Monday, October 12, 2009

A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol

Yes, that’s what I was last Thursday when I participated in a media conference at the Minnesota State Capitol. It was an event that saw a number of local religious leaders speaking out in favor of marriage equality for same-gender couples.

Organized by OutFront Minnesota, the October 8 media conference was billed as the “first coordinated statement by clergy specifically in support of full, legal marriage equality in Minnesota.”

“What this event reminds us is that many people of faith support full legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and same-gender couples, not despite their religious beliefs, but because of them,” said OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Amy Johnson.

Not being a clergy person, I was all the more honored to have been invited to stand with clergy leaders from various faith traditions and to speak for the many Catholics in Minnesota who support civil marriage rights for same-gender couples.

Archbishop John Nienstedt, of course, is yet to come out in support of full civil rights for LGBT people. (Indeed, in the past, he has actively worked to deny such rights.) And although there are many Roman Catholic clergy who support full civil rights for LGBT people, none were present at Thursday’s media conference - a fact that attests to the current climate of fear and intimidation within the Roman Catholic Church around this issue.

I spoke, therefore, as a Catholic lay person and as the executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), a grassroots, independent organization that for almost 30 years has been creating just and safe places for LGBT people within and beyond the Roman Catholic Church.

Above: At right with Retired Bishop Lowell Erdahl of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) & Pastor Doug Donley
of University Baptist Church of Minneapolis - October 8, 2009.
To read Bishop Erdahl's remarks at the Capitol, click here.

In my statement to the media at the Capitol on October 8 I noted that CPCSM does not speak officially for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Nevertheless, we are a coalition of baptized Catholics – both gay and straight – grounded in our Catholic faith. We recognize this faith – like all authentic spiritual traditions – to be a living, growing, and richly diverse reality.

I’ll share more of what I said at the end of this post. First, however, here are excerpts from the statements of some of the others who spoke at the October 8 media conference.


Rev. Anita C. Hill, pastor of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, ELCA, a faith community that has been holding services of blessing for same-gender couples since 1983.

The pre-ceremony counseling I’ve done with same-gender and opposite-gender couples through the years gives witness to the fact that straight and gay couples want to marry for the same reasons. It’s about love, commitment, and responsibility. Both straight and gay couples want to make a commitment and lifelong promise in the presence of the community that can best offer support and care when times are difficult and when times are grand.

Both straight and gay couples want and need the security and legal protections of marriage to help make it possible for them to care for and protect loved ones. Marriage is about commitments of mutual love, care, and responsibility for each other as family

Under the first amendment, religious institutions will continue to have an absolute right to determine which couples they will join together. Civil marriage affords a means for a relationship to be recognized by the state. Marriage for both straight and gay couples supports the kind of stable family life and community that congregations, communities, cities, towns, and states want for their members.

Mandy Carter, co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition.

Generations of African Americans have worked to make our nation’s promise of equal justice a reality. From Emancipation and Brown vs. Board of Education to the landmark 1967 Loving vs. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court decision ending the legal ban on interracial marriage, black communities have struggled to gain due respect in society.

Today, lesbian and gay couples working to end marriage discrimination often evoke the spirit of civil rights in their quest to legally marry. Are marriage rights for same-sex couples the next hurdle in our ongoing movement for civil right? Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists of the National Black Justice Coalition think so, and we are actively seeking to achieve this next level of equality. Some key architects of the African American civil rights movement [for example, Julian Bond] are joining us, calling the ability to marry the person of one’s choice a matter of basic human rights.

Rabbi Jared H. Saks, Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel in Minneapolis.

Marriage is about sanctifying a loving relationship. It is an opportunity for a couple to celebrate the values of long-term commitment, faithfulness, and the willingness to share life’s joys and sorrows. Marriage enables the individuals to make a greater contribution to the common good. The benefits of a good marriage are the same, no matter your sexual orientation.

. . . Religious Jews who favor same-sex marriage approach marriage equality with a sense that it is part of our obligation to pursue justice. [The Book of] Genesis gives us a vision of humanity that tells us every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein speaks of his support for marriage equality saying, “I support the freedom to marry because I have never met gays and lesbians in the abstract. It is my son and my daughter, it is my sister and my brother, and I wish for them the privilege, the miracle, the gift of a long and lasting relationship. And in our faith community, we call that marriage.”

Rev. Sarah Campbell of Mayflower Church – United Church of Christ.

