church to raise its voice in support of the human rights of gay and lesbian persons.  As a Catholic concerned to defend the human rights of all marginalized minority communities, I read the editorial as a Christmas gift because,

1) Though a sizable percentage of Catholics in the developed nations stand in solidarity with LGBT persons and defend our rights, a vocal and often mean-spirited minority continue to represent "the" Catholic stance as anti-gay and overtly discriminatory;

2) That vocal and often mean-spirited minority includes, unfortunately, most of the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church;

3) As gay and lesbian persons suffer oppression throughout the world (and, yes, in the U.S.: the governor of Michigan has just rescinded partner benefits for gay couples working for the state), a large percentage of the most influential lay spokespersons for "the" Catholic viewpoint in the American media and academies remain shamefully silent about the human rights of LGBT persons and collude with the hierarchy in attacking and undermining those rights.

The only false note I hear in the America editorial is its observation that "[s]ame-sex marriage has been strongly opposed by the church."  This is inarguable as a factual description of what the church's hierarchy says, of course.

But it muddies the picture by failing to distinguish between sacramental and civil marriage.  For an increasing percentage of Catholics (and a majority, in most developed nations), the Catholic hierarchy's opposition to civil marriage for same-sex persons is indefensible and immoral.  It undermines the church's teachings about human rights in general.  Many Catholics correctly regard the right to civil marriage for same-sex couples as a human right that cannot justly be withheld from those who are gay.

I understand that the America editorial makes this gesture of repeating "the church's" opposition to "marriage" for same-sex couples as a bow to the hierarchy.  Most Catholics no longer intend to bow to the hierarchy on this point, however--precisely because of the strong, unambiguous commitment of many Catholics to human rights for all persons without distinction.  And so the America editorial lags behind the sensus fidelium in the points it makes about human rights for LGBT persons, and actually misrepresents "the" Catholic position about marriage equality--which is distinct from what the hierarchy wishes to say about marriage equality.

Even so, that quibble aside, I welcome America's statement.  And above all its conclusion, "The church should continue to raise its voice in defense of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who suffer unjust discrimination."

Yes!  And this point gains more pertinence with each passing day, as the previous president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops incredibly and hurtfully compares his gay brothers and sisters to the Ku Klux Klan, and as the archbishop of San Francisco slams the gay community of his city at Christmas time by withdrawing permission for gay-supportive speakers to participate in Advent programs sponsored by a parish with many gay parishioners.

Gay and lesbian people do continue to endure oppression in the United States, while, as the America editorial rightly notes, the oppression endured by LGBT people in places like Uganda, where Catholics are the largest religious group in the nation at nearly 50% of the population, is fierce and demands immediate attention--as the Catholic hierarchy of that nation, the Vatican itself, and the influential centrist Catholic intellectual elite keep their mouths entirely shut about the oppression.

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