People often wonder why gay and lesbian Catholics and their allies remain in the Church. The staying can be difficult, but the answer is easy. Most of us find the liturgy and the spiritual community so fulfilling, and we find the social justice tradition of the Church so challenging and inspiring, that these outweigh the considerable pain of life in a community that considers some of us "disordered."
In recent decades our leaders have inspired us to oppose war, fight poverty and make a welcome for undocumented immigrants. They have signaled that hospitality and justice can't just remain personal practices; they must become social practices installed in law. That's a vision we embrace and work hard to realize because of their leadership and because we believe Christ welcomes all.
We don't find this accustomed inclusion and hospitality in recent statements by our leaders on same-sex marriage. Francis Cardinal George's letters to parishes and to the Catholic New World in January opposed civil marriage for same-sex couples, suggesting that civil same-sex marriage would not only give individuals inappropriate freedoms but also damage society. According to the Miami Herald, Catholic bishops recently wrote a letter to President Obama threatening to oppose any immigration policy that makes provision for immigration of same-sex partners on a basis similar to immigration for married couples.
These statements are distressing for their unnecessary harshness. These proposed neither include sacramental same-sex marriage nor require any church to celebrate same-sex civil marriages. Fighting so hard and publicly against them only wounds people who are already struggling: parents trying to convince gay and lesbian teens that they are welcome and valued in the Church; young adults ready to commit to life-time relationships who feel they must choose between their partners and their faith; retirement-aged Catholics reflecting on the spiritual gifts they have gained from long lives with their partners; children of gay and lesbian parents who attend Catholic schools or CCD; and perhaps most importantly non-Catholics who are being strengthened in their impression that the Church is more interested in using civil law to enforce its beliefs than it is in welcoming the stranger. In any of those positions, the bishops' words sound cold rather than hospitable.
They are distressing, too, because they imply that same-sex marriage destroys fidelity, commitment and family rather than affirming their value for individuals and society. Gay and lesbian couples who seek the full rights (and responsibilities) of marriage are far from the enemies of the "common good of society." In an era of cohabitation and serial monogamy, they and their allies may be marriage's biggest champions.
We realize that our religious leaders are not prepared to hear about the graces and blessings many of us have experienced in our fidelity to our partners, nor to celebrate sacramental same-sex marriages. But the laws proposed do not mandate grace and blessing. They address only the right to civil marriage, granting same-sex partners and their children the stability of the same rights accorded opposite-sex spouses and their children. In our opinion, this is a basic matter of social hospitality: granting rights that ease the lives of people whom society puts at risk.
Catholic social teaching emphasizes listening to the "signs of the times," the wisdom that arises from all people of good will in the culture around us. In this moment, we believe, one of the important signs is the desire of same-sex couples of all backgrounds to found families in fidelity, with the approval and support of society and the law. Another is strong support among Catholic laypeople.
Despite our leaders' profound ambivalence about us, gay and lesbian--and bisexual and transgender--Catholics and their allies contribute joyfully and faithfully to the life of the Church. We hope that our leaders will think twice before labeling us destructive, disordered, and unnatural. And we hope that they will reconsider their opposition to same-sex civil marriage, which puts them in a position of inhospitality rather than welcome.
In the meantime, inspired by our Catholic faith, we are contacting our state senators to urge support of Illinois's marriage equality bill tomorrow. We'll be joined by other members of St. Nicholas Parish, Evanston: Jacquie Axe and Margaret Feit Clarke, Co-facilitators of the Peace and Justice Committee; Marion Flynn; Mary Jo Hoag; Deborah A. Winarski; and Gloria J. Woods.
Won't you call too?
Cristina Traina is Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University in The OpEd Project's Public Voices Fellowship. Karen A. Allen is Call to Action Chicago Chapter President.