Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Gay Marriage in Church: Iceland Considers.

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm
As marriage equality has spread steadily around the globe, in most countries this has been restricted to civil marriage only: church weddings are excluded. The exception is the Nordic region, where the Swedish government and the Swedish Lutheran Church have both approved same sex weddings in church. In Denmark, where there process is under way to upgrade the present civil unions to full marriage, the Danish Lutheran church is currently considering following in the path already seet by their Swedish Lutheran counterparts. Now it seems that the Icelandic Lutheran church is likewise considering the same decision.

In the Swedish precedent, it was the provision in the law for church wedding that forced the church into serious consideration of the issue: there are strong institutional links between the Swedish state and the Lutheran church (which used to be funded directly by government). Similar circumstances, and similar provisions in the laws proposed by Denmark and Iceland, are the reason the churches in those countries are also having to consider a response. The Swedish solution was to approve gay marriage in church – but to leave an opt-out clause in place that would protect individual pastors, who may decline, in conscience, to officiate.

From Ice News:.

Icelandic church delays decision on gay marriage.

The National Church of Iceland yesterday took no formal position on a current parliamentary bill which would amend marriage laws to include gay couples. The national synod instead voted to refer the matter to the church’s doctrine and rites committee.

The new unified marriage bill being proposed by Iceland’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights could become law as early as 27th June this year and would allow religious groups, including the national church, to legally marry same sex couples. Religious groups are already able to bless registered partnerships which are almost identical to marriage, legally speaking.

Queer Families’ Challenge for Catholic Church.

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

Catholic Church Must Learn to Deal With Children of Gay Parents.

Last month, there was a brief flurry of outrage when a Boulder Catholic school, under pressure from the parish priest and the local bishop, told a couple of lesbian parents that their children were no longer welcome, and should look for another school elsewhere.  Like so many news stories, this one has died down, and for all the full, has been all but forgotten,except for those directly affected.  Meanwhile, an Arkansas judge this week ruled that a state ban on adoption which voters approved in November 2008 was invalid; a series of court rulings in Florida have approved three specific applications for adoption by gay parents, in spite of the state’s constitutional ban; and in Argentina, the Lower House of parliament will soon be considering legislation to approve both gay marriage and gay adoption. What the stories from Boulder completely overlooked, is how very many children are already in Catholic schools.  That number is sure to rise, as increasing public acceptance around the world encourages more Catholic couples to declare their relationships openly, and as some of those in turn seek to adopt, or to retain custody of their own children. A good proportion of these, like any other Catholic couple, will seek to have their offspring  educated in Catholic schools.
Gay Parents, Gay Pride Paris 2007

This is not new.  One of the parents who were interviewed by National Catholic Reporter for their series on responses to the exclusion, says that she was herself raised by lesbian mothers, but was educated in a Catholic school without any problems being raised.  That was a generation ago. There are assuredly many more such children in Catholic schools today.

One lesbian mom’s experience of acceptance by a Catholic school

In a long and thoughtful piece at dot Commonweal, one lesbian and deeply committed Catholic mother tells of her very different experience in enrolling her children.  There are many important features in this piece that I would like to dig into further, but for now I want to focus specifically on the question of her success in having her children accepted by a Catholic school.  In particular, I was struck by two parts of the response by the local priest when they went to see him, not about schooling, but just about attendance in church as a family: he asked them if they would be sending their sons to the Catholic school; and that he believed they already had other children with gay parents.
From Dot Commonweal:

