Saturday, October 24, 2009

The U.S. Catholic Bishops teach Americans about sexual morality.

The U.S. bishop’s draft on Marriage published in the National Catholic Reporter condemns artificial birth control, same-sex marriage, cohabitation and divorce as a “challenge” to marriage. It describing two of these challenges to marriage -- cohabitation and contraception -- as intrinsically evil, a theological term reserved for nuclear weapons in Humanae Vitae. The paper condemns 1) artificial birth control, 2) same-sex marriage, 3) cohabitation and 4) divorce as challenges "directed to the very meaning and purposes of marriage." What is their stated motive? To teach both the church and wider culture the meaning of marriage "from the riches of our Catholic faith." Put another way, this is to re-establish the bishops as a (if not “the”) moral authority for American culture and society.

This reminds me of a childhood game “which of these things is not like the others?” Of the four items listed as “verboten” one stands out in contrast to the other three. Cohabitation, the use of artificial birth control and divorce are all widely accepted socially. If you were to conduct a referendum on the continued legality of any of these three, the electorate would overwhelmingly approve all three easily within the 90% range at the ballot box. Same sex marriage; however, is still highly contended in the mind of voters and that is the principle thrust of this “pastoral.”

Why then list the other three items? To give the illusion that the bishops are “even handed” and that the church is not “picking on” homosexual persons per se. Rather the bishops are looking at the “moral issues” surrounding marriage of which same sex marriage is “just” one. At this point, some may strenuously object to the bishops speaking about sexual morality at all! After all, these same men covered up the pedophilia abuse by countless priests and as their superiors seemed far more interested in the material wealth and public relations image of the Catholic Church than in the protection and well-being of pedophilia victims.

Yes, and that is precisely why this is such an excellent opportunity for the bishops and the Vatican. Same sex marriage is a highly divisive social issue since about half of the electorate is opposed to marriage equality for same sex couples. The Vatican is using the American Catholic Bishops as its mouthpiece in society and here they are claiming to address the broad question of moral issues affecting marriage. They know that even the majority of Catholics will universally ignore their statements on artificial birth control, cohabitation and divorce, however, their statement on same sex marriage will move to center stage.

Conveniently, this will redirect attention away from the pedophilia sex scandals. The religious far right, ultra conservative talk show jocks and far right media will focus on the Catholic Church’s “moral” statement on same sex marriage, since it coincides with and serves its own prejudices. The Catholic hierarchy will instantly have the sympathy and support of about half the electorate. Not bad, especially when you consider how they were viewed only a year ago. Remember all of the jokes at parties, in the movies and on T.V. shows?

In LGBT people and popular bigotry, they have an effective scapegoat for the “moral evils” plaguing marriage and society. Thereby they are able to refocus popular attention away from the pedophilia sex scandals in the Catholic Church and re-establish themselves as a moral authority. What if someone should bring up the inconvenient fact that most Catholic priests and bishops are gay and that this data has been published? Well, hypocrisy is the obsequious bow which vice pays to virtue. Besides, most people chose not to believe that embarrassing data.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Harvard Panel Discussion on Same Sex Marriage

It was a very brisk autumn day as I drove down the road by the St. Charles River I found that many of the bridges that span the river were closed. It was the annual crew regatta and people crowded the river as they cheered for their school’s boat. I navigated through the crowds and finally made my way to Pound Hall at the Harvard Law School.

I arrived just in time to hear the speech of the President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Susan N. Herman. She is an accomplished attorney with a very impressive resume and spoke of how she was attracted to a career in law as a young student as a way of changing the inequities in American society. She went on to speak of the work, which the ACLU has been engaged in during the last administration. In brief, the ACLU has been battling to preserve rights such as habeas corpus for detainees in Guantanamo. After her presentation, there was a brief break and the moderator escorted me to a room for our panel discussion.

The subject of the Panel Discussion was “Same Sex Marriage, the Law and Society.” The other two panelists were Timothy Patrick McCarthy, PhD, a Lecturer and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Maggie Gallagher the President and founder of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). I was the third panelist. We were all ushered into a spacious room, which filled with attendees.

The moderator went to the podium and announced that Maggie Gallagher of NOM had called 30 minutes before the start of the Panel Discussion and explained that she would be unable to attend. A student who is a member of the Heritage Foundation and the Young Republicans took her place on the Panel that afternoon.

