Category Archives: 60 Marriage / family

What Constitutes a “Family”? Empirical Study Finds A Wider View

Religious conservatives are regularly referring to the “traditional family” as a foundation for their beliefs, but there is no such thing. The conservative interpretation of the so-called traditional family is  a relatively modern invention, created to fit the conditions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Western Europe and North America. In earlier times, and other parts of the world. family structures varied enormously from  this particular model.
Family history, like all other history, is constantly changing to fit new circumstances, so it should be no surprise that conceptions of family in the twenty first century are continuing to evolve, to fit a world that is no longer what it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some of these changes are obvious, but like so much that is familiar, can easily be “hidden in plain sight.” A new study by sociologist  Brian Powell brings this into plain view. (His study is specifically of American views, but with the emergence of a shared world culture, many of his findings will also have relevance across a much wider geographic region.)
The central finding is that people no longer define “family” as mom pop and kids, but also include   same-sex couples with children (Children seem to be central: childless couples, gay or straight, are not seen as “families”, but just as couples). However, there is an increasing movement towards acceptance. An important finding, familiar from previous studies on the subject, is that people who know gay people (more accurately, who recognize that people they know are gay), are more supportive than those who are not aware that family members or acquaintances are gay. This simply reinforces the necessity for the wider political struggle, that wherever possible, gay men and lesbians should come out openly, in as many contexts as possible. Coming out personally will improve acceptance in our circles of friends and family. Politicians and other public figures who come out   do so indirectly for the wider community.
I particularly liked an argument on gay adoption that I have been using regularly: framing arguments in terms of the “the best interests of the child” can work to our advantage, not those opposed to gay adoption. (In adoption considerations, the best interests of the child require placement with the best parents available. Sometimes, they will be gay).  Indeed, the claim made (but not elaborated on in the reports I have seen), is that the interests of children may well be a more effective argument than others in making the case for more general equality of same-sex couples.

A majority of Americans now say their definition of family includes same-sex couples with children, as well as married gay and lesbian couples.

At the same time, most Americans do not consider unmarried cohabiting couples, either heterosexual or same-sex, to be a family — unless they have children.

The findings — part of a survey conducted this year as well as in 2003 and 2006 by Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University, Bloomington — are reported in a new book, “Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family,” to be published on Wednesday by the Russell Sage Foundation. Since the surveys began, the proportion of people who reported having a gay friend or relative rose 10 percentage points, said Professor Powell, the book’s lead author.

“This is not because more people are gay now than in 2003,” he said. “This indicates a more open social environment in which individuals now feel more comfortable discussing and acknowledging sexuality. Ironically with all the antigay initiatives, all of a sudden people were saying the word ‘gay’ out loud. Just the discussion about it made people more comfortable.”

The book concludes that framing the equality of same-sex couples in terms of “the best interests of the child” might prove to be a more successful political argument than others.

What Irish Catholics Believe

This is getting monotonous, but it must be stated again. What Catholics believe and practice on matters of sexual ethics, as a matter of empirical fact, is simply not what the (nominally) celibate bishops in their ivory towers would like us to believe, or falsely proclaim as “Catholic” belief, when it is in fact no more than Vatican doctrine.
The latest evidence, in a long line of similar research, comes from Ireland. This makes it all the more notable, given that country’s long reputation until recently as a “priest-ridden country”, where the dictates of the clergy meant that even contraception was forbidden by law, and people would journey across the island to Belfast just to buy condoms.
In a marked turnaround, the Irish people do not simply tolerate pre-marital sex, they believe it is desirable for young couples to spend time living together before committing to marriage. The bishops, on the other hand, maintain that all sex outside of marriage and not “ordered to procreation” is sinful, and presumably support their American colleagues’ pronouncement that cohabitation before marriage, like homosexuality, is gravely disordered.
The Irish politicians have come a long way in standing up to moral bullying by the church officials, notably over the investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but have some way yet to go. They have succeeded in passing civil partnership legislation, which will come into effect early;next year, but lag well behind their voters. Fully two thirds would support full marriage equality.
From the Irish Times:

Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

JUST OVER two-thirds of people (67 per cent) believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour Attitudes social poll.
It is one of a series of findings in a poll on “sex, sin and society” that indicates Irish people have adopted a more liberal attitude towards personal relationships and sexual behaviour.
In addition showing strong support for gay marriage, a significant majority (60 per cent) also believe civil partnerships for gay couples will not undermine the institution of marriage. A large majority (91 per cent) also say they would not think less of a person if they revealed they were gay or lesbian.
These numbers are consistently high across most age groups, as well as in urban and rural areas.
People are divided, however, on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children. Some 46 per cent support such a move, while more than a third (38 per cent) are opposed. Younger people, urban dwellers and women are more likely to be supportive of the idea.
The findings also indicate there is a growing consensus that living together before marriage is likely to result in a more stable marriage. A majority (57 per cent) believe cohabitation is a positive development. This view is reflected consistently across most age groups.
Even higher numbers (79 per cent) do not regard sex before marriage as immoral. When broken down by religion, most Catholics – again, 79 per cent – did not see anything wrong with the practice.
Just 15 per cent, mostly older people or those living in rural areas, see it as immoral.
There are also significant differences across the generations in attitudes towards issues such as celibacy and virginity. In total, just under half (48 per cent) of people admire those who choose to be celibate for moral or religious reasons.
A majority of older people (62 per cent) aged 65 or more are much more likely to admire celibacy, while this falls to well under half among younger and middle-aged people.
Even among Catholics, respondents are just as divided. While 51 per cent of Catholics admire celibacy, the remainder either do not (33 per cent), or say they do not know (16 per cent).
Not all the poll findings point to increasingly liberal attitudes, however. The average age most people feel teenagers should begin to have sex at is 18 years, above the current age of consent which is 17.

Also:
Survey reveals more relaxed attitude to sex
Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

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A Catholic Case For Blessing Civil Unions

With gay marriage back in the news, one may well ask (and I have been asked) is there a case for the Catholic Church to provide some form of church recognition for civil unions?
I have several objections, which I have frequently stated,  to the entire foundations of the Vatican doctrines on sexuality – but the question I want to deal with was very specific and moderate, from a person whose undoubted sincerity and respect for tradition I freely accept, and so, for the sake of argument, I want to address David’s question on its own terms – from strictly within orthodox Catholic tradition and teaching. My short answer is yes, undoubtedly; my slightly longer answer is that there should not need to be a case, as liturgical blessing of same sex unions already has an established place in Church history, complete with fixed liturgical rites and ceremonies. However, this traditional practice is no longer familiar to us, and so I need to update it, together with some background information,  for the modern context.
I begin with what is foundational to all questions of marriage – the words of Scripture, in Genesis 2 (which is the earlier of the two creation stories, notwithstanding the familiar numbering):
“It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a companion to help him.”
-(Gen 2:18)
Notice please: not a wife, to make babies, but a companion, to help him. So we have it on the very best authority, God’s authority, that humans need companions, not for sexual pleasure, nor primarily for procreation, but for help, companionship and support.

