Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coming Out for Equality and Against Bigotry

Over the last couple of weeks, I have listened to leaders of the Catholic Church, my church, denigrate the dignity of gay and lesbian couples.  Their denunciations are couched in terms like, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” or the Church will lay claim to victimhood due to “attacks” that some of its leaders, clergy and lay, are called bigots and homophobes.

I originally was going to submit this post last month following a vitriolic unsigned editorial in all likelihood penned, or minimally, approved by Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, RI, which appeared in the diocesan newspaper Rhode Island Catholic, ironically, on Divine Mercy Sunday.  When it comes to gays and lesbians, divine mercy is an oxymoron to Tobin.  The stunningly anti-gay editorial uses the politically charged terms “the radical homosexual lobby,” “so-called ‘equality,’ ” “homosexual activists,” “activists’ (sic) judges," “traditional marriage,” and “passing a Defense of Marriage Bill.”

A week ago, I attended a panel discussion at the United Nations on “The Dignity of the Human Person” celebrating the beatification (one step from sainthood) of Pope John Paul II.  That evening, I tweeted, “Would love to ask if that includes #lgbt folk.”  By the end of the event, I got my answer: NO!  The last speaker, Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought at Montreal’s McGill University, told the audience he had been asked by the event’s Vatican sponsors to focus on “marriage and attacks on the family.”  He started by saying, “Human dignity is rooted in marriage and the family.”  He went on to explain how that dignity cannot be granted to gays and lesbians living in committed relationships.  Farrow went so far as to twist the great UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, developed by one of my idols, Eleanor Roosevelt, by saying those rights do not extend to marriage equality for gays and lesbians for all of the “human history,” procreation,” etc. arguments we had heard ad infinitum.

Then, in this unholy trinity of attacks, I read a tweet last Friday by the excellent NY Daily News blogger Celeste Katz (@DNDailyPolitics) that New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan believes “Legalizing Gay Marriage Could Make "1984" Non-Fiction Reading, including the offensive canard that legalizing same-sex unions and providing the same protections granted to opposite-sex couples will lead to the slippery slope of being “morphed again to include multiple spouses or even family members.”  I will give Dolan credit for not including family pets and inanimate objects in those possible unions, something other so-called religious and political leaders have claimed.  Dolan’s comments led one of my twitter followers, Nick Fugitt (@nfugitt) to respond:  "Telling people who they can and can't marry is...NOT like 1984? #cuethecircusmusic."

All these attacks come as the New York State Legislature moves closer to a vote on marriage equality.  There is no doubt this human rights law will pass the State Assembly and would be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo if the State Senate reverses its 2009 vote that saw the bill lose by 14 votes.  My own state senator, Steve Saland, promised me he would vote in favor, but when he saw no Republicans would vote “aye,” he caved and voted “no.”  Saland later told me he feared being primaried – despite the fact he had served in Albany, at that time, for 30 years.  He also told me it was the worst vote of his career and that someday the law would pass.  Senator, that someday could be in June 2011 if you become a “profile in courage” and vote yes for equality.  

I'm normally an optimist and I hope and pray that a marriage equality bill will become New York law, but earlier today, Republican state senators from Binghamton and Brooklyn joined notorious anti-gay Pentecostal minister and Democratic State Senator Ruben Diaz to introduce an incredibly mean-spirited bill to invalidate out-of-state same-sex marriages in an attempt to curry favor with the state’s Conservative Party, which threatened to withhold its endorsement from any GOP senator who votes for marriage equality.  I am also a realist and know there are not enough votes to repeal DOMA, the true barrier to full equality nationwide.

How can anyone say that my relationship of 30+ years with Pete is of no value?  How can any politician vote to deny legal recognition of a partnership that has lasted longer than a majority of heterosexual marriages?  How can a religious leader say we should not be afforded the human dignity allowed straight couples who were married for 55 hours (like Britney Spears) or Catholic presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who believes so much in the sanctity of marriage that he has had three of them, the last two following adulterous affairs.