As the discussion proceeded, Maggie Gallagher’s surrogate delivered a protracted statement in which she made the assertion that same sex marriage threatened traditional (heterosexual) marriage. I was then asked to deliver a rebuttal. My rebuttal was to ask her “Specifically, HOW does same sex marriage undermine heterosexual marriage?” She was unable to deliver a competent explanation, but assured us that if Maggie had been there, she would have a very good answer.

Well, Maggie was not there; however, the thrust of the “traditional marriage” side seems to be an appeal to religion and the implication that “somehow” their position is morally superior. I pointed out that a “traditional religious marriage” in Saudi Arabia is one man and five wives. The Patriarch Abraham and King Solomon would be more at home with the Saudi Arabian concept of traditional marriage than with Maggie Gallagher’s. Marriage itself has undergone constant and radical redefinitions over the centuries and these socially conditioned changes continue even at this present date, it means different things in different eras, cultures and societies.

In our own society, an appeal to a “religious” notion of marriage runs into the brick wall of the non-establishment clause of our Constitution. The simple reality in the USA is that there is a sharp distinction drawn between Civil Marriage and Religious Marriage. Every citizen has a right to a civil marriage, but not every citizen has a “right” to a Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, etc marriage. Each religion may establish its own norms and exclude people from entering into a religious marriage performed by their faith. If you are divorced, for example, you are free to obtain a Civil marriage license and may be married at city hall; however, the Catholic Church is free to deny you a Catholic marriage.

What NOM and their financial backers are attempting to do, is to impose their narrow religious views of “traditional” marriage and make their theology the civil law of the land. Their claim that they wish to “fight for national and state laws that protect marriage and religious liberty” constitutes a deceptive manipulation of public opinion. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the free exercise clause of the Constitution and always has been. No one is suggesting that particular religions may not express their own beliefs and impose requirements on their voluntary adherents. What NOM, the Catholic hierarchy and the current leadership of the Mormon Church are in fact attempting to do, is to force their religious beliefs on all of civil society involuntarily.

This is the heart of the religious right’s position and it transcends the question of marriage. They fully understand the position that the California State Supreme Court took when it struck down the ban on same sex marriage. The California Supreme Court cited and quoted an amicus brief filed by the APA in the Court’s opinion issued on May 15, 2008 that struck down California’s ban on same sex marriage. Specifically, the court relied on the American Psychological Association’s (APA) brief in concluding that the very nature of sexual orientation is related to the gender of partners to whom one is attracted, so that prohibiting same sex marriage discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, rather than just imposing disparate burdens on gay people.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church knows this to be true because they themselves had stated something very similar. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.”

Marriage here is merely an incidental consideration, albeit an important one. It has been pushed to center stage, because the equal protection clause of the Constitution has been invoked as the justification for same sex marriage. Essentially, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the current leadership of the Mormon Church and other Scriptural Literalists do not want homosexual persons to enjoy equal protection under the law. They do not want them to be able to enter into Civil Marriages, they do not want them to be able to serve in the Armed Forces, they do not want them to be able to adopt, they do not want them to be protected in their employment, they do not want them to be socially recognized or, for that matter to be socially visible. On a de facto level, they seek to strike down the Non-Establishment Clause of the Constitution and codify their religious beliefs as the Civil law for us all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Turning Point

Several people in the LGBT community criticized President Obama’s speech at the HRC dinner in Washington, D.C. on the evening of Saturday 10 October. Their principle complaint seems to be that we have heard these promises before. True enough, we have.

I remember being at Chaplains school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1990’s. At that time, President Clinton had just been elected. As a candidate, Clinton had promised to lift the ban on gay/lesbian people from serving openly in the Armed Forces. A Major stood before our class of officers and invited us to “brainstorm” about how we would change policies and procedures regarding gay/lesbian personal once the President lifted the ban. My peripheral vision caught a group of enlisted personnel operating recording equipment that was connected to our individual microphones.

Excuse me sir, but until the Uniform Code of Military Justice is amended, we are merely speculating here and we do not have the authority to do that. That stopped the discussion on the matter. A few years later, I learned that the exercise was, in fact, a trap. Its purpose was to ferret out those who were gay/lesbian and their sympathizers and to use the recorded information to force them out of the military. All of that was brought painfully back to mind when I had brunch on Sunday morning with veterans who are still advocating for a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

When I saw Lieutenant Dan Choi again on the stage of the March in front of the US Capitol building, we talked about his struggle. He looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey, we are both wearing our uniforms.” He was wearing his military uniform and I was wearing my clerical collar. I then thought to myself that most admirals and generals are straight and many of them do want to see Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed. While most of the Catholic hierarchy is gay and they don‘t want to see Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell repealed, although some of them secretly desire to see a change in the Church’s stance on LGBT people. I guess the old adage still holds true, “you hate most in others, what you hate most in yourself.”

