Monday, June 27, 2011

OUR STRUGGLE: Past, Present, Future and Beyond.

After the seismic decision by the state of New York in favor of Marriage Equality and the subsequent weekend of elation and celebration, it occurred to me that this is a good time to pause and reflect. A good time to look back, to see how far we have come; a good time to look at our present realities and a good time to look forward to the near future and beyond.


Let's begin by looking at the following chart.

In examining the chart, you will note that a precipitous decline in the percentile favoring the criminalization of homosexuality begins in 1973. It was at that time that the American Psychological Association publicly stated that homosexuality was not a form of mental illness and, in fact, constituted a sexual orientation. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition) declared that for some, homosexuality was innate.

From 1973 to 1980, the percentage of states in which homosexuality was illegal fell from 92% to 52%, a staggering 40% drop in only seven years time. By the 2003, date of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas the number of states in which homosexuality was illegal had dropped to 30%. Over two-thirds of the states had rejected criminalization of homosexuality as being both irrational and unjust.


Currently the American Psychological Association states the following,

Is sexual orientation a choice?

No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.

Can therapy change sexual orientation?

No; even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual orientation through therapy, often coerced by family members or religious groups to try and do so. The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable. However, not all gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who seek assistance from a mental health professional want to change their sexual orientation. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people may seek psychological help with the coming out process or for strategies to deal with prejudice, but most go into therapy for the same reasons and life issues that bring straight people to mental health professionals.

As increasingly more in our community come-out to parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers and society in general. As we become more visible in media, stereotypes have begun to give way to reality and prejudice to reason. The most liberating and healthy part of this coming-out process is on a personal level. The joke that, “the last person you come-out to is yourself,” as with all humor, it is funny because it is built around a kernel of truth. People who learned self-loathing as children, through reason slowly come to accept and assert themselves. This in turn advances the cause of simple justice and equality for all.

There are, as always, those opposed to the expansion of civil rights for disenfranchised minority groups.

"Cuomo was able to convince people -- both Democrats and Republicans -- that they were more likely to get reelected if they supported marriage equality than if they didn't," said Richard Socarides, of gay rights organization Equality Matters and the chief aide on LGBT issues in the Clinton White House. "The right-wing threatened these guys and the Catholic Church threatened them."

Actually, if statistics are accurate, it was not “the Catholic Church” that threatened elected officials; but rather, Catholic bishops and a minority of Catholic voters. Catholic laity, as a group, are far more supportive of Marriage Equality than any other American denomination and even more progressive on this question than the general American population. Evidently, even cautious politicians are beginning to realize that listening to the Catholic bishops and the Knights of Columbus will actually lose them Catholic votes.


On a visit by the late John Paul II to New York City, he said to then Cardinal O’Connor, “You are the Archbishop of the Capital of the World.” Friday’s enactment of Marriage Equality by the Republican led senate of New York state is the equivalent of Waterloo, or Stalingrad in our war against discrimination.

I think that the courts will reinstate Marriage Equality in California within one year. The certification of the repeal of DADT will have a national impact as a culture changer and move forward full equality for our community. People forget the role that Truman’s desegregation of the Armed Forces had in changing national social attitudes on racial equality.

Courts have already declared DOMA unconstitutional and Obama has instructed the Department of Justice NOT to appeal that ruling.

Any one of these events would be a serious wound to NOM, which is a Pac of the religious right, but in combination, these constitute a mortal wound to legally sanctioned discrimination in our nation. As this occurs, Marriage Equality will also be moved forward in France and other EU and Latin American nations. As John Paul II said, “What happens in the United States of America today happens everywhere else in ten years.”


New York state Senator and ardent Equality opponent Ruben Diaz’ surprisingly lucid and honest quote that, “same-sex marriage is inevitable in New York state,” is an accurate prophecy for the United States of America, the European Union and Latin America. In our own nation, this will probably occur within the next few years.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Law in 1964. After that date, legal discrimination based on race was illegal in the United States of America. Racial bigotry has diminished since that date; however, still remains ingrained in American popular culture, although it is increasingly less socially acceptable to hold and express such bigoted views.

Once we have full legal equality and protection, our community must also fight a similar series of battles. What Affirmative Action was to the struggle for equality for racial minorities, I believe that Anti-Bullying laws will be for our community. Despite nationally held perceptions of “Hollywood” as being ultra-liberal, the culture of the Entertainment Industry in this town is very socially conservative on the question of sexual orientation.

Like Roman Catholic priests, many actors, writers and people in the film industry are gay. As with priests, many of these folk’s livelihoods are predicated on keeping that fact a secret. Self-loathing is unhealthy both for the individual and for society as a whole. Hold studios accountable for their (non) depiction of our community and for their employment practices towards members of our community. Marriage Equality households need to be presented not as a comedic foil, but as an increasingly normative reality. We must demand the same respect and exposure in film and television depictions of our community as is currently accorded to religious and racial minorities in our society.

Draw inspiration from our past, draw hope from our present victories, rejoice and continue the battles first to secure full equality on the federal level and then create a safe and positive environment for both ourselves and the next generation.


Tal said...

Fr. Geoff, thanks for the thoughtful and uplifting post. We've made astounding strides as a community over the last few years, and it's easy to forget how quickly the societal consensus has shifted and continues to shift.

I will say that personally, coming out has been and continues to be a difficult process. My family has been great and I've shared with a few friends whom I trust. The temptation to simply break loose and tell the world has been almost overwhelming at times. But like many, I fear the consequences for my employment and career. All it takes is one superior to sour on one's orientation, and whether conscious or not, perceptions shift and things once ignored or considered unimportant suddenly take on a new and ominous cast.

It's especially from this perspective that I think that we've got the most work to do. Although most people's attitudes have changed, I still think LGBT makes most people uncomfortable, and usually, that translates into negative attitudes and exclusion, even if unintentional.

It is with that in mind that I say thanks to you and all who are out there on the front lines, fighting for us.

Tal said...

Fr. Geoff, not entirely sure where to post this, but I read this comment today in the Advocate. The Bishop of Rhode Island, Thomas J. Tobin, stated that "'Because civil unions promote an unacceptable lifestyle, undermine the faith of the Church on holy matrimony and cause scandal and confusion, Catholics may not participate in civil unions. [...] To do so is a very grave violation of the moral law and, thus, seriously sinful.'" (The Advocate, July 1, 2011)(quoting The Providence Journal, July 1, 2011).

I suppose that everyone "participating" in a civil union, from the loving couple on down, should now expect excommunication as heretics. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Can. 751, 1311-1312. I'm not sure whether Tobin considers the offense of civil union grounds for automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) or 'excommunication upon notice' (ferendæ sententiae). Certainly, just by writing on this and supporting civil unions, according to Tobin, we are all excommunicate. Id., Can. 1369 ("A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication [...] gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty").

Tobin's comment is the most aggressive I've read to date, and is all the more surprising because the issue isn't even marriage, it's just civil unions. Better the pedophile I suppose. I wonder whether his Grace has the guts to follow through on his big man words?