As I started writing this post last Saturday, Pete was lovingly caring for his 94-year-old mother, cleaning her then dressing her before driving her to New Jersey to get her hair cut by the woman who has been doing that job for 30 years.  Being a caregiver is a full-time job, yet that’s not all Pete does.  He also sells real estate following a layoff 16 months ago that ended a 32-year radio career.  It’s not easy and his modesty will not allow me to detail the difficulties he has performing all the tasks necessary for being a caregiver, but everyone who knows Pete confirms what I have long known – he is the warmest, most caring, deeply loving, selfless person anyone ever meets.  Meeting him was a gift from God.  Being partnered with him for this long, and for hopefully at least another 30+ years (God willing), has been a blessing.

I’m proud and honored to be an “adopted dad.”  Pete and I serve as mentors to young men and women in college and in careers.  We are actively involved in our community, pay our taxes, keep up our home, help our neighbors, and contribute what we can to a wide variety of nonprofits and causes.  I am heartened by the changing attitude of Americans of all ages, but particularly among those under 30, and religious leaders of many denominations, including those Christians who ask “What Would Jesus Do?” and respond by being welcoming and accepting of all. 

God forbid, if something were to happen to me tomorrow, Pete and our moms would lose the house we have lived in for the past 12 years, thanks to estate taxes that Pete would be forced to pay because there is no right to inheritance for lgbt couples.  He will not get my Social Security benefits, unlike my mother who received my father’s benefits after his death in 1999, nor would he get the measly $255 death benefit granted by Social Security.  While I am grateful that Marist College offers domestic partner benefits, I must pay several thousand dollars in state and federal taxes on the 85 percent contribution made by my employer, something that legally married couples do not have to do.  At least we were born in the U.S.  If one of us were a foreign national, we could face deportation.  There are more than 1,400 federal and New York State laws that protect married couples, protections denied to Pete and me and millions of other lgbt couples, because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the failure of the New York State Senate to offer equal protection under the law.

Is this what the Catholic Church and elected officials really want – forcing surviving family members, including two nonagenarians, out of their home?  Do they really want to put roadblocks in the way of affording healthcare?  Do they really want to split families?  Do they really enjoy inflicting pain and suffering?  Doesn’t sound very “Christian” to me.  Catholic leaders say their religious liberty is being infringed upon.  I have two answers to that.  First, the Catholic hierarchy is infringing upon the religious liberty of denominations like the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which supports marriage equality.  Second, the Catholic hierarchy’s religious liberty should not trump (pardon the use of that term/name) Pete’s civil liberties and mine for equal protection under the law. 

I know there is a lot of money to be made from homophobia and bigotry.  Those evils put cash and checks in collection plates, business reply envelopes from organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association, and candidates’ coffers. 

If there is a “Last Judgment,” I believe those who preach hate and stand in the way of equality for the lgbt community will be asked the question posed by Jesus to Saul on the road to Damascus at the time of his conversion: “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).  For “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers (and sisters), that you do unto me,” (Matthew 25:40).

Pete and I hope that by the time of our 31st anniversary in October we will have civil recognition of our relationship in the eyes of the state.  We already have that recognition in the eyes of God.

One last thing…I was saddened to see in my own parish bulletin last weekend two pages on “Why Marriage Should Not Be Redefined,” provided by the "Family Life" Office of the Archdiocese of New York.  It contained the same tired, disproven accusations about the collapse of human civilization because of “homosexuals” (a “tested” word that sounds much more ominous and “other” than saying “gays and lesbians”).  It also contains a “reassuring” paragraph telling the faithful that this is proper discrimination, or as the Archdiocese of New York phrased it using a double-negative, “It is not improper ‘discrimination’ to treat same-sex relationships differently from marriage…” This is the type of cultural relativism decried by the Church itself by no less than Pope Benedict XVI, but it is apparently justified by the Church against gays and lesbians.  The “Good News” is that New York is turning away from the discrimination promulgated by the Catholic Church.  Even though I am Catholic, I must remind Church leaders that Catholicism is a minority religion in the U.S.  In addition to the bold support from the Episcopal Diocese mentioned above, more than 700 religious leaders from around the state recently restated their support of marriage equality.  If the Church argues that a “minority” population of gays and lesbians should not be allowed to change the definition of marriage, the Church must remember that they, too, are in the minority and should not bar people of any faith, or no faith at all, from a civil marriage.

Thanks to my beloved adopted son Luke (@LShane262) for giving me the name for this entry and for his support and encouragement to post what he calls "a rant, but a necessary one."

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