Yes, we have been asked to be patient for far too long. Some also criticized President Obama for failing to use the word “marriage” in his entire speech. Yes, the word was conspicuously absent from such a carefully constructed and rather comprehensive speech. All of those points conceded, the speech did have some considerable substance. The Anti-Hate Law bill which is about to be approved by the US Senate and which the President promised to sign within a few weeks is a considerable leap forward for LGBT people and their loved ones. It will mean that local authorities, who sometimes hold a bias against the LGBT community, will have to answer to Federal authorities and hold legitimate criminal investigations.

Another substantive piece of legislation, which will change the lives of countless LGBT persons, is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This is pending federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation. The bill protects workers from discriminatory hiring, firing, promotion or compensation practices, as well as retaliation for reporting such practices. ENDA is also expected to be sent to the President’s desk for signature. These are not empty promises, but are concrete substantive laws that will change the quality of LGBT people’s lives by offering them REAL protections. For example, Bishop Steinbock “warned” priests in a FAX sent out the weekend before the passage of Prop 8 in California, that if Prop 8 were to be defeated, they would no longer be able to fire teachers for being gay/lesbian. By passing ENDA this practice could no longer take place.

On the “Promises List” were the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the repeal of the deceptively named “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). Yes, these too need to be addressed. To date, all we have are promises from President Obama that he fully intends to repeal both of these hate laws. I recall a quote from Henri Belloc “Hope is a light diet, but very sustaining.”

I invite you to consider two points when you weigh the value of President Obama’s speech and of the promises, which he has made to us. First, consider the previous administration and realize what a HUGE difference in values and goals Obama represents. Second, consider his speech from the perspective of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Knights of Columbus, the current leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (Mormons), the current leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, and Fundamentalist Protestants organizations.

My father taught me to play chess as a small boy and I am forever indebted to him for this gift. Chess requires that you consider the game from the perspective of your opponent. Consider Obama’s speech from their point of view. The fact that the President of the United States of America has publicly committed to end prejudice towards LGBT people and is committing his administration to champion anti-discriminatory legislation is no small matter. When President John F. Kennedy gave federal support to African Americans in their struggle for Civil Rights, groups like the KKK and the late Governor Wallace of Alabama took notice and were very unhappy with the President. They knew that this was tipping the playing field against their advantage. I believe that we will remember President Obama’s speech in a similar light.

The next morning, I walked to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. I was interviewed by a television crew and then went up to the stage area. I met several old friends, Rabbi Denise Egers from Kol Ami Synagogue, Lt. Dan Choi, Toby (who sang for us that day), and too many others to mention here. I will never forget the scene from the stage, looking out onto the Mall and the Washington Monument in the distance and seeing over 150,000 people filling that Mall and the Capitol Hill.

I cannot adequately express to you the overwhelming power of that scene. You see at one time, as a boy, I thought I was the only one. I thought that I was alone. I remember going to a bookstore in Bakersfield, California when I was about 35 years old. I waited until the bookstore was empty and went to the very small “Gay/Lesbian” section. I pulled out a slender book entitled “The Best Little Boy in the World” the autobiography of a gay man. When I read that book, I realized I am not alone.

On Capitol Hill, in the very bright afternoon sunlight, I looked out and saw a huge crowd of people from all across America. We are not alone! Together, we will ensure that no other human being EVER has to feel that he/she is the only one! Together, we will ensure that the words “with Liberty and Justice for All” are true in our land.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pay, pray and obey.

There is a scene in Star Wars in which Darth Vader comes into a private chamber of a starship and kneels before a holographic image of the Evil Emperor. He submissively grovels, “What is thy bidding master?” The Emperor proceeds to dictate his orders to his unquestioning subordinate. It is the scene from this movie that comes to mind when I think of Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the current field office manager of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. For a more detailed background of Wuerl please read the following article from the New York Times.

A more contemporary article shows how little Donald Wuerl has changed in these past twenty-three years. Please read: Huffington Post.

