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Frank DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry present forums on Marriage Equality throughout the Country

By Leo N. Egashira, from notes taken at a forum in Seattle, August 22, 2012.

(This article was edited for the QV from the original, which appeared in Dignity/Seattle’s September 2012 Newsletter)

New Ways Ministry (NWM), a gay-supportive, Catholic ministry based in Baltimore, Maryland sent out its two most high-profile leaders, Frank DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick, on a speaking tour throughout the U.S., especially in states that had Marriage Equality on the November 6, 2012 ballot: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.

Emblematic of the institutional Catholic Church’s suppression and fear of dissent and honest discussion of Catholic teachings, most, if not all, of these forums were held in non-Catholic venues.

To start the discussion, Frank related two stories: When Marriage Equality was first proposed in Massachusetts in 2002, a New Yorker Magazine cartoon showed a heterosexual couple watching TV and asking “Marriage for gays & lesbians? Haven’t those people suffered enough already?” The second story occurred in 1995 in Milwaukee. Two women in their mid-60s found each other during a self-introduction at a meeting. One was married 37 years and had nine children; the other was married 35 years and also had nine children. Each found the other a pillar of support. They moved in together, and within one week, heard a phrase almost never heard in marriage: “Dinner is ready.” That’s really another way of saying, “I love you.”

Frank then presented statistics, and then reasons why Catholics support Marriage Equality (M.E.). A 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that, “Catholics are more supportive of M.E. than any other Christian group. 71% support civil marriage. 56% of Catholics agreed that it was “not a sin to express love among LGBT persons” vs. 46% of the general population.

When Catholics go to church, 25% hear some message from the pulpit about LGBT people. Fully two-thirds say the message is negative. People who wield the microphone give a negative message, but people in the pews give a positive message on LGBT issues and M.E. Simply stated, Catholics support M.E.

Even among Latino Catholics, who are assumed to be socially conservative, 57% support M.E. vs. 53% of the general population.

Why? Overall, Catholics’ support of M.E. is not in spite of being Catholic, but because they are Catholic: The social justice tradition calls for dignity, equality, and respect in all aspects of society.

Seven reasons illustrate the role social justice plays in Catholic support for M.E.:

  1. The majority of Catholics recognize that love makes a family, not gender. This is in accord with Catholic theologians’ thought.
  2. Not to have M.E. is discriminatory, and “my faith is against discrimination.”
  3. I support M.E. because I want to protect children.
  4. Many support the protection of couples with all benefits of societal rights. This is especially the case if the Catholic asked has LGBT relatives.
  5. M.E. helps develop strong families and a better society.
  6. Church should not dictate public policy for all people. M.E. is an issue of civil marriage, not religious marriage.
  7. Some Catholics are not on-board with LGBTs, but “I as a Catholic believe in equality and fairness, which should be in place for all people.”

When we’re inviting everyone to the table, we want to say “Dinner is ready for everyone.”

Sister Jeannine spoke next: Facts are certainly important, but heart and emotion are important. Here is a historical fact. The anti M.E. side always states, “Marriage has always been between a man & a woman,” but they ignore that “polygamy was common in the Bible.”

How has marriage evolved in the Christian era? During the early Roman Empire, marriage had no religious significance. Weddings were private affairs among families. Weddings gradually became civil affairs in order to define rights and responsibilities (inheritance, cohesiveness, etc.). Some early Christian writers stated that the Church should not be involved in marriage at all—since it involves sexual intercourse! As the centuries passed, civil society collapsed with the demise of Roman Empire, so Church leaders assumed responsibilities of state leaders.

This development occurred in four stages:

  1. The secular ceremony was performed “near a church”
  2. The ceremony was performed on the steps of church
  3. Then, ceremonies occurred inside the church
  4. Finally, the Church stated that a priest or bishop must assume the role of the state

By the year 1000, all institutional marriages were controlled by the Church. It was only in the 12th Century that marriage was elevated to a Sacrament.

It was during the Council of Trent in 1563, that the marriage ceremony became standardized (e.g., it had to be conducted by a priest, the couple had to announce banns of marriage three weeks before marriage, etc.)

With the French Revolution and its anti-clericalism, and the Enlightenment of the 18th & 19th Centuries, the notion of the separation of church and state became popular: civil marriage plus religious blessing.

What we are talking about today is in the civil arena; it has nothing to do with the sacrament of marriage.

In closing, I want to relate the role of conscience in discerning the issue of Marriage Equality. For a long time, I didn’t think about my actions. What I have learned is that, we are talking about making moral decisions personally, making them our own. They may be in alignment with religious leaders, or not. We trust we are being led when we are young. As we get older, we need to start questioning assumptions and authorities, and make conscientious decisions; otherwise, we still remain children

Here are points we all should consider when making moral decisions:

  • Theology
  • Scripture
  • Scientific findings; Vatican II’s “Science of the times”
  • Experiences, e.g., if I’m LGBT, is my relationship furthering my relationship with God?
  • Consultation with spiritual director, who could be a close friend
  • Then go into my own private space and talk with God

No human being has the whole truth; no one is infallible. We have a responsibility to speak our truth. What conscious and moral decisions have we made? We need to help our Church.

A spirited Q&A session followed, with some answers coming from audience members. A condensed recap follows.

Q How can I find the historical information you provided?

A It is in NWM’s pamphlet “Marriage Equality, A Positive Catholic Approach,” Question 8.

It is downloadable from

http://www.newwaysministry.org/marriage_equality_book.html.

Hard-copies are complimentary. Shipping & handling:

1 copy: $3.00

2-5 copies: $6.00

6-10 copies: $10.00

Send a check made out to “New Ways Ministries,” 4012 29th St. Mt.Rainier MD 20712.

Q How can I talk with family members who are not on the same page? Can you explain how this relates to sacramental marriage?

A The (Washington State, as well as other states’) Referendum only addresses civil marriage and does not force religious groups to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. If we do not pass this Referendum, we are restricting the rights of progressive churches to perform same-sex marriage.

A Sacramental life resides within the relationship, not via sanction by civil or religious authorities.

Q Do the bishops contend that they may be sued?

A Bishops say many things that aren’t true. They will not be sued. There are strong provisions to ensure the religious right not to marry.

A If your pastor does not support M.E., have a discussion.

Q Are any Catholic churches/dioceses having fruitful dialogue?

A It’s important to realize that “We Are Church.”

A Look for allies in Protestant churches.

A Nuns represent the spirit of Vatican II.

Q It’s difficult for me to stay Catholic when the Pope is against everything. I believe you’re your thoughts.

A Jeannine: I’ve been there; actually I am there. It’s important to be in a faith community that nourishes your spiritual life. I want to work for reform to make it look like the face of Jesus.

Q In 2008, the 18-29 year old vote carried Obama. How do we get youth involved?

A For youth, LGBT rights is a non-issue. Duh? That is the challenge.

Q Where is New Ways Ministry today?

A Frank: NWM is alive and well. Where are we? On the Internet, our daily blog is called “Bondings 2.0,” which is a great way to keep up with LGBT Catholic issues, as well as our ministry.

In “real life,” the Next Steps program (weekend or day-long) helps LGBT people discern next steps they can do, based on their own gifts and limitations, and what needs to be done.

With respect to Marriage Equality work, we offer retreats, workshops, and program developing resources for Catholic colleges, as well as lesbian nuns and leaders of religious communities.