Thursday, November 8, 2012

You Matter

On Election night in 2008 I stood at the Music Box in LA and watched the election counts come in. That night four years ago, I experienced two opposite emotions at the same time. The hope for substantive change promised by our newly elected President, Barack Obama; and the just anger at the bigotry manifested by the passage of Proposition 8. A hateful “law” that stripped LGBT people not only of their civil right to marriage, but of their human dignity.

I came to realize in the weeks and months following the passage of that hate inspired law, that its passage was a blessing in disguise. If we had won and defeated Prop 8 in November of 2008, the rest of the nation would have brushed it off: “Eh, that’s California, the land of fruits and nuts.” But because we lost here, in what is perceived to be the bastion of liberalism in the USA, it was a slap in the face to LGBT people across America. If our civil rights can be trampled in California, what chance do we have in the Deep South or the Midwest? Prop 8 was a painful but effective national wake-up call to LGBT people and their loved ones.

Harvey Milk said: "Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight." It is true that if every LGBT person came out to family, friends, coworkers and society that homophobia would collapse. Social change, social justice and social equality would ensue. But there is also another truth here that is equally important: This is a personal matter, either you do it or it doesn't get done.

Each of us is personally healed and made whole the day we speak the truth about ourselves. The joke is: The last person you come out to, is yourself. The Prop 8 crisis was for me personally a moment of truth. A moment in which I had to make a personal decision that would change my life.

Speaking the truth can exact a painful price. Speaking the truth cost me my parish, my career, my financial security, my health care insurance and my retirement. I had to file for bankruptcy in July of 2010. Everything was stripped away. As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said: “Once you take everything away from a man, you have no power over him.” In America we call this the “golden handcuffs.” Incidentally if anyone reading this has any influence in legislation, please help repeal ERISA exemptions to religious organizations. Everyone’s retirement benefits should be protected.

Today I am free from the fear that grips many priests in active ministry. I have lost false friends and discovered who are my true friends. I discovered that my parents love me unconditionally and that my family is there with and for me. The Prophet Job wrote: “Naked we come into the world and naked we go forth from it.” The only thing we have is ourselves and the love we have given and received.

Tuesday night, four years after the passage of the infamously unjust Prop 8, Maine, Maryland and Washington state all passed Marriage Equality laws that extend the Civil Right of Marriage to all couples. Minnesota voters rejected an Anti-Equality amendment to their state’s constitution. This along with the reelection of Barack Obama, the first sitting President to support Marriage Equality, in his victory speech affirmed the civil rights of all Americans “gay or straight.”

This represents a cultural tipping point in American society towards full legal equality and eventual social acceptance. Because of America’s influence in the world, it also represents an acceleration of international legal and social equality for LGBT persons. That is my assessment, but I think it prudent to look at last night’s events through the eyes of others.


Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an organization that actively works against the Civil Rights of LGBT people, predicted that the President would lose reelection last night. She was wrong. She did however have the foresight to step down as the president of NOM and hand on the helm to Brian Brown, just before everything hit the fan.

Effectively leaving Brian Brown holding the bag of failure and defeat, while Maggie walks away unscathed. Last night’s defeat of NOM was its death knell. Major donors (Knights of Columbus & the Mormon Church) will connect the dots and realize that NOM is now a costly and ineffective tool in preventing Marriage Equality.

The U.S. Supreme Court:

There is a popular myth that the U.S. Supreme Court is insulated in a hermetically sealed bubble from social issues and partisan politics. That the Court is an institutional version of Mr. Spock from Star Trek, a few moments of reading Justice Scalia’s pontifications on various issues will disabuse you of this fantasy. However, the Court does attempt to foster and maintain a patina of disimpassioned objectivity.

The Court has to decide a series of cases that deal directly with Marriage Equality. These include the case of the infamous Prop 8, that has been invalidated by the Ninth Circuit Court and been appealed by Prop 8 backers to the Supreme Court. Additionally the Second Circuit Court has declared that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

Make no mistake; the Supreme Court Justices were all keenly watching the results of Tuesday night’s Election. It is clear that Marriage Equality is increasingly the will of the Electorate. It would serve the Supreme Court well, as an institution, to be on the winning side of history. More importantly it would erode the prestige and image of the Supreme Court to rule against Marriage Equality, especially in the wake of their highly contentious ruling in Citizens United.