The first article should be of interest not only to Roman Catholics but also to the bishops of the Orthodox and Anglican Churches. Wuerl personifies their greatest concerns and fears regarding the role of the Papacy vis a vis other bishops. This remains the greatest roadblock to Ecumenical dialogue and possible reunion into the “Great Universal Church” of which St. Augustine spoke in the fifth century. The preemption of Hunthausen’s authority as the local Archbishop of Seattle serves as a chilling reminder that there is no real collegiality among bishops in the Roman Catholic Church. They are merely office managers who had better obey the wishes of the current Bishop of Rome and of the Roman Curia (Vatican bureaucracy), or else.

The action in the Hunthausen matter constitutes a reversal of the principle of collegiality articulated at the Second Vatican Council. Collegiality is the principle that the bishops collectively discuss theological and social issues and jointly come to agreement on official teachings and policy. Instead, Ratzinger is a returning to a highly centralized Roman Church, which does not tolerate any open questioning of theological or policy matters. In his book “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church”, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson states the theological/pastoral deficiency of such an arrangement. He states on page 236:

Far too often the Catholic Church has believed that it had such a level of divine guidance that it did not need the right to be wrong. As a result, both theologically and psychologically it can be bound to decisions of the past. It can be unable to move forwards, even when clear evidence emerges that earlier decisions were conditioned by their own time and that the arguments for them are not as strong as they were once thought to be. It has not been able to face the idea that on important issues and for centuries of time it might have been wrong.

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church uses brute power, to force bishops, clergy and laity to publicly comply and agree to formulations, which they utter. Anyone who questions, as Archbishop Hunthausen rudely discovered is silenced mercilessly. In its treatment of “truth”, Rome more closely resembles the former pre-Glasnost Soviet Union than it does the rabbinical style of debate and discussion found in the Sacred Scriptures. This serves as a roadblock to any Ecumenical discussions with other Churches.

This mentality is also increasingly offensive and unacceptable to thinking adults who live in democratic societies. Perhaps this is why most of Europe’s Roman Catholic churches are empty on Sundays and have been reduced to museums and quaint tourist attractions. In the United States of America, Roman Catholicism maintains its number of members by the migration of economic refugees from Latin American countries.

Like most economic émigrés the majority of these people struggle with poverty, discrimination and are handicapped by limited educations. They find themselves in an alien and unwelcoming host culture and the Roman Catholic Church is the one institution, which they recognize and turn to in their plight.
In one or two generations as these immigrants and their children attain university educations, this relationship will radically change. In the interim, the Vatican and their local managers will utilize these immigrants as a voting block to attain their political objectives in America. There was a joke in the seminary that the role of the laity was to “Pay, pray and obey” with an emphasis on the first and last words of the adage. Increasingly, educated Catholics are saying no with their checkbooks and their personal lives.

I will attend a march in Washington D.C. this weekend, which demands basic civil rights for LGBT people. Archbishop Wuerl has ordered that the Eucharist be denied to any LGBT person who wears the colors of our community’s flag. Essentially, he wants LGBT Catholics, their families and those who support us to be invisible and silent. You can almost hear him shout “Shut-up and sit in the back of the bus!” We will not be silent and we will not remain invisible any longer.

For more information regarding the March in Washington D.C. please read MSNBC

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A year in the struggle for justice.

One year ago, I made a statement from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Newman Center in Fresno. It is the Catholic parish, which serves California State University Fresno and Fresno City College. The Director of Adult Faith Formation asked me to address the question of Prop 8, because it was dividing our faith community.

The late Father Sergio Negro founded St. Paul’s in 1964 to serve the spiritual needs of students, faculty and staff at Fresno’s University and College. At that time, the Second Vatican Council was in session in Rome and Catholicism was undergoing a radical review and updating which was prompted by the Blessed Pope John XXIII.

Father Negro underwent a personal conversion because of the Council and endeavored to inculcate the spirit of openness and renewal at the newly founded St. Paul’s. Because of his tireless efforts and spirit of service, St. Paul’s was one of the first parishes in the very conservative Diocese of Fresno to have a Parish Council, Women Eucharistic Ministers, Female Altar Servers, and a functioning Parish Finance Committee. Father Negro also actively reached out to other faith communities in Fresno in a true spirit of Ecumenism.

St. Paul’s was established as a “Personal Parish” which meant that it had no geographic boundaries. The only people who were “automatically” parishioners of St. Paul’s were the Faculty, Staff, Students, and Dependants of those employed by or enrolled in CSUF or FCC. Everyone else could become a parishioner by registering as such. The results of this status and the progressive theological/pastoral style of Fr. Negro was that progressive Catholics from as far away as twenty miles registered as parishioners of St. Paul. Bishop Steinbock once quipped, “I’ll never allow another ‘Personal Parish’ in this Diocese.