In the modern West, we are so obsessed with sex, and particularly with off-colour wisecracks and snickering at wedding receptions that we entirely forget that marriage is not only about sex. Yet every adult knows there is far more to marriage, once the wedding night and honeymoon are over and forgotten. What becomes far more important is simply working together to ease the trials of the day – by offering companionship and support, taking leisure or seeing friends and family together, and sharing in the costs and responsibilities that go into making a home: house, garden and car maintenance, paying the bills, cleaning, laundry and food arrangements – and raising children together if and when they arrive.
It is not only that sex is not the only part of marriage – we forget that it was once an accepted part of Christianity that sexual relationships need not be a part of marriage at all. Many early Christians renounced sex altogether and dedicated themselves to virginity, even in marriage, and even as married couples. So it is entirely accepted in Christian tradition that an emotionally intimate, recognized committed relationship between two people is possible without the need for a sexual foundation.
We also know, through the scholarship of John Boswell and Alan Bray, that for many centuries the early and medieval Church accepted and recognized the value of liturgical recognition of same sex couples, for which they used established rites of blessing. In the Eastern Church, these were known as rites for “adelphopoeisis“, or “making of brothers”, and in the Western Church, as “sworn brotherhood.”  Boswell’s work is controversial, and has been widely criticized in some quarters on the grounds that these unions were not “comparable” to modern heterosexual marriage – but that is precisely my point: modern civil unions are also not comparable to modern (sacramental) marriage (and nor were heterosexual unions in the early and medieval church “comparable” with modern marriage). (UPDATE: I have learnt from a note in the comments that there is a new book forthcoming on adelphopoeisis. It will be fascinating to see how much this new study departs from, or adds to, Boswell’s early and controversial work).
.
What cannot be denied is that these liturgical rites existed, and were used. Bray’s work is a lot more cautious than Boswell’s, and he is careful to describe these unions only in terms of “friendship” – but as he also makes clear, male friendship at that time is also not directly comparable with modern ideas of male “buddies”. Friendship between men then was  a far more serious affair than it usually is today, possibly of greater emotional and practical importance that mere marriage, which is why it was deemed worthy of liturgical recognition, and why a number of pairs of sworn brothers demanded and got joint burial in shared tombs in church – exactly as many  married couples. These unions were not always sexual – but some most certainly were.
The practice of liturgical blessing for same-sex unions gradually fell away, but continued in occasional use in the Eastern use, and I have heard a suggestion that although it has fallen into disuse in the West, it has never been formally abolished and so remains at least theoretically available (that would need checking, and I do not vouch for the claim.) However, the practice of shared burial continued rather longer. The best known and most recent example is that of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who insisted on being buried alongside his beloved friend St John, that they could be together “for all eternity”. There was no objection raised to the request, and they were indeed buried together, right in Birmingham Oratory, with no slight to Newman’s reputation. He is today on the path to recognized sainthood, and will be formally beatified next month, during the papal visit to the UK.
So, there is an established basis in scripture and in church history, for recognizing a human need for a companion, and for liturgical recognition of such relationships, even when between pairs of men, by the Church. So the case for modern liturgical recognition of some same-sex relationships would seem to be incontestable – it has already been established church practice in both Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. The question is – what kind of relationships? Are rites for making “brothers”, or of “sworn brotherhood”,  really appropriate for modern civil unions? The argument against might be, that the former were not sexual relationships, and modern civil unions are.
Well, not exactly. Some sworn brotherhoods most certainly did have a sexual basis, and some modern civil unions do not. More importantly, both sets of unions are or were very much about joint financial business or property relationships, and reciprocal obligations for mutual care and protection. Before considering modern partnerships which are sexual, I want to deal with those which are not. To do so, I want to consider the case of a Catholic man who has a “homosexual condition”, but who successfully strives to live strictly within the parameters of orthodox Catholic doctrine. Call him Chas, for chastity.
We know from Vatican documents that a homosexual man in himself is not sinful – only his homosexual “acts”, but being a dutiful Catholic, Chas does not commit any of those. We also know from Genesis that in the eyes of God, it is not right that he should be alone, that he needs a companion. We also know that the Church itself recognizes that a person like Chaz will have a difficult time living out his life of voluntary chastity – they describe this as a “cross” that such men must learn to carry, and also are careful to arrange support groups (in the Courage ministry) to help them to deal with this cross.
Now if Chas recognizes that it would be good for him to have a companion, someone who can offer help and support in carrying this cross on a full-time basis, not just in weekly Courage meetings, and can furthermore help with all the little practical details of living arrangements, as married couples do as matter of course when not making babies, and if Chas meets someone with whom he can find the right emotional connection, and who is just as committed to living within Church teaching (someone he met in his Courage group, perhaps) – what possible objection can there be to the two of them agreeing to live together as room-mates, sharing expenses, chores and responsibilities – and providing full-time companionship and support?
Once they do start living together, and develop deep emotional bonds, they may well see the need for legal contracts to protect their respective interests in the eyes of the law. As the relationship has been set up to honour and support each other in living out Church teaching in love, is there not also a need for such a relationship to secure some form of honouring within the Church community, so that God who has recognized their mutual need for companionship, and the faith community of which they are part, might bear witness to their love and commitment – and encourage them to maintain it obedience to the demands of their faith, as they see it? Such recognition should not take the form of “marriage”, with its association with child-bearing and raising, but it would have strong and obvious parallels with sworn brotherhood – based on deep friendship, but also incorporating legal, financial and personal mutual responsibilities.
So, it is clear to me that precisely as the early and medieval church saw the value of celebrating some same sex unions in sworn brotherhood, there would be value for the church in recognizing (celibate) civil unions with an independent, but associated, rite of blessing within the congregation.
What of unions that are not known to be celibate? Well, they may be.  Here in the UK, the law for civil partnerships closely parallels that for marriage, with very few exceptions. One important one that does exist, is sexual: unlike marriage, there is no legal requirement for sexual consummation for the union to be valid. In law, the partnership is essentially a matter of contract between two people, and in not a sexual arrangement.  For those cynics who doubt the possibility of a partnership which is not sexual, I simply point again to the example of the early church, and those married couples who were encouraged to practice virginity even within marriage. There certainly are modern male couples, living in close emotional partnerships, who claim to be doing so in complete chastity, just as our fictitious Chaz might do. Who are we to disbelieve them?
Even where we know that a particular couple are not celibate, we would be wrong to assume that they are living in sin. Although the Vatican documents and the Catechism are clear that homosexual genital acts are sinful, it is also established and accepted that the primary obligation is to one’s conscience. There is a parallel clear and established teaching that the use of artificial contraception is sinful – but that conscience may at times override that. So, the simple fact that two men are living together, in a relationship that is not celibate, does not mean that they are sinful. They too, just like Chaz and his hoped-for friend and partner, need companionship, mutual help and support in negotiating life’s difficulties, and the problems they will face together. They too, could do with some support from their congregation, and recognition for their love.
Before dismissing the possibility, consider once more the case of a married couple, one that has been married, say, for ten years, and remain childless.  When they present themselves for communion, does the priest assume that they are using contraception, and deny the sacrament? Of course, it could be that there are natural causes at work. Let us simplify the case further, let us say that both couples have had children by previous marriages, marriages which ended tragically in the deaths of their spouses. They are now in en entirely licit new marriage and each has established proof of   fertility. Still the priest, although he might have questions in his mind, will not refuse communion, because he will assume that the couple have worked things out in conscience and good faith.
Why can the church not approach modern same sex couples in the same spirit? The case for church recognition of celibate civil unions I showed above to be incontestable.  I submit that if we truly apply Catholic teaching on the importance of conscience, and on not judging the state of an other’s conscience, there is equally a strong case for Church recognition of unions that are not necessarily celibate.

