Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"We accept you...as long as you never find fulfillment"

I'm not a Catholic.  Like the majority of Scandinavians I'm a Protestant, a Lutheran to be exact.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church tends to be quite liberal compared to the Catholic Church.

(A warning:  if you're über-conservative you may not want to read the next two paragraphs unless you have your heart medication nearby.)

In the Lutheran Church we have female priests and bishops.  Yes, women are just as good as men.  We also have openly gay and lesbian priests and bishops.  What's more, we allow our priests to get married (both the straight ones and the gay ones); we don't get worked up over divorce; we think condoms are cool; and we don't have a sanctimonious tantrum if two people of the same sex want to get married.  This is evident by the picture above from a recent wedding in Oslo, Norway, where two men were married (gasp!) by a female priest (double gasp!) inside a church (asthmatic gasp!).

One of our bishops recently attended the opening of a Gay Pride Festival in one of Norway's biggest cities and delivered the closing speech as well, saying "The LGBT community has fought a hard fight the last 60 years.  At the core is the fact that the love between two people of the same sex is nothing to be ashamed of."  As you can see, homosexuality is not a "crisis issue" in Norwegian society or in Northern European societies as a whole, or in the Lutheran Church.  The popular governor of Norway's Vestfold county, for example, is openly gay and married to a Lutheran priest.  I'm no fan of intimacy between church and state (pun intended), but in the case of the priest and the governor I'll make an exception. ;)

If you're a traditionalist Catholic the things you just read might make you reach for your oxygen tank -- or maybe a bottle of holy water to splash on your computer screen.  Or maybe not.  Maybe you're evolved and mature, and if you're reading this blog I'm betting hoping that you probably are.

I respect Catholics and the Catholic Church.  I respect all people of faith actually, no matter what faith they choose to subscribe to, or even if they believe in nothing at all.  Faith is a beautiful thing and a deeply personal matter; either you've got it or you don't.  Free-will allows each of us to make up our own minds for ourselves.

Having said that, I also respect my right to speak my mind, and in light of that I believe the Catholic Church really, really needs to step into the 21st century.  They're sending mixed messages on homosexuality, being entirely unrealistic, ignoring science, confusing themselves and others, and it's just getting sad.

A half step forward, two steps back

Back in 1976 the Catholic Church, through the Council of American Bishops' treatise To Live In Christ Jesus, officially recognized the difference between being homosexual and engaging in homogenital (same-sex) acts.  They found that, as a state beyond a person's choice, being homosexual is not wrong or sinful in itself.  But just as it is objectively wrong for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sex, so too are homosexual acts considered to be wrong.

Okay, I'm with them so far.  Being heterosexual or homosexual is beyond one's control and, according to Catholic teaching, sexual relations outside of marriage are classified as a no-no, for gay and straight folks alike.  Okay, that makes sense.  If you're Catholic I suppose that's a good rule to live by.  But it quickly gets complicated.  Straight people can easily get married; gay people can't -- at least not in many countries.

So essentially, if you're a gay Catholic the Church says to you, "Maybe you're gay by nature.  That's okay.  But for the rest of your life you have to be alone.  No partner for you.  No romantic fulfillment.  No sex.  No spouse, whether you want one or not."  How cruel can they be?!  Imagine saying that to a heterosexual:  Sure you might have been born straight, but if you're Catholic we're ordering you to be celibate for eternity.

As a biologist this twisted viewpoint makes my head hurt.  It's illogical on so many different levels.  Here you have the Catholic Church admitting and recognizing that sexual orientation is beyond a person's choice, then turning around and telling gay people that even though they have no choice as to how they were born, they have to deny themselves something that everyone else can have:  a bonded relationship with another person.  And to top it off they refuse to have any dialogue on the issue, no matter how much evidence supports a change (e.g. overwhelming scientific data, and scholarly re-evaluation of scriptures used to condemn general homosexuality, which when taken in context, in fact do not condemn).

Sadly, the official position of the Catholic Church has become: "This is true because we say it's true.  Don't bother us with facts!"