When Bishop Steinbock aggressively promoted a political campaign to encourage Catholics in our Diocese to vote “Yes on Prop 8”, St. Paul’s became divided as a community. As Pastor, I was asked to make a statement clarifying a moral stance on Proposition 8. In all candor, I had initially decided to do what most priests in our Diocese did, simply remain silent on the subject in the hope that Prop 8 would be defeated and life would quietly continue.

The Bishop escalated his political campaign promoting Catholics to vote “Yes on Prop 8“, he recruited the Knights of Columbus, The Guadulapana Society, hired a full time religious to promote “Yes on Prop 8” and made editorials on the non-profit channel 49 TV station owned by the Diocese of Fresno. As events continued to unfold, some lay people in neighboring parishes jumped on the “yes on Prop 8” bandwagon and began to print political statements and circulate them parish to parish. This was the backdrop, which prompted the Director of Faith Formation at St. Paul’s to ask me, at a Staff Meeting, to make a statement to the whole St. Paul’s community.

As I prepared the statement, I knew it would be the end of my “career” and so, I carefully constructed the statement and reviewed it with a Jesuit priest in California, two attorneys, a Psychologist and a licensed therapist. I sent a certified letter to Bishop Steinbock explaining that I was taking a private retreat that Monday through Friday and would return to resume my duties that weekend. This is of critical importance, because the Bishop later claimed that I had “abandoned” my parish. I most certainly did not and he knew that.

My attorney retained a copy of the certified letter which was received by the Bishop which clearly stated my intent to return to St. Paul‘s and resume my duties that weekend. Yes, I removed my personal effects from my office and the parish house in anticipation of Bishop Steinbock’s response. My attorney had advised me that the Bishop would remove me as pastor and that I could remain living in the rectory. However, this would have placed the community of St. Paul’s in a cross fire between the Bishop, his appointee and myself. I did not want to subject my parishioners to such an ugly, protracted and destructive battle.

Bishop Steinbock acted exactly as I had anticipated he would. He removed me as Pastor of St. Paul’s Newnan Center and suspended me as a priest. I was forbidden to “publicly celebrate the sacraments.” My attorney invoked Canon Law, which states that a bishop must provide for his priests. The Bishop stated that the Diocese would give me “nothing except that which civil law required.” I responded to my attorney, “That elegantly expresses exactly why we need the right to Civil Marriage.” Bishop Stienbock simply brushed aside Canon Law and told my attorney “he should get a job.” Well, I did. My job over the last year has been to work, as the Catholic Daily News stated on their online site, as a gay activist.

Throughout the month of October of 2008, I worked with the “No on Prop 8” campaign. I must confess this was not without frustration. I recall filming two Public Service Announcement (PSA) ads for the “No on 8” campaign. One was in English language and one was in Spanish language. The leadership of the campaign decided not to air the PSA’s. I was told at a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills “You are too controversial” I smiled, put down my knife and fork, looked around the table at the others seated at dinner and said “Newsflash, we ARE controversial.” When I was scheduled to appear on FOX News live with Rev. Jim Garlow, an advocate of “Yes on Prop 8,” I was instructed by “No on 8 campaign” to avoid any theological discussions. I complied with their instructions, believing that they knew best. As a result, Garlow’s misguided theological views went unchallenged.

Election night proved to be a study in contrasts. On the one hand, Obama’s unquestioned victory was an historic event which signaled a great victory in the Civil Rights movement. On the other hand, election night brought news of the oppression of another minority group; same sex couples were stripped of their right to Civil Marriage in California.

In the following days public demonstrations erupted throughout California, and to my surprise, across the nation. People took to the streets demanding their civil rights. I found myself in one of those marches. An elderly woman told me “They [the people in charge of the No on prop 8 campaign] ignored the grassroots, we trusted them and they lost us our rights!” A few weeks later, at a rally in East LA we were informed that Delores Huerta said, “We lost the campaign because we didn’t do our homework! We didn’t reach out to People of Color.” As I struggled to comprehend why we had narrowly lost on Election Day, several points increasingly came into clarity regarding the Campaign.

The “No on Prop 8” campaign enlisted professionals to run the media campaign. They conducted a very tightly controlled and exclusive campaign, which attempted to avoid all controversy. They ran the campaign as if they were trying to sell automobiles or soft drinks. They trusted “the professionals” and forgot something. They forgot that this was a Civil Rights battle and not an advertising campaign. They forgot the words of Malcolm X who said, “No one ever gave anyone civil rights, you have to take them.” In short, they made the same mistake that many of us were conditioned to make as young people, when we first discovered that we were “different.” They tried desperately to be “good little boys and girls.” They thought that if they were squeaky clean and super polite; that then, they would earn a pat on the head and their rights like some sort of merit badge. Unfortunately, they made a huge mistake.