"Lesbians Make Better Parents" – Research Finding

Yet again, there is new research, this time tracking children of lesbian parents from birth to adolescence, which shows clearly that children of lesbian parents do not just as well as other children in their development patterns, but in some respects, do even better. The researchers expected their results to demonstrate again that children of lesbian parents would do as well as other kids on measures of development and social behaviour, and so they did. What they had not anticipated, was that these children would do even better on some specific measures. They scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.
“We simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls,” says Gartrell. “I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something I anticipated.”

This was emphatically not because their lives were in any way easier than others: over 40% of them had experienced teasing or other difficulties from their peers on account of their family backgrounds, and in the early years they expressed higher than normal levels of stress. As they grew older, however, they learned to overcome this, and by later adolescence, their stress levels were pretty standard for the age group.

This is based on a new analysis, published today in Pediatrics, of data from the the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), begun in 1986. This looked at families with two moms who had deliberately chosen to raise families by artificial insemination. The families were interviewed at discreet intervals over a twenty year period, giving an insight into how well the children were developing across a range of social and physical development indicators, and compared with  national norms. 

-(Read more at Time)

Why Catholics Support Gay Marriage.

Research results have consistently shown that US Catholics nationally are more supportive of gay rights (including gay marriage), and do not agree with the Vatican teaching that homosexual relationships are morally wrong. What has not been clear from research is why this should be, when the formal Vatican doctrine, and the publicly stated position of the bishops, is so different. The same conundrum was posed even more sharply this month in Argentina, where polls showed that in this overwhelmingly Catholic country, where the bishops very publicly opposed it, 70% of the population supported the introduction of full family equality.
In California, two separate polls released within days, by Field and by PRRI, confirm the patterns we have become accustomed to: over the longer term view, support for equality has grown steadily; Democrats and independents are supportive, Republicans are not; younger voters are strongly supportive – and Californian Catholics narrowly support marriage equality.

The difficulty with most research results for demographic sub-samples, such as “women”, or “Latinos” , 0r “over 50’s” is that without deeper statistical analysis, it is never quite clear whether the differences seen between groups are specific to those groups, or just the result of hidden demographics distorting the groups being examined.

