Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Marriage: one man, one woman & another woman from Argentina.

This has been a busy week in the news. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that Franken won the race for Senator in that state over his opponent Norm Coleman. The governor, a republican, has stated that he would certify Franken if the court ruled him the winner, but as of this writing the governor has not yet certified Franken. Coleman has not yet announced if he will appeal the State Supreme Court’s decision. If this seems petty and obstructionist, that is because it is; however, at stake is the ability of the Republican Party to mount a filibuster in the US Senate. With Franken’s certification as a US Senator, the Democratic Party will be able to avoid republican filibusters in the Senate.

In New York State, the state senate there is still paralyzed. State senator Pedro Espada (D) has chosen to form a coalition with the republicans in the senate. The republicans rewarded Pedro Espada with the position of President of the Senate for his support of their party. This has split the senate evenly in two 31 (D) v. 31(R). The governor has exercised his constitutional power to require the senate to convene. He has threatened to do this everyday, weekends and holidays included, until the senate takes up pressing legislation.

The republicans are not eager to do so, since among pressing items is a bill for full marriage equality in New York State. Most New Yorkers are in favor of marriage equality and there are the sufficient numbers of votes for passage of such a bill. The courts in New York are requiring the state senate to meet. The senate has met, but the republicans refuse to take up any serious legislation. Among the other victims of this obstruction is the school system.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC President Obama held a press conference in which he stated:

"We seek an America in which no one feels the pain of discrimination based on who you are or who you love, and I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that," he said. "It's not for me to tell you to be patient anymore than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago. But I say this: We have made progress, and we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises that I made, but by promises that my administration keeps ... We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

Obama added that he was working with the Pentagon, as well as Congress, to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell." He called this period a "transition" toward that end but said it had to be done pragmatically, so the new policy works in the long-term.

President Obama invokes the image of the Civil Rights movement for African Americans in the past century and applies it as a parallel with LGBT Civil Rights movement of the present. That is significant of itself. It serves as a rebuke to those who dismiss the suffering of LGBT peoples due to the discrimination they suffer in this society. Suffering which is not limited to loss of employment (as in the case of Lt. Dan Choi and yours truly), housing discrimination, hate crimes, adoption law discrimination, inheritance, etc, etc, etc.

As an attorney recently told me, yes, same-sex couples may acquire many (but not all) of the rights of a heterosexual married couple, but you need to go through several expensive legal steps to do so. Try explaining all those legal nuances to a nurse in the Emergency Room or the Cardiac Care Unit while the person you love needs immediate care and someone has to make those decisions NOW. I am his/her husband/wife would end all of the confusion immediately.

This week the police department of Fort Worth Texas decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots by raiding a gay bar and sending some of its patrons to the hospital. Yes, patience is an expensive commodity Mr. President.

It is particularly difficult when it is not some act of nature, but rather a willful malicious act. An act visited upon innocent people who simply wish to live their lives in love and peace. When bigots invoke God, the loving Creator of us all, as a license to inflict evils on their neighbors they reveal their true perversion.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

California State's LGBT Pride Month Celebration. "Yesterday's Progress, Tomorrow's Promise."

The Assembly was running a little behind schedule this caused someone seated behind me to comment: “If I ran a meeting this way, people would have my head.” That comment about the inefficiency of democratic government brought to mind a quip from Winston Churchill “Democracy is the worst form of government, until it is compared with all others.”

The highly ornate nineteenth century Assembly chamber’s interior looked like a wedding cake executed in stone, plaster and wood. The beautiful crystal chandeliers with their gas-light globes reminded me of another time. I recalled Tsar Alexander II’s attempt to establish a parliamentary system in Russia. A parliamentary system was about to be introduced in Russia, this prompted anarchists to assassinate the Tsar. He had also freed the serfs over the objections of his nobles and banned the use of torture. How different Russia would be today if he had not been murdered. His son Alexander III became a rigid reactionary abandoned all movement towards democratic government and ruled with an iron fist. Taking Russia backwards and setting the stage for the eventual revolution.

Rabbi Denise Eger from Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood took her position behind the podium before the California State Assembly and delivered an invocation, which opened the legislative session. She called upon the Holy One in the language of Abraham and Moses asking for justice and healing for our State. Her words reminded us of how we had moved backwards as a State on November 4th of 2008.

The first item for a vote was a resolution by Assembly Member John Perez to designate June as LGBT Pride month for California. Assembly Member Tom Ammiano co-sponsored the resolution. Some Republicans predictably opposed it. Assembly Member Gains (R) voiced his opposition and went into a seemingly interminable speech.

In essence, his cardinal point was that this constituted “a waste” of the Assembly’s time when we face a budget crisis. Of course, an Assembly member could have made the same comment in 1959 if the Assembly was considering a resolution honoring African or Latino persons. The fact that most Republicans had simply decided to take the time “off” and not appear in Chamber did not offend Mr. Gains’ work ethic. Perhaps, they were all slaving away on other more important issues in their offices.