We didn’t want that reality just sprung on him, a thoughtful and decent man who, we expected, might get an earful from a few parishioners in the ensuing days and weeks. We asked if our coming to church like that was OK with him. Our priest said he appreciated the heads-up. “Just come, just come,” he insisted, expressing considerable relief that we had nothing else to discuss (“When I saw your names in my appointment book, I was afraid you might be asking me to bless your union”). He then inquired as to the boys’ names and ages and, hearing that the eldest would be almost six, asked, “Will you send him here, then, for school?” My partner and I shot a glance at each other. We said we hadn’t figured that was a possibility. We’d been struggling with the school question a bit. Sending the kids to the village public school in the very rural district where we lived was out of the question. We wanted a more demanding education for them. Sending them to our parish school in the small city in which we worked was, we had thought, equally out of the question. The priest raised both eyebrows. “No, not out of the question. Not at all. Send them here. In fact, I don’t even think you’d be the first same-sex couple to do so.” We’d had no idea. He thought a bit, came up with the family’s name, and said he thought all three of the girls were still enrolled and doing fine.
Was this remarkable, or unusual? Probably not. With the increasing visibility of gay and lesbian couples, and with  improving legal and administrative procedures  for approving gay adoption and custody applications, there are today many thousands of children being raised by same sex parents, as couples or as single parents.  Those children will go to school just as any others, and it is entirely likely that a high proportion of schools will include on their rolls children from such families. There is no reason to suppose that Catholic schools are fundamentally different and entirely free of gay or lesbian parents (although the incidence may well be lower).

The Challenge:

Catholic teaching is clear that the Church has a fundamental responsibility to all children who have been baptized and so accepted into its fold, so it is entirely correct that these schools should be accepting these children, whatever Fr Bill in Boulder might believe. I suspect that this is issue of responding appropriately to queer existing queer families is going to be in increasingly important challenge to the Church,  as the number of openly gay and lesbian parents continue to grow, in the US and elsewhere around the world. The actions in Boulder got the news, but they were exceptional and in conflict with clear teaching on the responsibility of the Church to the child.  As an increasing number of children from queer families are accepted and educated in Catholic schools, so their friends and classmates will grow up knowing at first-hand the reality that diverse family patterns exist. Just as earlier generations of children knew and understood that some children had only one mom and no pop (or the other way around), so a new generation is learning that some kids have two moms. At the same time, kids are coming out themselves at ever earlier ages, and it is widely recognised that today’s children do not have the same hangups about “homosexuality” that their parents did. Already, the majority of  US Catholics do not agree that homoerotic relationships are immoral. Young people educated in Catholic schools with friends who openly identify as queer, or whose parents do so, will be even less inclined to simply accept Church teaching.

Earlier posts:

Boulder School Exclusion: Other Parents’ Reactions

Boulder Parents: “They told Us in School To Love Everyone”

Lesbian Parents, Boulder Catholic School (3)

Lesbian Mums, Catholic Schools: The Voice of Experience


Garner, Abigail: Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is

Newman, Leslea: Heather Has Two Mommies: 10th Anniversary Edition (Alyson Wonderland)

"Traditional Marriage Is Men": US Bishop.

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 5:06 pm
Just a snippet from Box Turtle Bulletin, reporting on the NJ senate committee hearing.  I want to find out who is this sane but anonymous “Episcopal bishop” , who has correctly and clearly defined precisely what “traditional” marriage was all about – but it will have to wait until the morning – it’s close to midnight here.

“Episcopal Bishop endorses the bill: Marriage traditionally was not between a man and a woman. Rather it was a contract between two men, a father and a groom.”

The bishop is absolutely correct. In biblical times, for many centuries after and in some societies still, women were simply regarded as the property (or at best, as the wards) of men – first the families, then their husbands.  we still these in the most conventional church weddings in Western society, where the bride is “given away” by her father (or other man) to the groom.  This idea of bride as “property” explains the importance of consummation in completing the marriage contract:  the loss of a bride’s virginity had an immediate loss in her market value, making it impossible to return her for money back.    (The UK legislation for civil unions, which in most respects come pretty close to marriage in all practical respects, do not require consummation).  Adultery and lusting after another’s wife in the commandments are coupled with sins of theft and coveting his goods – adultery was seen as a crime against another man’s property rights over his wife.  Lastly, it is one factor (the other was the connection with temple prostitution) at  the heart of the biblical and early Christian precepts against same sex intercourse.  Throughout the Mediterranean world, sex between men was regarded as normal and natural – as long as the receptive partner was not an adult man of high status. To take the “passive” role was to behave like a woman, and it was that voluntary loss of status that aroused hostility of other “real men”. In a world which values women, the argument should be irrelevant.
Some other church people also spoke in support.  It’s important that we publicize this. The more people recognize that religious opinion is divided, the more difficult it becomes to apply the religious argument to legislative decisions:

