Gay marriage came, and I didn’t even notice…
June 27, 2011
Have I been living under a rock, or what??
After a lovely, luxuriant, lackadaisical weekend spent sleeping in, dancing to cumbia music in the park at my friends’ BBQ, sipping bubble tea, conversing with my loved ones and (yes) attending Sunday Mass, I woke up this morning to a great surprise:
My home state has legalized gay marriage!! And just in time for PRIDE week! Yayyyy!!
Of course, the fact that I just noticed this tiny piece of news now (two days after the rest of the world found out) makes me realize that I have a lot to learn if I ever think I’m going to make it in the blogosphere. Lesson #1: Get with it!!
Sadly and embarrassingly for me, I did not learn of this news until this morning, during a telephone conversation with my mother that went something like this:
Me: So, how are you doing?
Mother: I’m okay. I’ve been a little down.
Mother: Well, I know we disagree on this issue, so there’s not much point in talking about it, but…the gay marriage bill was passed.
Me: Oh… (trying to mask my excitement and elation)
Mother: I mean, it’s just disappointing. Mark Grisanti was against it, and then he changed his mind…
Grisanti, for those unfamiliar with his name, is a Catholic Republican New York State Senator from Buffalo who, after taking an anti-gay marriage stance during his campaign, changed his mind and cast the decisive thirty-third vote in favour of the bill. Now, he is some people’s hero and other people’s villain: http://www.buffalonews.com/city/politics/article468372.ece
For most traditionalist Catholics, he is obviously a villain. In the words of Buffalo’s Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, the bill “leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled…We strongly uphold the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love…But we just as strongly affirm that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, loving union that is open to children, ordered for the good of those children and the spouses themselves.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York took a much harsher stance:
“We who oppose Same-sex Marriage are not callous to the very real human longings for friendship, affection and belonging that proponents of this legislation espouse as the rational ‘Marriage Equality’…Indeed, we like other New Yorker discuss these issues with our friends, family, co-workers and loved ones who have same-sex attractions. We have in part failed as the proponents of the historical understanding of marriage as that between a man and a woman precisely because we have sought to be sensitive to those who have same-sex attractions. Perhaps we must now speak more forcefully and clearly.”
However, I dare to suspect that Grisanti is not a villain to all practicing Catholics (and he himself is a practicing Catholic). The Church is cracking and rippling with the voices of those who want change. I remember my exceedingly liberal high school chaplain, a priest who founded a nonprofit organization in the early-80’s to help people with AIDS and on more than one occasion spoke openly to the student body in favour of gay rights. And even in the recent Buffalo News article which I’ve posted above, there is a sign that change in the Church might be on the horizon, even if it is all too slow in coming:
…The Rev. Gregory H. Faulhaber, a moral theologian on the faculty at Christ the King Seminary in the Town of Aurora, said Saturday he thought Grisanti “was doing what is most pragmatic” for a politician.
“He may have felt it was going by with or without him,” Faulhaber said.
But Faulhaber also said he doesn’t believe Grisanti should be banned from church.
“He certainly is a Catholic, and he is allowed to come to church. As a Catholic, he has an obligation to come to church. As far as whether he has sinned, I would not judge on that. … The Eucharist should not be used as a tool to force people to do something one way or the other.”
Nevertheless, the situation remains very difficult for Catholics who identify as anything other than heterosexual. These Catholics are left with basically three options. The first is to leave the Church, perhaps in favour of a more liberal-minded Christian denomination, perhaps in favour of no religion whatsoever. This is what many of my queer friends have done, as have many of my straight friends who refuse to associate themselves with an organization which they view as discriminatory and intolerant. The second option is to remain in the Church and follow the mandate that it offers to its LGBTQ membership: to pursue the vocation which it terms “the single life,” i.e. a life of celibacy, or, if they feel called to do so, to become a priest or a nun, which also demands celibacy. (The Catholic Church teaches that there are three vocations which its members can follow: heterosexual marriage (which must be open to children), the single life, and the religious life). At this point I should make it clear that the Church is not against queer identity/sexuality, or even against queer sex per se, but simply against all sex that does not hold procreation as its objective. Thus, from the Catholic perspective, a heterosexual couple who live together without being married, or a married heterosexual couple who purposely avoid having children, are “sinners” just as much as a gay couple are. The sin lies in seeking a relationship based on the desire for companionship and love only, rather than based on the desire to “participate in the great enterprise of forming the next generation,” as DiMarzio states in his editorial.
I could point out the logical flaws in this argument (or make the obvious point that it is in fact possible for LGBTQ couples to have children), but for now I won’t do so – that could be a separate post entirely. I could also take up DiMarzio’s statements about the erosion of moral values in our society and the breakdown of the family (which I agree are very serious issues that we as a society should be addressing, but I don’t think that trying to prevent gay marriage is the way to do so) but that, also, is material for a completely separate post. Instead, I’d like to return to the experience of being a queer Catholic (or, for that matter, a heterosexual Catholic who prefers to keep the Church and its teachings out of his/her bedroom). As I’ve said, the first option is to leave the Church; the second is to follow its laws. The third is to go the route of the hypocrites: to remain in the Church, to love the Church, to follow its teachings in so far as they conform to one’s own moral compass…essentially, to be a “cafeteria Catholic,” to take what you like and leave the rest behind.
That is what Mark Grisanti did. That is what, in my own private life and indeed in starting this blog, I have done. That is what so many of my friends – for so many reasons – have done and continue to do.
But is it right?
About a year ago, I discussed this issue with a nonreligious friend who argued that this “cafeteria Catholicism” is not right. It’s hypocrisy – subscribing to one set of ideological beliefs while living according to another. “The Church is never going to change if all these people who don’t agree with it remain part of it and keep perpetuating the system as it is,” she said. “If all these dissenters were to leave, then maybe the Church would wake up and realize that it has to make a change.”
A valid point. However, my answer to this issue was that, frankly, I don’t want to leave the Church. While I may disagree with some of its teachings, I firmly believe that the overall message it preaches is one of justice, mercy and compassion. For me – and I think most of my fellow liberal Catholic dissenters can agree on this point – God is real, and while Catholicism may be deeply flawed, for us it is the best path toward knowing and experiencing the Divine in our everyday lives. We don’t want to leave the Church. We love the Church. We just want it to grow, to change, to become truly representative of the mission Christ started on earth, which we understand as a mission of inclusiveness.
We’re not hypocrites because we remain in the Church. We’re hypocrites because we’re too scared to make our divergent opinions heard, for fear of the rejection and isolation that might occur. But then, maybe I should be more careful with my choice of pronouns. I believe this “we” is getting smaller, as more and more Catholics are daring to critique the Church from the outside. I applaud Mark Grisanti for his courage. May more of us be inspired to follow his example.