Celibacy is fine and good if that's what you're inclined toward.  Catholic priests and nuns are celibate (by order of the Church, but if they decide they want to marry they at least have the option of leaving their post to do so), and there are a small percentage of people out there who choose for whatever reason not to find a spouse or partner.  That's fine.  But the majority of people don't want to be alone forever.  We're not built like that as humans.  Most of us desire to fall in love, to love and be loved, to build a life and home with someone, and to have someone to grow old with.

In 1997, the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a Pastoral Letter entitled Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers, directed to the parents of gay and lesbian Catholics.  In this document, the bishops briefly addressed lesbians and gay men, saying, "In you God's love is revealed."  The letter also encouraged families to remain connected when a member revealed his or her homosexuality, and called for the establishment of ministries sensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian Catholics and their families.

In all honesty, that's awesome and is a gigantic step forward.  But on the other side of the coin there is still a qualifier:  if you're gay or lesbian, don't ever ever be in a relationship.  How can they affirm LGBTs with one hand, and then slap them down with the other?  You're okay as long as you're alone, but if you fall in love and find happiness, you're out.  That doesn't sound very Christ-like to me.

Confusion ensues

The confusion within the Catholic Church on this matter is two-edged:  there is the contradictory message of the Church to gays and lesbians, and there is also a confusion within the ranks of the Church itself and its umbrella ministries.  I've really never seen so much back and forth flip-flopping on an issue.

1975 saw the first confirming Catholic statement on homosexuality.  It was the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, under Cardinal Franjo Seper of Croatia.  It was the first document to comprehend the reality of sexual orientation.  It proposed that homogenital acts are wrong, but the homosexual "condition" is morally neutral.  This was a good first step into reality, but was 50% true, 50% ignorant.

Then along comes Cardinal Ratzinger, who today is the Pope.  He made it abundantly clear in his so-called "Halloween Letter" of 1986, that he doesn't like "the gays" so much.  In the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Rome leaped backwards with Ratzi's assertion that homosexuality is an "objective disorder" and an "orientation to evil."  Wow.  Talk about the shepherd beating the sheep.  So, essentially, gay Catholics are being told here that God is sadistic -- He created you so He could torment you and then ultimately condemn you to hell because you're oriented to be evil.  Uh-huh.  I don't think God is sadistic... but some humans are, clearly.

Then the flip-flop continues in 1989 when the Archdiocese of Baltimore puts out Homosexuality: A Positive Catholic Perspective; Questions and Answers in Lesbian/Gay Ministry.  It was the first ever gay-related publication released by an official Roman Catholic diocesan ministry, and it provides a positive context for LGBT ministry in the Church.  It refutes common myths and argues for civil rights for the LGBT community.  Huge step forward.

Then comes 1991 and a letter to the bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF.  It actually called on Catholic bishops to oppose civil rights initiatives for lesbians and gays, and gave approval for discrimination in teaching, military service, and employment.  Fortunately many Catholic bishops in America and Europe ignored the letter, but unfortunately almost all the bishops in Latin America and the Philippines latched onto it as a new call to arms. 

What are these guys doing??  It seems the right hand can't agree with the left.

Here in the Philippines, an anti-abortion/anti-gay Catholic organization called Pro-Life Philippines adds to the confusion.  Apparently they are unaware of the Church's wishy-washy stance on homosexuality being a naturally occurring orientation (even Ratzi's mean-spirited 1986 letter accepted that homosexuality is a constitutive part of the personality).  Yet, Pro-Life Philippines continues to assert that homosexuality is a learned behavior and something that can be "changed."  Those assertions aren't just 50% ignorant, they're 100% ignorant.  I encourage them to find a peso on the street and use it to buy a clue.  (Unfortunately their website doesn't allow readers to post comments -- naturally they're scared of views that run contrary to their own -- and it's a shame because I'd have a few choice comments to post there if I could.)

We shouldn't just allow same-sex marriage, we should insist on it

I'm a trained evolutionary biologist, a heterosexual, as well as a Christian, and I have absolutely no doubt that homosexuality is a natural, inborn occurrence.  Not a doubt.  It is not a choice, it is not a sickness, it is not a preference; it is an orientation.  The scientific data is just too strong to ignore.