We all make mistakes and that is how we learn and grow; however, in order for the positive benefits to accrue, we must first admit that we made a mistake. To date, that leadership of the “No on Prop 8” campaign has not publicly admitted that they made mistakes, nor have they proposed how to correct those mistakes. It was later that I became aware of a group called Love Honor Cherish that was to give me new hope and restore my faith in the movement.

This group was different. It was a grassroots group. The first meeting I attended was at a synagogue. The sincerity and simplicity of both the synagogue and the members of Love, Honor, Cherish, impressed and moved me deeply. Every member had a voice, everyone could speak and each gave freely of his or her time, treasure and talents. Yes, there was the same frustration that all of us felt over the injustice of Prop 8; but, there was a constructive spirit at work here. “What can we do now?” “How do we pick up the pieces and work for justice?”

During this period, I was invited to speak at Kol Ami synagogue in West Los Angeles. Rabbi Denise Eger was very gracious. Through her assistance, I was able to secure a series of job interviews for the position of Executive Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic justice-Los Angeles (CLUE-LA). I had lunch with a board member and he was very pleased with me. He stated that he looked forward to working with me as we left the restaurant. I had one more interview the following Monday which, I was led to believe, was a mere formality. I will always remember the charity and kindness of Rabbi Denise and the Jewish community of Los Angeles.

On Saturday morning I received a phone call from Rev. Conn he apologized and informed me that the meeting with the Board of Directors had been cancelled. He explained that they had received a phone call from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles threatening to disaffiliate from CLUE-LA if I were hired as Executive Director. I was shocked but not surprised. Cardinal Mahony is known for such acts of malice. Without Mahony’s interference, I would have been working 50 to 60 hours per week on labor rights and would have very little time to devote to LGBT issues in general and to repealing Prop 8 in particular.

I also became involved with the good folks at California Faith for Equality. This group represented voices of faith from many religious traditions in California who saw Prop 8 as a moral evil, which targeted a minority group in our state and stripped them of their Civil Rights. The fact that this was done in the Name of God was even more offensive and the impression that “Religion” was opposed to the “Immorality of Same Sex Marriage” and homosexual persons in general was the effect in the average Californian’s mind. California Faith for Equality sought to correct these all too common misconceptions. California Faith for Equality sought to reclaim a voice for the many people of faith, and the religious traditions in California, which do not subscribe to these discriminatory views and to the immorality of bigotry in the name of God.

In the summer of 2009, a summit meeting was held in San Bernadino, California. Representatives of LGBT organizations gathered to discuss how to proceed to regain the civil rights of same sex couples to marry. I served as one of the neutral moderators for the day. Our task was to help calm over zealous representatives and maintain order and a spirit of cooperation. As the meeting proceeded throughout the day, the organizations divided into two camps. One camp, whose leadership was conspicuously absent from this important summit meeting, favored a position of “Prepare to Prevail,” this group believes that 2010 is too soon to win back our rights. They maintain that 2012, or later, is more feasible and allows them more time to raise additional funds and begin unspecified “education campaigns.”

The other group commissioned studies; those independent experts concluded that we could win in 2010 by 52% simply by adding the provision to an initiative that no religious group would be required to perform same sex marriages. The result of that summit was that each group would proceed with its plans.

Courage Campaign challenged its supporters if they wished to proceed in 2010 then, they would need to raise $100.000.00 towards that goal within 72 hours. They raised well over that amount in 48 hours and Courage Campaign committed to go forward with 2010. They went on to host various training seminars throughout California. An all-volunteer corps began to canvass their neighborhoods and they engaged in door-to-door outreach to advocate for marriage equality. I became one of a handful of proponents to petition the State of California to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal Prop 8 in 2010.

We will begin gathering signatures around Mid-November 2009 and we will have 150 days to collect 695,000 signatures of registered California voters to place this initiative on the State’s Election Ballot for November of 2010.This is an all volunteer effort, which is important work because, unlike paid signature gathers, these volunteers are committed to this cause. They will not merely collect signatures, but will engage people in conversations to move them towards greater marriage equality.