The great thing about the research from PRRI, is that it addresses that problem by taking a two-level split of a large sample, to consider religion within ethnic groups. It thus standardises for ethnicity when considering religion – and the results are truly fascinating, especially against the background of marriage equality in Argentina. It turns out that among all religious groupings, Latino Catholics are the most supportive of marriage equality – and Latino Protestants are the most strongly opposed.  In California, what appears to be Catholic support for marriage equality is specifically Latino Catholic support: White Catholic views are pretty similar to White (mainline) Protestants. Conversely, the strong Latino Catholic support does not show up in overall Latino support, because it is balanced by strong opposition from Latino Protestants.
It gets better. If the report simply left it there, that would be interesting, but would simply beg a couple of further questions. Why should Latino/a Catholics differ so strongly from White Catholics, and even more strongly from Latino/a Protestants? Why are Catholics and Protestants so different to Evangelicals, who are very strongly opposed? Why are Blacks overall less supportive than either Whites or Latinos? So, it is great to report that it does not stop there. There is plenty of real good meat in this report worth chewing over, both theologically and politically, which offers some real insight into the reasons for these discrepancies.
One dramatic impact on thinking about marriage, is what people are hearing from their clergy.  Catholics are more likely than other groups to be hearing anything at all from clergy about homosexuality, and White Catholics less than Latino Catholics.  Both Catholic groups, together with White Protestants, are the least likely to be hearing negative statements. Some Latino Catholics are hearing a message that flatly contradicts the position of the bishops: almost one in ten report they are hearing supportive words from their Catholic priests about homosexuality.
(With the continuing debate in some Protestant groups about gay ordination, it is important to note that a small majority of Protestant clergy seem more likely to support than to discourage gay and lesbian relationships, by 21% to 19% ).
This has huge implications for the push for marriage equality, for inclusion in church, and for the Catholic Church in particular.  First, it confirms once again that religious belief and homosexual relationships are not incompatible. It is simply untrue that “Christians” as a whole reject homosexuality, or same sex marriage. A growing minority of Christians, and some clergy, support such relationships.  This increasing support within the churches will ease the way towards greater LGBT inclusion in church. For the Catholic bishops, the signs are ominous. At a national level, their voices have been among the most prominent arguing against gay marriage, gay adoption, civil unions, and protection from discrimination. But this message from the top of the pyramid does not seem to be getting through on the ground. It is remarkable that Catholics are the least likely of all groups to be hearing negative messages about homosexuality from their priests, and even more so that some Catholics are being told to be supportive, or are hearing messages that are neutral rather than critical.
Why this disconnect? Could it be that the local priests are in closer contact, with real people. both gay and straight, and so more in touch with reality? Another finding in the research is that people’s views on homosexuality will be strongly influenced by the parents of gay men and lesbians. Any priest is likely to have several such parents in his congregation, in addition to some gay people themselves who have not been driven away from the church, or into hiding in a closet. This direct personal knowledge will be showing him the falsity of official discourse, that we are not “disordered”, driven by our sexuality away from God, or interested only in “gratuitous self-indulgence”.  Rather than repeating the lies, many would simply prefer to hold their tongues – and
some are taking the remarkable step, given their dependent position, of directly contradicting the bishops’ message.
If the bishops are unable to speak directly to gay men, lesbians or their parents, they would be wise to at least listen carefully to what their priests could be telling them. If they continue to not do so, they will simply continue to lose further credibility, and will suffer greater loss of authority, just as they have already done on contraception, and as the Argentinian bishops have now done on marriage equality.

Scottish Adoption Agency WANTS Gay Parents

The Scottish Adoption Association has told gay couples not to be put off by the “very negative publicity” surrounding the issue of same-sex couples adopting children. The publicity in question is believed to relate to the complaints of the grandparents of two Edinburgh-based children who were adopted by a gay couple.
According to Margaret Moyes, Chief Executive of SAA, many disillusioned couples have withdrawn from the process because of the negative messages abounding in the Scots media. One couple, Ms Moyes claimed, actually withdrew for that very reason. She said, “I am really keen to make sure we get the message out that there are lots of children waiting for adoption, and we need to find parents from as wide a group of people as possible.”
(Full Report At Pink News)

Catholics Support Gay Adoption.

In the US, the struggle over adoption by lesbian or gay families concerns those states which prohibit it, either by state law, or (in Florida) by a complete constitutional ban. In the UK, where discrimination against gay or lesbian prospective parents is prohibited by law, the battle is entirely different. Here, the Catholic Church is seeking an exemption from the terms of the law for one of its agencies.
My friend Celia Gardiner, who as a lawyer and as chair of the Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, is heavily involved in correspondence with the Charities Commission on the Church’s application. I fear I have become totally lost in trying to follow the legal niceties – so don’t ask. However, I have undertaken to assist with passing on links to empirical evidence to contradict the claims on which the bishops base their case, so that I can happily share with you.
I have previously pointed out that in claiming that “Catholics” or “the Catholic Church” oppose gay marriage, the bishops (American or British) are being somewhat economical with the truth. It may be what the bishops oppose, it may be what they want the rest of us to oppose – but we do not simply mould our beliefs to episcopal diktat. Contrary to the Vatican line, most American Catholics do not believe that same sex relationships are morally unacceptable, and overall, are in favour or recognizing same sex marriage (that’s full civil marriage, not just civil unions).
I have now tracked down similar information specifically on adoption, and guess what? the bishops may oppose it, but Catholics as a whole are in favour. Now note, please, that the data are two years old, from 2oo8 (prior to the US election). All the evidence is that attitudes have moved on since then. For the case of the UK, which prompted my investigation, public attitudes are generally more supportive. Any claim by the bishops that “the Catholic Church” opposes same sex adoption is almost certainly not factually correct. ?

