It’s been a difficult few days for those of us Catholics who support gay marriage.
Much of America spent the weekend in celebration. Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter filled up with rainbow flags and ecstatic tweets and couples hugging and loving. Parents of gay children went on TV and wept. Their sons and daughters, finally, are equals. The White House was drenched in rainbow colors and the president hailed this forward march in civil rights.
Meanwhile, some inthe American Catholic hierarchy recoiled, scowled, and disapproved.
Some non-Catholic friends and co-workers dared ask: How can we who support gay rights remain in a Church that appears so bigoted, backward, blind?
The question was particularly poignant, even painful, when asked by our own children.
My children grew up Catholic in liberal Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage in 2004. They grew up with playdates and birthday overnights and graduation parties in the homes of gay parents, wonderful parents with mini-vans and work-balance struggles and sleepless nights fretting over college bills. My children grew up with friends and varsity teammates and college roommates who were openly gay. No longer a big deal.
But millions of young Americans far, far from Massachusetts cheered for the United States Supreme Court decision Friday. And many young Catholics among them struggled to understand the prejudice of those who profess to follow Jesus Christ.
How can Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley be “saddened?” “Certainly every citizen of this land, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves to be respected in their personal and civic life,” O’Malley said in a statement. Leave it to a teenager to point out the illogic there: O’Malley cannot claim to respect gays in their personal and civic life when he would deny them the fundamental civic right every other person enjoys: to marry whomever they chose.
These young egalitarians have been taught that we’re all equal. Men and women. Black and white. Gays and straights. Polls show most believe it. But they look at the Church and see an institution treating both women and gays as lesser human beings.
As Jesuit priest and author the Rev. James Martin wrote on his Facebook page after Friday’s court decision, “No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality.” And he is so right. “Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have.”
Once he posted those words, he proved his point. Commenters started spewing. He’s “a horrible person,” a “pathetic” person, a complete and utter disgrace to the priesthood. But here’s something uneasy Catholics can hold on to today. Lots of Martin’s readers also cheered him on. Like millions of Catholics in the pews, they disagree with their bishops. They’re way ahead of them. Polls in fact show most Catholics now favoring gay marriage.
“God wants us to love (gays),” Martin continued on Facebook. “And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions, and admonitions that try to masquerade as love.”
Who does Martin think shows this “crabbed, narrow tolerance” masquerading as love? Could it be his fellow clergy in the hierarchy? And who knows how many other priests feel as Martin does? Who knows, either, how many are gay themselves and waiting, hoping, to one day declare it?
Well we do know this much: lots of America parishes welcome gay families in so-called Rainbow Ministries. St. Cecilia’s Parish in Boston has a significant gay membership. On Sunday worshipers included Kevin J. Dumas, the gay, married mayor of Attleboro, a city nearly an hour from Boston. Dumas told The Boston Globe he makes the drive to and from St. Cecilia’s every Sunday because he feels so comfortable there.
Andrew Sullivan is a gay Catholic journalist who helped lead the charge for gay marriage. He blogged and published books. He debated on TV. He was scorned. More than once he wrapped himself up like a pretzel trying to explain to incredulous gay-rights allies how he, too, could remain in a Church that seemed to despise him.
But as he wrote on Friday, “First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they attack you. Then, you win…”
Here’s what else he wrote: that “all human beings are made in the image of God.” That denying marriage to gays “is the most profound statement our society can make that homosexual love is simply not as good as heterosexual love; that gay lives and commitments and hopes are simply worth less…It erases them not merely as citizens, but as human beings.”
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed with Sullivan, declaring gays and lesbians full human beings, and the denial of that fullness an intolerable injustice.
“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy explaining, if inadvertently, a big part of the problem for the Catholic hierarchy. They can’t recognize that injustice, even in 2015, because they live apart, isolated from, and largely ignorant of, the real, changed world.
They do not see the gay parents chaperoning the apple-picking field trip in kindergarten. They do not see the son of those parents grow up to captain the football team and marry his college sweetheart. They do not see the life-long devotion of gay couples, in sickness and health, or in the mundane particulars of everyday life. Cooking, cleaning, planting the garden, mowing the lawn, driving the carpool, helping with the homework, wanting the best for their families, just like everybody else.