The Speaker of the Assembly refocused his rambling speech back to the item up for a vote, reminding Mr. Gains that the budget was being addressed. The vote was taken and less than six members voted against the resolution. Those members simply walked out of the chamber when their defeat was posted on the Assembly’s vote monitors. It was reminiscent of grammar school and the reaction of some kids who would storm off when they lost a game.

At this point the various honorees were escorted into the chamber and received their awards, these included:

Ivy Bottini, a graphic artist, actor, comedian, director and mother. She helped found the first chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Jose Sarria, A veteran of World War II who played an integral role in shaping the modern LGBT rights movements.

Helen Zia for shedding light on the many issues that challenge the Asian American and LGBT communities and for her long and continued involvement in Asian American and LGBT causes, and family violence prevention.

Retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr, CSMR was honored for his lifelong service to the US Army and the California State Military Reserve and for his commitment to fighting for equal rights for LGBT service members.

Miss Major for her work with the transgender community, for working to combat HIV/AIDS, and for mentoring many of today’s transgender leaders to stand tall and defend their human rights.

Bienestar Human Services for its pioneering efforts to provide crucial and lifesaving services to neglected populations, specifically the LGBT Latino/Latina community.

Megan Hogan was honored for her courageous leadership in the face of adversity and for her efforts to promote tolerance and mutual respect for all people. Megan just graduated from Winston High School in Del Mar California where she was the co-president of the student body, a teacher of American Sign Language and the President of the Diversity Club/Gay Straight Alliance.

Finally, myself, I thought about the people I had met in twenty-three years of service. The young Latina lesbian who cautiously asked me to help her “come out” to her mother and the young man with the look of terror in his eyes when he said to me “Father, I’m gay.” The gay priests and members of the hierarchy many of them live double lives. Clergy who in their own zealous self-loathing have pushed LGBT persons and their loved ones out of the Catholic Church. Current official pronouncements by the hierarchy that have made LGBT Catholics feel unwelcome, unloved, inferior human refuse that are “tolerated” at best and then only conditionally so.

As I read about Megan, I looked up and saw a courageous young woman with surgically implanted electronics which gave her some hearing. This young woman accompanied by her specially trained hearing dog possessed a courage which I have rarely witnessed. I had a flashback to my bishop. He sternly warned that gay students would be permitted to meet on Catholic HS campuses and organize support groups, if Prop 8 were defeated. I wonder what he would say to Megan? I wonder what she would say to him?

Here we all were in California's Capitol building on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots,that transforming day when LGBT people said ENOUGH! Our state legislature was the first in the U.S.A., which passed full marriage equality laws TWICE. Both times the Republican governor vetoed the bills saying that this is an issue, which should be decided by the Courts. Ironically, Republicans moan and wail about “activist judges.”

I am proud of our State legislature, of their vision, their commitment to justice and equality. I am proud of Justice Moreno and his dissenting opinion to the State Supreme Court's narrow and shortsighted ruling on Prop 8. I am heartened by our Governor’s comments in support of full marriage equality for all Californians. I am inspired by people like Megan, who despite all odds and opposition bravely fight for what is right. The struggle for justice continues. In October, we march on Washington, D.C.

Monday, June 15, 2009

When bishops become politicians.

Our professor of Spiritual Theology at St. John’s seminary once said, “A coincidence is a divinely engineered event.” Last November a film crew from France was in Los Angeles covering the Election. Ms. Julie Gali, the journalist heading the crew said she felt the election of Barack Obama was a historic event.

By coincidence, Julie just happened to be in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the election. Julie was surprised by all the demonstrations surrounding Prop 8. She said to me, “We know nothing of this in France!” Well, they well know much about it very soon. Julie decided to extend her stay in California and produce a film entitled “Illegal Love-Prop 8.”

She has interviewed various people in elected office, activists, proponents and opponents of Prop 8. Last Friday, she conducted a two-hour interview of Dr. James Walton, Ph.D. and me she wanted both a theological assessment of Prop 8, as well as, an assessment of the emotional and psychological harm caused by such hate legislation on LGBT people and their families.

The governments of both France and Belgium have recently registered diplomatic protests with Vatican City over the outrageous claims made by Pope Benedict XVI, that condoms contribute to the AIDS epidemic which is devastating Africa. The pontiff made those comments on his recent tour of Angola.

The AIDS epidemic has ravaged Africa for decades and international aid agencies have attempted to help limit its effects through preventative measures such as the use of condoms, which greatly reduce the risk of infection. In Africa, the primary victims of the AIDS epidemic are heterosexuals. African men disfavor the use of condoms and the pope’s comments reinforces cultural prejudices against condom use. Sadly, the wives who become infected often die, leaving orphaned children to be raised by grandmothers.