Source: Pew Research, 2008

Queer Families' Challenge for Catholic Church.

Catholic Church Must Learn to Deal With Children of Gay Parents.

Last month, there was a brief flurry of outrage when a Boulder Catholic school, under pressure from the parish priest and the local bishop, told a couple of lesbian parents that their children were no longer welcome, and should look for another school elsewhere.  Like so many news stories, this one has died down, and for all the full, has been all but forgotten,except for those directly affected.  Meanwhile, an Arkansas judge this week ruled that a state ban on adoption which voters approved in November 2008 was invalid; a series of court rulings in Florida have approved three specific applications for adoption by gay parents, in spite of the state’s constitutional ban; and in Argentina, the Lower House of parliament will soon be considering legislation to approve both gay marriage and gay adoption. What the stories from Boulder completely overlooked, is how very many children are already in Catholic schools.  That number is sure to rise, as increasing public acceptance around the world encourages more Catholic couples to declare their relationships openly, and as some of those in turn seek to adopt, or to retain custody of their own children. A good proportion of these, like any other Catholic couple, will seek to have their offspring  educated in Catholic schools.
Gay Parents, Gay Pride Paris 2007

This is not new.  One of the parents who were interviewed by National Catholic Reporter for their series on responses to the exclusion, says that she was herself raised by lesbian mothers, but was educated in a Catholic school without any problems being raised.  That was a generation ago. There are assuredly many more such children in Catholic schools today.

One lesbian mom’s experience of acceptance by a Catholic school

In a long and thoughtful piece at dot Commonweal, one lesbian and deeply committed Catholic mother tells of her very different experience in enrolling her children.  There are many important features in this piece that I would like to dig into further, but for now I want to focus specifically on the question of her success in having her children accepted by a Catholic school.  In particular, I was struck by two parts of the response by the local priest when they went to see him, not about schooling, but just about attendance in church as a family: he asked them if they would be sending their sons to the Catholic school; and that he believed they already had other children with gay parents.
From Dot Commonweal:

We didn’t want that reality just sprung on him, a thoughtful and decent man who, we expected, might get an earful from a few parishioners in the ensuing days and weeks. We asked if our coming to church like that was OK with him. Our priest said he appreciated the heads-up. “Just come, just come,” he insisted, expressing considerable relief that we had nothing else to discuss (“When I saw your names in my appointment book, I was afraid you might be asking me to bless your union”). He then inquired as to the boys’ names and ages and, hearing that the eldest would be almost six, asked, “Will you send him here, then, for school?” My partner and I shot a glance at each other. We said we hadn’t figured that was a possibility. We’d been struggling with the school question a bit. Sending the kids to the village public school in the very rural district where we lived was out of the question. We wanted a more demanding education for them. Sending them to our parish school in the small city in which we worked was, we had thought, equally out of the question. The priest raised both eyebrows. “No, not out of the question. Not at all. Send them here. In fact, I don’t even think you’d be the first same-sex couple to do so.” We’d had no idea. He thought a bit, came up with the family’s name, and said he thought all three of the girls were still enrolled and doing fine.
Was this remarkable, or unusual? Probably not. With the increasing visibility of gay and lesbian couples, and with  improving legal and administrative procedures  for approving gay adoption and custody applications, there are today many thousands of children being raised by same sex parents, as couples or as single parents.  Those children will go to school just as any others, and it is entirely likely that a high proportion of schools will include on their rolls children from such families. There is no reason to suppose that Catholic schools are fundamentally different and entirely free of gay or lesbian parents (although the incidence may well be lower).