A whole host of ministers are speaking in support of marriage equality. As one asked, “why can’t I conduct the marriages that my church supports?”

Lutheran minister:  This is an issue of religious liberty.

Unitarians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Friends (Quakers), and Jews also speaking in support.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops, who have fiercely opposed same -sex marriage here  as fiercely as elsewhere, now claim that they support civil unions, which they previously opposed.

Even leading clerics have voiced their support. “Marriage is a union of one man and one woman and has its roots in natural law,” testified Patrick Branigan, representing the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey. Branigan said the Bishops, who once opposed the state’s civil union law, now support its enforcement fully. “Instead of trying to redefine marriage, the state of New Jersey should education the public and enforce existing laws,” he said.

This pretty well mirrors the response of the Portuguese bishops early this year.  Is it yet another reason to push for votes on full marriage, everywhere?  Win or lose, the pressure seems to lead to some movement by Catholic bishops towards grudging acceptance of some form of legal partnership recognition.

Same-Sex, Opposite-Sex, or "Apposite" Sex? : Churches Grappling With Inclusion, Equality

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm
While the Catholic Church has been consumed with issues around clerical abuse, other churches have been getting on with moving into the real world.   There have been steps toward full inclusion in a number of Protestant denominations, in the US and elsewhere, and pressure for further progress continues to grow. Several reports this past week have illustrated this.

“Making it legal: the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson (right) during the civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, in June 2008 AP”

In the US, the Episcopal church has led the way among the major denominations, with two openly gay or lesbian bishops now confirmed. It has now released a report, Same-Sex Relation­ships in the Life of the Church, by a team of eight leading theologians which was commissioned by the House of Bishops, to consider a range of views on same -sex relationships in the Church. To me, the important feature here is not the conclusions, which diverge sharply, bu the simple fact that the report exists and demonstrates that differences of opinion and interpretation, of Scripture and theology, are possible and valid. The panel was deliberately drawn to reflect a range of views, including those of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships.
I found this passage from the Church Times fascinating, arguing that the issue is not just of “same -sex” or “opposite-sex” relationships, but on of “apposite-sex ” (i.e appropriate) relationships – and that for all of us,, such apposite relationships are a way “to sanctification”. This makes the question of “gay marriage” in church not just a matter of social justice, bu a matter of opening up a sacramental path to spiritual growth for all:
“Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hos­pitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the Church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom [Christ] but just now, with respect to one another.” The liberal group defined orienta­tion in terms not of gender, but of morality: “A sexually oriented person is someone who develops and is morally improved through a relationship with someone of the apposite sex, typically but not necessarily the opposite sex. Those called to same-sex relationships are those that need them for their own sanctification . . . because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celi­bacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong com­mitment and growth.” It said that same-sex couples should not be denied the moral worth of each putting their body “on the line” for the other “until death us do part”; that was an accountability “far beyond what counselled celibacy can provide”. Nor should they be denied the “delight” they had in each other; for that was necessary for action: Eros did not turn into charity through self-control, but through self aban­donment, and the self-dispossession that led to self-donation. “It is the daily version of finding one’s life by losing it.”
Meanwhile, a rash of other news reports have focussed not on the formal church response to the demands of theology and scripture, but on highly personal responses by individual clergy, struggling to negotiate a path in conscience between sometimes conflicting demands of Church and state in dealing with requests for marriage within their own congregations. I will report on these separately, in a later post.