The Vatican’s role is seen as highly negative in Europe. Cardinal Levada, the second most powerful man in the Vatican, met with Los Angeles’ Cardinal Roger Mahony and San Francisco’s Archbishop George Niederauer prior to the fall elections and this is seen as an unwelcome intrusion by Vatican state into local American politics.

It is disturbingly noteworthy that Niederauer, who had served for 11 years as the bishop of Salt Lake City, subsequently managed to convince the leadership of the Mormon Church in Utah to become so involved in California state politics. The Mormon leadership of Utah then arranged financially underwriting one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in California history. Without the out of state Mormon money brought in by Levada’s, Niederauer’s and Mahony’s role in the election, Prop 8 would most certainly have been defeated.

At a certain point, Catholics in the pews need to ask how the hierarchy is spending funds, which they have donated for charitable endeavors. Beyond that, California citizens and Americans as a whole need to begin to ask why religious organizations, which enjoy non-profit tax exemptions, are permitted to operate like non-tax exempt PACs (Political Action Committees). The age-old American concern that the Vatican, a sovereign foreign nation, is involved in directing internal American domestic politics resurfaces because of this ugly abuse.

Pope John XXIII removed the papal tiara from his head at the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic Church needs to divest itself of the trappings of political power and once again become a Church. Pope John Paul II took this one-step further when he prohibited clergy from holding elected office. Politics is the primary role of the laity not of the hierarchy. When the hierarchy usurps the role of the laity in this area, they invariably create more problems than they solve and they undermine the role of spiritual teachers which is their primary role. While on this subject, it would be nice if all candidates for ordination to the episcopacy were actually required to possess an earned doctoral degree in theology.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The David Bender radio show on Air America

I was interviwed by David Bender yesterday for his show Politically Direct on Air America radio.

There are two interviews at this web address. The first is with an author of a book on President Obama and the second is my interview which starts at 79:00- interview is about 34 minutes.

Hear Father Geoff

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boycott the Knights of Columbus

Father Donald Cozzens, PhD is a psychologist and the former president-rector of St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland, Ohio. In his books “The Changing Face of the Priesthood” and “Freeing Celibacy.” He unveils the fact that a very large percentage of Catholic priests are gay. In his book “Freeing Celibacy” in chapter six, which is entitled “Celibacy and Homosexuality,” he states bluntly “the growing awareness that the priesthood is or is becoming a gay profession” [page 65].

Many priests have E-mailed me and expressed their rage and anger over the hypocrisy of the Catholic hierarchy in supporting anti-marriage equality legislation. They have often referred to the bishops as “old queens” who blithely support anti-gay efforts, because of their own self-loathing. One of the organizations, which the bishops have effectively employed to do their dirty work, has been the Knights of Columbus.

Specifically in California, the K of C donated large amounts of monies to the “yes on Prop 8” campaign. Priests feel impotent to fight back because they are kept in positions of economic servitude by their bishops. Cozzens explains why priests are paid in such a Byzantine fashion in his book “The Changing Face of the Priesthood.” Most people express surprise when I tell them that priests are "self-employed" and also receive a "W-2 Form" from the Diocese for their taxes. Self employed persons are not protect like employees by labor laws.

Beyond the issue of salary, priests traditionally receive a BA in Philosophy and then, another four-year degree which is a Masters in Divinity. Neither of these two degrees is very easily translatable into secular employment. This effectively makes it very difficult for a priest to transition out of active ministry. A young priest from the Mid-west recently told me “they gave us all the training we needed to be effective counselors, teachers, administrators, etc BUT they made damn sure we never got any of the credentials necessary to get secular employment in any of those fields.” This is no mere coincidence.

So, what can priests do to fight the anti-gay agenda of the bishops and the K of C? Here is a short list:

1) Borrow the full amount against your Knights of Columbus life insurance policy immediately. Take the check and invest the funds with an LGBT friendly fund. If every priest and K of C insurance policy holder were to do this, it would create a considerable capital drain on K of C and cripple their ability to write large checks to thwart LGBT legislation and ballot initiatives.

2) If you are a layperson, write them at tell them why you have done this. If you are a priest, simply inform them that you have decided to use the funds to promote social justice.

3) Pastors have the power to decide what is published in the Sunday bulletin and what is announced at Mass on Sundays. Do not let the K of C publish or announce.

4) Pastors may grant or withhold permission for organizations to use church facilities for their meetings. Most parishes have very tight facility scheduling. Create a program and tell the K of C they need to meet elsewhere.

Eventually, they will get the message. Economic boycotts helped bring down an unjust regime in South Africa and brought an end to apartheid there, it can work here too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Video clips from two Fresno rallies.

Meet in the Middle 4 Equality rally held at Fresno City Hall in Fresno, California on Saturday May 30th, 2009.

At a "No on Prop 8" rally held on November 2nd, 2008 at Fresno City Hall.