The Challenge:

Catholic teaching is clear that the Church has a fundamental responsibility to all children who have been baptized and so accepted into its fold, so it is entirely correct that these schools should be accepting these children, whatever Fr Bill in Boulder might believe. I suspect that this is issue of responding appropriately to queer existing queer families is going to be in increasingly important challenge to the Church,  as the number of openly gay and lesbian parents continue to grow, in the US and elsewhere around the world. The actions in Boulder got the news, but they were exceptional and in conflict with clear teaching on the responsibility of the Church to the child.  As an increasing number of children from queer families are accepted and educated in Catholic schools, so their friends and classmates will grow up knowing at first-hand the reality that diverse family patterns exist. Just as earlier generations of children knew and understood that some children had only one mom and no pop (or the other way around), so a new generation is learning that some kids have two moms. At the same time, kids are coming out themselves at ever earlier ages, and it is widely recognised that today’s children do not have the same hangups about “homosexuality” that their parents did. Already, the majority of  US Catholics do not agree that homoerotic relationships are immoral. Young people educated in Catholic schools with friends who openly identify as queer, or whose parents do so, will be even less inclined to simply accept Church teaching.

Earlier posts:

Boulder School Exclusion: Other Parents’ Reactions

Boulder Parents: “They told Us in School To Love Everyone”

Lesbian Parents, Boulder Catholic School (3)

Lesbian Mums, Catholic Schools: The Voice of Experience

Books:

Garner, Abigail: Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is

Newman, Leslea: Heather Has Two Mommies: 10th Anniversary Edition (Alyson Wonderland)

LGBT community: The Real Defenders of Traditional Marriage.

I have all along been puzzled by the US MSM acceptance of Maggie Gallagher’s con trick, that her organisation is NOM, the “National OrganiZation for Marriage”. IT quite clearly isn’t – their aim is to restrict marriage. In what way is that supporting marriage? They should rename as “NAM “, National organization Against Marriage. Our side are the ones who are showing real support for marriage, support that demands the opportunity be extended to all. We are the ones who should be saying “Vote yes – yes for marriage”.
Finally, others are beginning to say the obvious – that “traditional” as commonly understood is a load of hokum. Earlier this week I pointed out an Episcopalian bishop had reminded NJ senators that “traditional” marriage was an agreement between two men (the groom and the bride’s father). NOw, this piece from Huff post extends the idea. (Interestingly, this is the second article I have seen that uses the Tiger Woods story to show how bankrupt is the ideal of (straight) traditional marriage. the previous piece used the reported financial negotiations over the couple’ current problems to argue that conventional marriage is just a commercial contract, to which any couple should have access.) Expanding on the idea that monogamous marriage is an anomaly, Jay Michaelson concludes by suggesting that it is the “gay marriage crowd” who most clearly demonstrate enthusiasm for traditional marriage:

Ironically, and of course totally unrecognized by defenders of “traditional marriage,” it’s the gay-marriage crowd that is the staunchest proponent of traditional norms. They’re the ones saying that monogamous marriage is so great, let’s extend it to everyone. The real opponents of marriage are the folks who question whether it’s such a good idea in the first place. 


Whatever we think about such normative questions, the facts of the matter are beyond dispute: monogamous marriage as an ideal that’s actually meant to be upheld is a very recent, and not very successful, innovation. Personally, I recognize that as an deal, it plays an important role in creating stable families, stable communities, and stable societies. I am not forgiving the sin of infidelity. But I do wonder if it’s more a peccadillo than some kind of ethical felony.

Read the full article at Monogamous Marriage is an Anomaly, (Huffpost)


The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values

Under the heading,  “A Way Back Behind Christian Homophobia”, Adam Kotsko writes at the blog “An und fur sich” about a trilogy of books by Ted Jennings: Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament, and the third in the set, Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia:

“The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: he absolutely abandons the defensive stance -of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself.”

Setting aside the weapons of hate

Even discounting the possibility that Jesus had a male lover (there are at least two candidates:  John, the “apostle Jesus loved”, and Lazarus), this is an approach I love.  Given the way in which queers have for centuries experienced Scripture as a weapon of hate, it is understandable that after one has overcome a natural antipathy to dealing with Scripture at all, the first enquiry from lesbigay people is to  find ways to respond to the infamous clobber texts, to learn to set aside the weapons of hate.  This is technically relatively easy – the actual texts are few, out of 30 000 verse in a Bible written against a cultural background where homoeroticism was commonplace, and many scholars have shown how they have either been misinterpreted, or are of limited relevance to modern gay relationships.

More difficult is dealing with the residual emotional baggage: this is where books pointing to positive interpretations of Scripture are so valuable. Again, this should be easy – the fundamental message of the Gospels has nothing to do with hatred against anybody, but stresses love and inclusion for everybody – most especially social outsiders and the otherwise afflicted and oppressed.  Still, for people with a homophile orientation, we can go well beyond the simple message of generic inclusion. Writers on Scripture have pointed to specifically queer values in Scripture, while historians have shown that the roots of popular hostility did not lie in Scripture at all:  the Church followed popular prejudice, not the other way around.