As such, when a government denies its gay and lesbian citizens the chance to form stable, legally honored relationships, it is unequivocally forbidding the human rights of its own people.  It's an impossibility to have a healthy society when a significant minority of the population suffers discrimination.  As I once heard, it's akin to trying to have a happy family when one of the children is constantly being abused.  Doesn't work so well, and eventually the abused kid is going to get old enough to realize that he's being abused, and that things are going to have to change.  This is THE civil rights issue of our time; make no mistake about it.

One of my favorite authors and journalists on this matter is Jonathan Rauch, an incredibly smart and savvy Yale alum.  He makes a good case that even the prospect of marriage encourages sexual responsibility, because people want to have a good reputation and strive to be good marriage material.  Rauch argues that withholding marriage from gays and lesbians only encourages promiscuity.  In many countries today homosexuals have no hope of marrying and therefore don't even think of possibilities such as abstaining until marriage.  Furthermore, cultural restrictions and practices (such as a refusal to recognize same-sex partnerships and the belief that homosexuals can "change" their orientation) do absolutely nothing to encourage monogamous relationships within the LGBT community.

The double standard is crystal clear:  many conservative Christian leaders, including the Vatican, accuse homosexuals of being promiscuous but refuse to do anything to encourage monogamy.  They argue that people can only have sex in marriage, but then deny them the right to marry.

In the words of conservative journalist David Brooks, in an editorial in the New York Times entitled The Power of Marriage:
"You would think that faced with this marriage crisis, we conservatives would do everything in our power to move as many people as possible from the path of contingency to the path of fidelity.  But instead, many argue that gays must be banished from matrimony because [same-sex] marriage would weaken all marriage.
"The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments.  It is to expect that they make such commitments.  We shouldn't just allow [same-sex] marriage.  We should insist on [same-sex] marriage.  We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity."
Very well said, Mr. Brooks.

A threat to religious liberty?

But what of maintaining and protecting religious liberties?  This is often the worry raised by many religious conservatives, including the Catholic Church, and indeed it is a valid concern.  The concern is that if same-sex marriage is allowed, freedom of religion will suffer, ministries will no longer be able to speak their views on homosexuality, and churches will have to perform same-sex marriages by law whether they want to or not.

It may seem tricky, but it's actually not so complicated.

When a Marriage Act is amended to open marriage up to same-sex couples, the law then becomes gender-neutral.  The marriage law then reads:  "Two persons of opposite-sex or same-sex may contract marriage, provided they are of legal age and unrelated."  This is the way the Marriage Act reads in my home country, Norway.

As stated in the law, churches are given the right, but not the obligation, to marry whosoever they wish.  In other words, the government cannot force a church to perform a wedding ceremony.  This is known as "the right of the solemnizer to refuse to solemnize."  This actually isn't anything new; it's always been that way.  The Catholic Church, for example, won't recognize divorces or remarry persons who have previously been married, even if they're legally divorced.  Additionally, some Catholic dioceses will not permit inter-faith marriages inside their churches (where one person is a Catholic but the other is not).  The state cannot and does not force the Catholic Church to marry divorcees or mixed-faith couples, and likewise if a church refuses to marry same-sex couples they are well within their right to do so.  Any infringement upon that right by the state would be a clear violation of religious freedom.

I honestly cannot see the problem in this.  Religious liberties are being firmly held intact.  Secular law in a secular country is intended to be inclusive and protective of the rights of all citizens equally.  If a particular religious group doesn't approve, that's perfectly all right, they are not forced to take part.  The problem with the Catholic Church, and many other conservative branches of Christianity and Islam, is that they prefer to see their own religious opinions propped up as national law.  That is not okay -- not in a democracy.  Their right to refuse to perform marriages in their own churches must be protected, but that should not give them the right to prevent couples from contracting a marriage under the constitution in another church or before a judge.

This is an issue that the heavily Catholic Philippines will eventually have to come to grips with.  People have different faiths, different views on issues, different opinions.  No matter what a government does, not everyone will be happy.  Such is the case when it comes to same-sex marriage, abortion, sex education, gun laws, physician assisted suicide, drug legalization, etc.  If laws are passed to ban everything, the conservative religious types will be joyous but the progressive liberal types will be pissed.  And vice versa, sometimes you'll piss off the right-wingers while simultaneously delighting those on the left.

You simply cannot make everyone happy.  But that's not the job of a democratic government anyway.  Democratic governments don't exist to make everyone happy, or even to enforce the views of the majority.  Democratic governments exist to protect the rights of all citizens equally under the constitution -- even (or should I say especially) the rights of the minority.