This signature gathering also accomplishes several other things for marriage equality, not only in California, but also in Maine and elsewhere. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) ( has to consider the possibility of another political campaign in California. The last such campaign cost 38 million dollars. By qualifying for the ballot in November of 2010, we will force them to fund another very expensive campaign. As Richard Nixon quipped, “You’ve got to win California, it’s the Big Enchilada.”

That is 38 million dollars they will not have to fight us in other states, the repeal of DOMA (Defence of Marriage Act) or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That is 38 million dollars they will not have to contribute to the political campaigns of candidates that support their bigotry. Even if they managed to win, they would most probably have to repeat the process and the huge expense two years later. Eventually they will lose and they will have to appeal to financially fatigued donors repeatedly for the same doomed cause.

We lost by just over 2% of the vote last November. If we had won, most Americans would have dismissed that victory saying that California is the land of “fruits and nuts.” However, the loss in California sent shock waves through the LGBT community nationwide. It was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor and the confrontation of Rosa Parks in awakening the nation to the bigotry and calculated manipulation of the religious right. The Catholic hierarchy and the Mormon leadership used their wealth, intimidation, and a deceptive campaign to manipulate the fears of California voters in November of 2008.

They won a very narrow victory; but, simultaneously they awakened a national movement for justice. They won a battle but it cost them the war. Since that election, several states have passed full marriage equality laws. New York and California will soon join them in granting its citizens the rights promised by the equal protection clause of the constitution to ALL citizens. On October 10th and 11th large numbers of LGBT persons and their loved ones will March on Washington, DC and hold rallies throughout the nation demanding equality.

If you would like to help restore the right of Same Sex Couples to Civil Marriage in California, please visit

Monday, October 5, 2009

One year ago today.

One year ago today, I stood at the pulpit of my parish in Fresno and read the following statement:

As most of you know, I was appointed pastor here at the Newman Center on April 15th of this year. When I arrived, I set out to address a series of various projects to repair our facilities. To date, most of these deferred maintenance items have been addressed. In the middle of dealing with contractors, the parish finance committee, the building department of the diocese, neighbors, etc., I received a FAX from the bishop’s office on the 30th of June. It was the bishop’s pastoral letter for the month of July.

This single FAX threw my whole summer, and in fact, my whole life into a turmoil. Recently, I was speaking with some of our parishioners who advocate for the ordination of women. In the course of our conversation, a question arose which has haunted me: “At what point do you cease to be an agent for healing and growth and become an accomplice of injustice?” By asking all of the pastors of the Diocese of Fresno to promote Catholics to vote “Yes” on Proposition 8, the bishop has placed me in a moral predicament.

In his “Pastoral,” the bishop states: “Marriage is much more than simply two persons loving each other. Marriage is naturally, socially, and biologically, directed to bringing forth life.”

Actually, there are TWO ends to marriage: 1) Unitive and 2) Procreative. The unitive end of marriage is simply a union of love and life. The Procreative end is, of course, to create new life. It is important to understand that the unitive end of marriage is sufficient for a valid marriage. The Church sanctions, and considers a sacrament, the marriage of elderly heterosexual couples who are biologically incapable of reproduction. So, if two people of different genders who are incapable of reproduction can enter into a valid marriage, then why is it that two people of the same gender, who are incapable of reproduction, cannot enter into a valid marriage?

The objections which are raised at this point are taken from Sacred Scripture. Scripture scholars reveal the problematic nature of attempting to use passages from the Hebrew Scriptures as an argument against same gender relationships. Essentially, these scriptures are addressing the cultic practices in which sex with temple prostitutes was part of an act of worshiping Pagan gods. With regard to the Pauline epistles, John J. McNeill, in his book: “The Church and the Homosexual,” makes the following point: “The persons referred to in Romans 1:26 are probably not homosexuals that is, those who are psychologically inclined toward their own sex—since they are portrayed as ‘abandoning their natural customs.’” The Pauline epistles do not explicitly treat the question of homosexual activity between two persons who share a homosexual orientation, and as such cannot be read as explicitly condemning such behavior. Therefore, same gender sex by two individuals with same sex orientation is not “abandoning their natural custom.”

In 1973, as a result of a greater understanding of human psychology, the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” While these statements are hardly glowing affirmations of gay and lesbian persons, they represent a watershed in human perception and understanding of gay and lesbian people.