. . . It’s a great honor and privilege for me to marry people, and to do pre-marriage and marriage counseling. I believe that marriage is good for the health of individuals, families, society, and the economy. And it’s one of life miracles that two people find each other and spend their lives together.

So it deeply saddens me that some of the couples I have married are forced to endure additional life pressures – as if there are not enough pressures on families already! – because they are denied civil rights. The strength of their marriages, despite such additional stresses – like additional insurance expenses of all kinds – is humbling and awe-inspiring to me.

Rev. Victoria Safford of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church.

Over twenty years of ministry I have stood with hundreds of couples, gay and straight, at weddings large and small, all with stars in their eyes and hope in their hearts that they might build a marriage to last for the rest of their lives. These unions are built on the strength of the sacred vow each couple speaks out loud, supported by the blessing of our church, the blessing of their God, the love of their family and friends.

Some of the couples I’ve married have been supported, as well, from the day they walked down the aisle, by over a thousand legal benefits that are issued by the state with every marriage license. Some of the couples I’ve married have known this blessing of legitimacy – the world smiles on their marriages and the households they establish. But the same-sex couples who bring to their weddings equal joy, equal commitment, and equal humanity, have known none of these legal rights. The injustice of this became intolerable to me.

In 2002, with the blessing of my congregation, I stopped signing marriage documents for heterosexual couples until the day when I may sign them for every couple. That day is coming. The laws of Minnesota are not meant to exclude some citizens while granting privilege to others. The law exists to protect and fiercely guard the rights, equality, and freedom of all of us.

I stand grounded in my own faith as a Unitarian Universalist and, together with these good colleagues, grounded in the wider tradition of radical inclusion, the tradition of religious pluralism which is the foundation of our country, and the tradition of love and justice which is the common ground of our humanity.

Rev. Robyn Provis of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church, Minneapolis, a congregation of nearly 1,000 LGBT people of faith.

For me, marriage equality is more than political, it is personal. As a pastor within a denomination that has been marrying same-gender couples for 40 years, I am saddened that my congregants must travel north to Canada or south to Iowa in order to be legally married. What that means is that their marriages are recognized four hours north and three hours south but here in Minnesota, their marriages are legally invisible.

. . . Recognizing same-gender marriage does not take away from the institution of marriage, it gives it great heart! It offers greater hope and stability to society at large. ALL people, ALL pf God’s children have the right to lead lives that express love and justice, mutuality and commitment. I eagerly await the day when that is fully true here in Minnesota. May it be so.

Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice.

. . . I speak on behalf of the many Catholics who believe that civil marriage should not be denied to anyone based on sexual orientation. Just as civil divorce would not be denied by the state because some churches do not believe in divorce and remarriage, civil marriage also should not be denied based on religious beliefs.

I speak on behalf of the many Catholics who believe civil marriages are the business of the state and that churches are entitled to “sanctify” marriage, or not, according to their beliefs. We do not see this as an issue of morality. It is an issue of equality and justice in the civil arena. For years, some churches have been conducting marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples; while many others have not. Clearly, the advancements we have witnessed in marriage equality have not and will not take away religious rights.

In their 1997 pastoral statement, Always Our Children, the Catholic bishops of the United States write: “Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Catholic Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them.”

These are powerful words, rooted in Jesus’ call for social justice. As such they supersede certain teachings of the Church that reflect a medieval and inadequate understanding of human sexuality – teachings that, accordingly, are unresponsive to the presence and movement of the Spirit in the lives of LGBT people. Furthermore, I and many others believe that civil marriage is one of those “fundamental human rights” referred to by the US Catholic bishops.

For these reasons Catholics across Minnesota and across the U.S. support marriage equality for all people regardless of sexual orientation.

Also present at the Capitol on October 8 were my friends Randi and Phil Reitan, proud parents of four children, including gay son Jake.

Above: Michael Cole Smith and Jamie Smith Cole - whose September 13, 2009 commitment ceremony was the subject of an Insight News article by Alaina L. Lewis, entitled “Cole-Smith Celebration Breaks Barriers.” Following is an excerpt.

For some, it is hard to accept the idea of gay people finding luck in love while so many of us heterosexuals do not. But when you see the glow surrounding a genuine connection, that hush in the room generates hope and admiration.

Cole and Smith make me blush with a hope of finding that special someone for myself, or rather them finding me. I realize that no matter who you are, whether you’re a member of the heterosexual or GLBT community, the idea of finding a soul mate is still about knowing there are a few good candidates yet to be uncovered.