Our Filipino LGBT brothers and sisters don't need special rights, they simply need equal rights.

There has to be a middle ground, a "happy medium" so to speak.  When it comes to same-sex marriage I think my country is a good example of how to get it right:  equalize marriage while keeping religious liberty firmly intact, and let churches and individual citizens make up their own minds for themselves.  That's the democratic thing to do.  That's the adult thing to do.

I pray the Catholic Church corrects its course and steps out of the dark ages.  I pray that one day soon the Vatican will repent and apologize for the centuries of support it has given to homophobia, the same way it finally apologized to the Jews for supporting centuries of anti-semitism.

The next time I light a candle in church, that's what I'll be lighting it for.



AnGiEgRaCe said... Best Blogger Tips

It was nice to read this from da perspective of a foreigner! I just wish Filipinos were as open minded as you are. I have a gay brother and it breaks my heart that if he stays in da PHL he will always face discrimination from two sides, from da Catholic church and from da government. I pray that we change and see that humans are humans. It was interesting to also read about da Lutheran church. I didnt know there is that very open and liberal kind of church. We Catholics in da PHL sometimes think that our church is da only church, but we forget that in alot of countries Catholics are a minority and other Christians may see things differently. Maybe I'll switch to Lutheran hehe. Thanks for being a ally to LGBT's!

Maximo said... Best Blogger Tips

Fil-Canadian here, and I attend a Methodist church here in Canada. We don't have a problem with ssm (same-sex marriage) either, in fact we've had a couple of ssm's inside the church I go to. I think it's good to expose Filipinos to the less rigid standpoints of other denominations, and I agree with Angie Grace's comment that alot of Pinoys only get the viewpoint of the Catholic church.

There are many Christian churches that are welcoming and accepting of ss couples such as Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran (except for the Missouri Synod in the US), United Church of Christ, Mennonites, Quakers, plus alot of Presbyterians and most Anglicans (but not African Anglican churches). The ones generally opposed to it are more fundamentalist like Baptist, Pentecostal, Calvary Chapel, Iglesia ni Cristo, Mormons, many of the so called non-denominationals, and of course the Catholic church.

Some people are gay and they're children of God too. People need to just shut up, grow up and get over it.

SleeplessInSubic said... Best Blogger Tips

Buwahaha! The picture at the top is confusing me. Why isn't one of those guys wearing a wedding dress?? How will they know which one is the wife?? Does that priest say "I now pronounce you man and MAN"?? How can the priest say "You may now kiss the bride" if there is no bride?? From the looks of it I think maybe Norwegiens are the confused ones!!

Erik said... Best Blogger Tips


I'm not sure if you're trying to be funny or if you're just being condescending. Neither of the men are wearing a dress because they're both men. They're gay, not transgender. Neither will be "the wife" because, again, both are men; they are both each others' husband.

At the end of the ceremony a priest, minister, or judge will announce them as spouses. In the Norwegian language it's said the same way for opposite-sex and same-sex couples: "I hereby pronounce you to be lawful spouses." We've never used the term "man and wife" the way it is done in English. Also, it's not part of the Norwegian ceremony to say "You may kiss the bride." Usually the couple will kiss on their own after exchanging rings.

I don't think Norwegians are confused -- we just don't feel the need to tell other adults how to live their lives.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

...I think it is a big question mark for you to say gay marriage would not impact on religious freedom. I have read alot of articles about that exact thing happening in other countries with lawsuits etcetera. I did even read about your country where a pastor has been arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin and he is in prison. That doesn't sound like democracy and a free country to me. ...You cannot deny that this issue has negative implications for Christian speech. That is why I am skeptical about it all. Not becuase I am anti-gay but because I fear for the end of free speech and religious freedom.

Erik said... Best Blogger Tips


Hello and thanks for your comment. It's a very important question you raise, and I will do my best to address it in my next post. Due to the size restrictions of comments I'm unable to properly answer you here, but I'll do so as soon as possible.

chuckcat said... Best Blogger Tips

Can anyone please explain to me how the male body is designed for male to male sex? Same thing for the female body?

George Orwell was right 'There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.'

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