Last week, the New York State assembly passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Currently, the bill is one vote short of passage in the state Senate. Both supporters and opponents have been vocal on the issue. In particular, the response given in the New York Daily News by state Senator Roy McDonald, who supports the bill, in response to conservatives who criticize his position, made me chuckle. “You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f—k it. I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.” Perhaps he should have left out the f-bomb, but sometimes its hard not to when you are passionate about something. If you are a supporter of same-sex marriage, as I am, it just makes you want to get up and shout, “You go Roy!”, doesn’t it?
However, many do not support same-sex marriage and see it as a detriment to society, including the Church that I love and to which I belong. The official position of the Catholic Church is that homosexual partnerships do not constitute “true” or “sacramental” families. On his blog, New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan vowed to oppose any bill that would radically redefine the essence of marriage. He writes, “shouldn’t we be more upset-and worried-about this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth- one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity?” I still remember my first encounter with this position, watching a video at mass one Sunday urging New Jerseyans not to support same-sex marriage because it would undermine the idea of the ideal family, showing us happy smiling pictures of moms, dads, and kids. If it wasn’t for the fact that back then I was still a shy, reserved high-school student instead of a college-educated young woman who has become more familiar with the tolerant, loving Jesus of the New Testament, I would have walked out. Last time I checked-homosexuals are not to blame for undermining marriage. Us heterosexuals are doing a pretty good job of it! Husbands and wives who cheat on each other, deadbeat dads (and moms), parents who emotionally and physically abuse their children- this is what undermines the sanctity of marriage. Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Newt Gingrich, anyone?
Archbishop Dolan states that we must consider “the right of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and dad.” Yet, absent same-sex couples, there are already plenty of children not enjoying this “right”-children in single-parent households, children in foster care, orphans looking for a home. Furthermore, in not recognizing same-sex couples as families, children are denied other basic “rights.” According to Cristina Traina, Professor of Religion at Northwestern University, “the church puts the moral and sacramental status of parents before the basic, material welfare of their children.” Homosexual couples residing in states that do not recognize their partnership, are left vulnerable. These couples cannot inherit from a deceased spouse who helped support them nor extend important employer benefits, like health insurance, to their partners or children who may really need them. They cannot make crucial medical decisions for one another, and are sometimes even denied visitation rights to a critically ill partner. In the case of divorce or the death of one parent, children of same-sex couples often do not have rights to visitation with their non-custodial parent. Of course, we ask, why don’t these couples just move or hire a lawyer to ensure their protections? Its not that easy especially considering the current state of our economy. Many cannot afford these luxuries. Over 22% of gay and lesbian households have incomes under $30,000. In order to actually secure the rights of children in the United States, the Catholic Church should support the recognition of same-sex couples in all states.
Perhaps, most trouble is the recent stories of young children being denied admission to Catholic schools because their same-sex parents are living “outside of the Church’s teachings.” Yet, if we start basing admission to Catholic schools on the degree of parents’ adherence to Church teachings, would we not end up with empty school buildings? What about parents who use birth control? What about parents who are pro-choice? And shouldn’t what parents teach their children play a role in the decision? If two same-sex parents want their child to receive a Catholic education, that is a beautiful thing. Why is a child of a same-sex couple any less deserving? Jesus said “Let the children come to me”- he did not give any prerequisites- Jesus wants ALL the children to come to Him and its the Church’s responsibility to lead them to Jesus. I must add to this that the Boston Archdiocese is to be commended for setting guidelines to ensure that no group of students is excluded from admission to Catholic schools.
Personally, I do not believe that homosexuality is sinful or “intrinsically disordered.” But my point here is not to change the Church’s position on the morality of homosexual relations, but on its stance against recognition of homosexual couples and their children as families. Even if same-sex marriage is not sacramental by the Church’s standards, these couples deserve certain rights and protections. Furthermore, is family really about gender of one’s parents or is it about love? Gay and lesbian couples are capable of teaching and showing their children plenty of Catholic family values. What about the man who takes care of his partner when he is ill? What about the two women who work hard to provide their children with a college education, and shower them with love and support? What about the gay couple who regularly prays with their child, teaches them about Jesus, and tells them to love and respect all persons regardless of their race, gender, or religion?
To conclude, I would like to reflect on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel. This woman is shunned by her community because she has had five husbands and the man she currently resides with is not her husband (John 4:17-18). Yet, it is to her, that Jesus first reveals Himself to be the Messiah (John 4:25). And He uses this woman as an important part of His ministry, as “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39).” Jesus did not look at others with judgment, but with love and open arms. So who are we to say certain families are not real and who are we to make certain groups feel excluded from the community simply because of their lifestyle?