The reality is this: if love were a rock garden and you were in search of someone precious and unique, you might have to turn over a dozen boulders until you find a reflection of your heart. When you finally find the “one” and are fortunate enough to make that solid connection, the argument of same sex versus opposite sex should take a backseat to the celebration of two balanced and intermingling hearts. Cole and Smith undoubtedly have the right idea, and are sharing their union with a world that’s watching. Through them we can see their truth – that love has no division and can be found among all.

Hmm, a “love that has no division and can be found among all.” Sounds very catholic to me.

As to how much media coverage our media conference actually received, well . . . I’ve seen nothing in either the Minneapolis Star Tribune or the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A friend did see me on one of the local TV news broadcasts, however. She said I looked very “snappy”! Not bad, I guess, considering I was wearing a tie that dates back to my teaching days in Goulburn, Australia!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride
Catholics Join in Nationwide Protests of Proposition 8
250+ People Attend Catholic LGBT Pride Prayer Service in Minneapolis
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Why We Gathered
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
“We Can Make It Happen”

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


Mark Andrews said...

Point of info: The full title of

"Always Our Children"


"Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers. A Statement of the Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family."

Its a "pastoral message" and not a "pastoral letter."

Its authored by "the Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family." As such the message represents the members of the committee at the time it was published, and not the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (as the organization was know at the time, now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

I've never seen this pastoral message has created by the same method or held up as equal to "full" pastoral letters like "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response."

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the clarification re. Always Our Children, though I'm not sure what it is you're trying to say exactly.

Does the fact that it's termed a "message" and not a "letter" mean that the bishops are wrong or not as correct as they could be when they state: "Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Catholic Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them"?

Can you highlight any other official church statements that challenge the above?

You seem to be implying that Always Our Children is not normative - something that Archbishop Nienstedt in the past has asserted.

In November 2007 the editorial team of the Progressive Catholic Voice responded to this assertion in an open letter to the Archbishop.

Following is an excerpt:

Your third point is that Always Our Children is not “normative” because it did not come from the whole body of US bishops after discussion and vote. However, your brother bishop, Thomas J. Gumbleton, who served with you in Detroit, disagrees with your opinion about the authority behind this document. He informed us that his recollection of the history regarding this document leads him to conclude that it is clearly normative. Gumbleton recalls that due to criticism from conservative bishops such as yourself, the original draft of Always Our Children (1997) was sent to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, where it was ratified after some changes were made that did not “significantly alter the message of the document.” The document was then reissued by the US bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family in its current form in the summer of 1998. Our understanding is that ratification of a document by the Vatican would supersede the authority of a country’s conference of bishops. Our search of documents revealed a news story in the July 17, 1998, issue of the National Catholic Reporter that verifies Bishop Gumbleton’s recollection of these events.



kevin57 said...

Didn't the bishops of England recently publish a pastoral "letter" that echoes most of the same themes as "Always..."? Although this is a different episcopal conference, it would indicate stirrings of a shift in how bishops are responding to homosexuality.

Mareczku said...

Thank you for sharing this and for representing our faith, Michael. Still I was saddened by your comments that many Catholic clergy support full civil rights for the GLBT community but none were there due to the current climate of fear and intimidation within the Roman Catholic Church. I think "Always Our Children" is excellent but sadly I don't think that priests and bishops that dislike gay people pay it any heed. I wonder if many of these men realize the pain that they cause.

Mark Andrews said...


"I've never seen this pastoral message has created by the same method or held up as equal to "full" pastoral letters like "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response."

reads a little better as:

I've never seen a pastoral message created by the same method or held up as equal to "full" pastoral letters like "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response."

I need to proof-read before posting.

Always Our Children is "normative" as far as it goes - as a duly authorized message from a committee and not a statement with the full backing of the Roman Catholic episcopate in the United States. Perhaps Rome's review of the message, followed by either an implied or expressed permission to publish it, occurred precisely because it's authoritative scope was limited compared to something like "The Challenge of Peace."

If something of the scope of "The Challenge of Peace" was attempted, it might have taken longer to draft, been fronted by a larger number of bishops, and been subject to greater scrutiny by Rome.

With all due respect to Bishop Gumbleton, personally and as a bishop, he's one of many. I'd be interested in hearing the recollections of as many bishops as possible, both those who served on the Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family at the time AoC was drafted and published, and all NCCB members voting on giving the committee permission to publish its message.

I'd also be interested in knowing who, on the NCCB staff, served on the committee, and what those folks are doing know. That doesn't have any impact on AoC, I'm just curious.