Developed by DignityUSA with the assistance of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
There is no question that marriage and other forms of recognition for gay and lesbian couples are tough issues for many Catholics. Happily, most Catholics want to do the right thing, both from a faith perspective and in recognition of the gay people in their lives whom they love and respect. They’re just not sure what the right thing is. By resolving the conflict they feel, we can help move them from being undecided on an “issue” to being supportive of loving, committed couples.
In conversations about marriage, we need to do three things. First, we must acknowledge that gay and lesbian couples want to marry for the same reason as straight couples—to make a lifelong promise to love and care for each other. Second, we must show our fellow Catholics how shutting committed couples out of marriage causes them real harm by making it hard for them to take care of each other. Third, we must remind Catholics that our faith calls us to care about each other, and opposes making life harder for some people than for others.
Catholics have an important role in the public discussion of marriage. As the largest denomination in the U.S., Catholics represent about a quarter of all voters. Our Church’s leadership has often been in the forefront of efforts to maintain laws that cause real harm to real people, and their positions are often, mistakenly, assumed to represent the views of all Catholics.
So, how do you begin?
Marriage is about love and commitment. Lesbian and gay couples want the same thing as straight couples—to build a life with someone. Both straight and gay couples want to take care of and be responsible for each other. Both need the security and legal protections of marriage that help make this possible. Catholics understand that this kind of lifelong commitment deserves support.
Denying committed couples the security and legal protections of marriage hurts them; it’s wrong to make it harder for committed couples to take care of and be responsible for each other. Catholics believe in fairness, and know it is wrong to deny gay couples the security and legal protections they need in order to be able to care for each other in sickness and health, and even in death. Catholics who are actively or passively against marriage for lesbian and gay couples are not just maintaining the status quo—they are taking an active role in hurting gay couples and families.
Focus on stories that help Catholics feel connected to gay couples. A partner’s illness, the ability to make medical decisions, anxiety over how to take care of children in emergency situations, being able to take a leave from work to care for a sick partner help people understand the importance of marriage for committed couples.
Talk about why this issue is important to you. Be honest and specific about your relationship to marriage equality. Are you a partner in a committed couple seeking equal civil protections for your relationship or your family? Perhaps you are the parent of a partnered lesbian or gay child, who wants the same legal protections for this child as for your other children’s relationships. You may have a gay or lesbian sibling, and want to support his or her lifelong commitment to a partner. Telling your story, and why the protections offered by civil marriage are important to you or someone you love, is the most powerful witness you can give.
Discuss the values from Catholic tradition that support your belief in ensuring gay couples have the support they need to care for their partners. Is the equality of all of the people created and loved by God the main issue for you? Does the Church’s tradition as a leader in social justice guide you? Did you come to your position based on a decision from an informed conscience?
Be sure those you are speaking with are aware that civil marriage and religious marriage are different, although often conflated in our society. Nothing that would allow the equal protections of civil marriage would force any religious representative or institution to perform weddings they choose not to. All religions would maintain their ability to choose which marriages to sanction.
If your local bishops are organizing a campaign against marriage equality, express your views about what they are doing. Say why you feel it is important to represent another Catholic perspective on this issue. Many people assume that the bishops are speaking for all Catholics, and are unaware of the diversity of opinions within the Church on this civil matter.
How the Church handles sacramental marriage is within the legitimate purview of the bishops; however, as a citizen and a voter, your goal is to do away with laws that make it harder for gay couples to take care of each other.
If your priest reads a statement opposing marriage equality from the altar, or directs parishioners to sign a statement, challenge him on this action. There are sure to be many lesbian and gay people and parents of gays and lesbians in every congregation. Ask the priest to reflect on the pastoral implications of making statements that can cause great pain to these members of his flock. If you know of people who may have been hurt or angered, seek them out and let them know you disagree with this approach. Perhaps you can support each other in engaging other parishioners in conversation about this issue.
Please feel free to call DignityUSA at 1-800-877-8797 to tell us about your experiences, and get more ideas about your situation. DignityUSA’s website, www.dignityusa.org, has a number of resources, including A Call to Wed: Why Catholics Should Celebrate Same-Sex Marriage by Patricia Beattie Jung, and DignityUSA’s 2003 resolution in support of same-sex marriage.