I do not yet have personal knowledge of Jennings’ books (but will explore further). There are other writers though who have covered much the same ground, with whose work I am more familiar.

Setting aside family values

Chris Glaser, in his excellent book, “Coming Out as Sacrament”, has a chapter on “Coming out in the Bible”, in which he reads several well known Scripture stories, from Adam & Eve in Genesis to Pentecost in Acts,  as coming out tales.  Among these, he presents the story of Jesus Himself as “Coming out of Family Values”.  The evidence he produces in support of this argument is that:

  • “his mother Mary was told that Jesus’ own coming out would mean “that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword shall pass through your own soul too (Luke 2:35)”;
  • At twelve years of age,  Jesus ignored his family’s departure from Jerusalem to sit  in the temple, his “Father’s house” (Luke 2:49);
  • He left His family and as far as we know, never married and never “begat” children;
  • He called his disciples away from their families (9:59:62), told them he had no home (9:57) ,, and claimed that His gospelk would “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Mathew 10:35-36);
  • When His family came to see  Him, He declared, “Whoever does the will of god is my brother and sister and mother”(Mark 3:35);
  • Members of the new faith community addressed each other as brother and sister;
  • Jesus’ own family of choice were three unmarried people – Martha, Mary and Lazarus;
  • In the New Testament, the biological, polygamous, prolifically procreative family of the Old Testament was superseded by the more vital, eternal and extended family of faith, a family to be expanded by evangelism and inclusivity rather than mere procreation;
  • Jesus had a special word of defence for the eunuch, who was an outcast in Israel because his body was mutilated, but more importantly because he could not procreate. “

I don’t know about you, but to me, but none of this, neither Old Testament nor New, sounds particularly like the “traditional family values” that the fundies claim to be protecting because they believe them to be at the heart of Christianity.

Urban gay men as role models

Going beyond queer values in the Gospels to queer lives today, the American theologian Kathy Rudy argues that this Scriptural denial of modern “family values” implies that modern urban gay culture is more in tune with the Gospel message than the biological family which Christ’s teaching rejected

“The church needs the model of gay sexual sexual communities because Christians have forgaotten how to think about social and sexual life outside the family”.

Writing about Rudy’s work, Elisabeth Stuart notes that

“The church has forgotten how to be a community, how to be the body of Christ and perhaps gay men have the grave task of teaching it to be a community wider than a family.”

Wow!

How far have we come?  Instead of simply sitting back and accepting the knee jerk, unfounded  accusations of “Sodomy”, we find that there are serious, credible Scripture scholars and theologians who have first, shown that the traditional use of the clobber texts to atack us is at best inappropriate, or possibly totally unfounded; that there are positive role models in Scripture, in both the Old Testmament and the New;  that far from encouraging traditional family values, the Gospel message opposes themwith what are quite frankly queer values, and that far from the fundies being in a position to lecture us on how to behave, we should be teaching them a thing or two about the Gospels and how to move beyond an unChristian “Focus on the Family” to a wider “Focus on Community”!

Beyond gender.

Rudy continues, says Stuart, to “construct a sexual ethic which is communal in nature and queer in its politics.”  Because in recent centuries there has been so much emphasis on first reproduction and then on complementarity as the sole purposes of sex, the result is that “celibacy, singleness and communal life, which have been valued for so long in Christian history, no longer have a place in Christian life.”

In a neat inversion of the story of Sodom, “for Rudy the story of Sodom teaches us that what is ultimately pleasing to God about sexuality is the quality of its hospitality.  This is not to say that every stranger must be offered sex, but that sex must cultivate an openness  and warmth to strangers, it must open our hearts, break down our boundaries, and push us beyond ourselves.  Hospitality is procreative, it expands and widens the community.  When we open our homes to outsiders, the private space of the home becomes the public space of the Church, and so not only is gender collapsed but so is the dualism between private and public. The cult of domesticity is destroyed and replaced by an ethic which subverts worldy concepts of gender and understands sex in the context of building up the body of Christ.”

How far from James Dobson is that?

See also:
Queering the Church:
Books:
Althaus-Reid, Marcella: Indecent Theology
Horner, James: Johnathan Loved David
 
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey:  Omnigender
Rudy, Kathy: Sex and the Church
Stuart, Elisabeth: Gay & Lesbian Theologies

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