The Republican Party:

If the Supreme Court rules that DOMA is unconstitutional, it will be granting a HUGE gift to the Republican Party. Republican political strategists have been warning for some time now that an Anti-Equality position on marriage will cost dearly in future elections and reduce the Republican Party to a permanent minority party, incapable of winning the Presidency. Read this memo from George W. Bush’s advisor Jan van Lohuizen, published in Politico:

1. A review of public polling shows that up to 2009 support for gay marriage increased at a rate of 1% a year. Starting in 2010 the change in the level of support accelerated to 5% a year. The most recent public polling shows supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents by a margin of roughly 10% (for instance: NBC / WSJ poll in February / March: support 49%, oppose 40%).
2. The increase in support is taking place among all partisan groups.

The problem for the Republican Party is finding a way out of their doctrinaire Anti-Equality stance that does not alienate its political base, specifically white evangelicals in the former Confederacy and Great Plain states. A Supreme Court ruling such as Loving v. Virginia in favor of Marriage Equality would be an elegant solution for Republican leadership. They could simply blame “activist judges” and underscore the need for their base to vote Republican so that they could block the Democratic Party from appointing new liberal justices.

Essentially, they’d take a page from their handling of the abortion issue: use “repeal”, as a carrot to motivate the base where they are the majority (the Deep South & Great Plains states); and play it down where it is expedient to ignore the matter (e.g. the Northeast and West Coast).

U.S. Catholic Bishops/Vatican:

The French have a saying: “Nothing succeeds like success,” sadly for the Vatican and its hierarchy the opposite is also true nothing fails like failure. The hierarchy failed and they failed massively in this Election and on the issue of Marriage Equality. Archbishop Dolan’s anointing of Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa hoping for an ally to replace President Obama failed. Romney lost and so did Dolan, the USCCB, and the Vatican.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ abuse of “Religious Freedom” in this election cycle has been judged absurd. The bishops claimed that a mandate that Catholic institutions (e.g. universities, charitable agencies) provide insurance coverage (such coverage normatively includes reproductive services/procedures) to employees, students and their dependents violates Catholic’s Freedom of Religion/Conscience.

Voters saw through this attempt by the bishops to redefine Religious Freedom as belonging primarily to institutions and only secondarily to individuals. An employee, student, etc of a Catholic institution would have their conscience effectively overruled by the bishops; unless they could afford to pay for these services/medications/procedures out of pocket and many cannot. This would have had the practical effect of violating the Freedom of Religion/Conscience of employees, students and their dependents.

The good news for Dolan and American bishops is that this pope is very, very old and will probably not be around by the next national election. They simply have to lay low provide minimal lip service to the pontiff’s fanatical eccentricities, in order to protect their careers, and wait for his replacement. A practical example of this can be found in the inaction of Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine. As the Seattlepi reports:

“The Catholic Church didn't play an active role in the referendum debate, focusing instead on education. But Malone did issue a statement saying Catholics who support same-sex marriage are "unfaithful to Catholic doctrine."

Election night 2008 made Election night 2012 possible. Much hard word and many painful sacrifices by LGBT folks across America and internationally have made this progress possible. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to you. When you speak the truth you change the minds and move the hearts of those who know you. You change their votes and in doing so, you change society for the better. As Harvey Milk said:
"Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight."


y said...

Excellent commentary, on why we must burst down those closet doors, and on the hidden blessings in the Prop h8 disappointment.

God works in mysterious ways, indeed and the Spirit can turn any situation to advantage.

Terence Weldon said...

Excellent commentary, on why we must burst down those closet doors, and on the hidden blessings in the Prop h8 disappointment.

God works in mysterious ways, indeed and the Spirit can turn any situation to advantage.

Frank said...

One of the things about this election that saddened me was that several members of my extended family who are very active participants in their Catholic parishes and others who attend church faithfully were Romney supporters. I have to assume it was due the the Bishops defining the "non-negotiable" issues especially abortion and same-sex marriage. These are people who grew up in the same Catholic church I did and were taught the same values. How did the "non-negotiables" trump charity, the works of mercy, social justice, the personal conscience, human rights, care for the homeless and orphaned, etc, etc?

The Republican Party will figure out what it must do to survive, but will the Catholic Church?

Father Geoff said...

Dear Frank,

As I read your comment Blessed John XXIII; the late Cardinal Carlo Martini; and the faces of many of my professors; priests; religious women and wonderful parishioners came to mind.

Your question is valid and the answer will emerge from our action/inaction.

Tom said...

Another great post, Geoff! I'm so happy that I met you that night four years ago.