These new insights have occurred as a result of the birth and development of the science of psychology and understanding of brain development in the 19th and 20th centuries. The California Supreme Court cited and quoted an amicus brief filed by the APA in the Court’s opinion issued on May 15, 2008 that struck down California’s ban on same sex marriage. Specifically, the court relied on the APA’s brief in concluding that the very nature of sexual orientation is related to the gender of partners to whom one is attracted, so that prohibiting same sex marriage discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, rather than just imposing disparate burdens on gay people.

In directing the faithful to vote “Yes” on Proposition 8, the California Bishops are not merely entering the political arena, they are ignoring the advances and insights of neurology, psychology and the very statements made by the Church itself that homosexuality is innate (i.e. orientation). In doing this, they are making a statement which has a direct, and damaging, effect on some of the people who may be sitting in the pews next to you today. The statement made by the bishop reaffirms the feelings of exclusion and alienation that are suffered by individuals and their loved ones who have left the Church over this very issue. Imagine what hearing such damaging words at Mass does to an adolescent who has just discovered that he/she is gay/lesbian? What is the hierarchy saying to him/her? What are they demanding from that individual? What would it have meant to you personally to hear from the pulpit at church that you could never date? Never fall in love, never kiss or hold hands with another person? Never be able to marry? How would you view yourself? How would others hearing those same words be directed to view you? How would you view your life and your future? How would you feel when you saw a car with a “Yes on 8” bumper sticker? When you overheard someone in a public place use the word “faggot?”

I remember the first time I heard that word, faggot, I was hanging out with my cousins. They all played on the football team of the Catholic high school in our town. One of them spat out the word in the form of a curse. I was just a kid in the 5th grade, I’d never heard the word before, and so I asked: “What’s a faggot?” A faggot is a guy who likes other guys, was the curt reply. Now pause. Think. What would those words mean to someone in junior high school who discovers that he/she is attracted to people of their same gender? The greatest fear that he/she would have is that they would be rejected by the people they love the most—their family. So, their solution is to try to pass as straight, deceive, and in effect—lie. Of course, this leads ultimately to self loathing. It should come as little surprise that gay teenagers have elevated suicide rates. According to the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (1999), 33% of gay youth will attempt suicide.

The bishop states: “The Church has spoken out constantly that those with a homosexual orientation must be respected with the dignity of every child of God. Every individual is created in the image and likeness of God and should never be subjected to prejudice or hatred.” A pious thought uttered by a cleric, robbed of any substantive meaning, as the executioner begins his work. Only a few select people actually read those documents. What most Catholics hear about being gay or lesbian at their parish church is--silence. A numbing silence, which slowly and insidiously tells them, “You don’t belong here, this is not for you, and you are not welcome.” It is not the crude overt vulgarity of some churches. But rather, it is the coldness of a maitre d’ who simply won’t seat you, or the club which has put you on a waiting list with no intention of allowing you to join. And simply asks you to wait in polite almost, apologetic tones.

In effect, the bishops are asking gay and lesbian people to live their lives alone. Why? Who does this benefit? How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? What is accomplished by this? Worse still, is to intimidate a gay or lesbian person into a heterosexual marriage, which is doomed from its inception, and makes two victims instead of one by this hurtful “theology.” This “theology,” which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society which they claim to abhor.

When the hierarchy prohibited artificial birth control, most of the faithful in the United States, Canada and Europe scratched their heads in wonderment and proceeded to ignore them. There is an expression in theology: “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” If your son or daughter is gay/lesbian let them know that you love them unconditionally. Let them know that you are not ashamed or embarrassed by them. Guide them as you would your other children to finding true and abiding love. Let them know that marriage is a union of love and life and is possible for them too.

I do not presume to tell you how to vote but I do ask that you pray to the Creator of us all. Think and consider the effects of your vote on others, especially minorities in our society who are sitting next to you in church, and at work. The act of casting a vote takes you a few minutes but it can cause other human beings untold happiness or sorrow for a lifetime. It can grant them hope and acceptance, or it can cause them to lose civil rights. It can be a rebuff to bigotry and hatred, or it can encourage bigotry and hatred. Personally, I am morally compelled to vote “NO” on Proposition 8. It is my hope that the people of California will join with those others around the world such as Canada, Europe and South Africa who welcome their gay and lesbian family members fully into society by granting them the civil right to marry.

I know these words of truth will cost me dearly. But to withhold them, would be far more costly and I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” He didn't promise that it would be easy or without personal cost to speak that truth.

I made the preceding statement as a response to what was then, and sadly remains today a fundamentally unjust and discriminatory stance towards LGBT people by the Catholic hierarchy and others. In tomorrow’s post, I will review what has happened this past year in the cause to rectify injustice.