Note: The following talk was delivered Sunday, June 10, 2012, at the "Catholics Vote No" event co-sponsored by Minnesotans United for All Families, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Call to Action MN, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Dignity Twin Cities.
My name is Fr. Bob Pierson, and I would like to talk to you today about “Why Catholics Can Vote NO” on the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota.
The Catholic Church is obviously very supportive of this amendment, which would, they say, protect “traditional marriage”. But as an ordained priest, I feel compelled to speak out now, and let me explain why. On Saturday, June 2nd I celebrated my 28th anniversary of ordination. I became a priest because I felt called to share the Good News that God loves each and every one of us unconditionally. Too many of us have been taught to think of God in terms of God’s judgment rather than God’s tremendous love and mercy.
In 2001, I began a 5-year assignment in campus ministry. It wasn’t long before I found myself meeting gay and lesbian students who were being put down by some of their peers because of their sexuality. When I turned to my professional colleagues in Student Development to ask how I could support these gay and lesbian students, I was told, “There’s not much we can do. You know what the church says….”
Yes, I know what the church says. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in #2358, gays and lesbians “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” I spent many years as an LGBT ally on campus, starting a Safe Space training program on our campus, and while it was not without some controversy, I knew I was doing the right thing – I was called upon as a Catholic of good conscience, to do the right thing.
It was in November 2005 that I was offended to learn the Vatican had released a document that stated that gay men cannot be priests because they are “seriously obstructed from properly relating to men and women.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I knew that I was gay when I was ordained. Did that mean that my 21 years of ministry was a mistake? My faith suggested that I could not in good conscience continue to remain silent, and I cannot remain silent today. I spoke up then, and I am speaking up now to say that I believe this amendment violates an important principle of Catholic teaching, and that as Catholics, we can vote no.
As a Catholic priest, I am not here to criticize our Church’s teaching, but rather to lift up an aspect of the Church’s teaching that seems to have been forgotten by some who are supporting the amendment. The issue I am talking about is “Freedom of Conscience.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in #1782:
[The human person] has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” Dignitatis Humanae 3 § 2.
A young theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger, whom many of you know now as Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way in 1967:
Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.
My conscience tells me to vote NO on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe that the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside our fold. When the religious beliefs of any particular religious group become the law of the land, we run the risk of violating everyone’s freedom to believe and their freedom of conscience. Allow me to mention three examples of where I see the church “fudging” the facts.
We have heard it said that civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples “will destroy the sanctity of the Sacrament of Matrimony.” But the truth is, until now the church has not concerned itself with civil marriage. The church does not recognize the civil marriage of its members. If a Catholic is married in a civil ceremony, they are said to be married “outside of the Church” and the marriage is not recognized as a sacrament due to “lack of canonical form.” Civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples is not the Sacrament of Matrimony, and the government cannot tell churches who they may or may not marry.
We have heard it said that if committed, gay and lesbian couples “are allowed to marry, then the church will be forced into recognizing the rights of those couples to adopt children.” According to the supporters of the amendment, “studies show that same-sex couples are not effective parents and that children need to have both a mother and a father.” But the truth is that the most reputable studies, those accepted by the American Medical Association, the American Pediatrics Association, and the American Psychological Association, say that same-sex couples are just as effective as parents as heterosexual couples are. This has no correlation to their effectiveness as parents.
We have heard it said that if committed, same-sex couples can marry, “then the church will have to recognize those marriages in its social service programming in housing, health care, and education.” This is true, to the extent that the church accepts government funding for social service programs—the same rules that everyone else must follow. Would we want other religious groups to discriminate against us based on their beliefs while using government tax dollars? I don’t think so.
In any faith, marriage is about love, commitment and responsibility. In our faith, it is a sacrament, a commitment to God to live with your partner, to raise a family together, and most of all, to live the word of God. We know that gay and lesbian couples want to get married for the same reasons as anyone else. And it is incumbent upon us as Catholics to ensure that the people in our community have the same freedoms—whether it’s the freedom to worship or the freedom to marry.
I would like to conclude my remarks with a quote from one of my favorite Catholic churchmen, Cardinal Basil Hume, who said in 1995:
Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected... When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. . . .To love another, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to have entered the area of the richest human experience.” (Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexual People, 1995)
See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Hundreds of Catholics Gather to Speak Out Against Marriage Amendment as a Matter of Conscience
Archbishop Just One of Many Catholic Voices in Gay Marriage Debate
"This is the Living Word"
Related Off-site Links:
Catholics Against Marriage Amendment Rally in Edina – Drew Miller (South West Minneapolis Patch, June 11, 2012).
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage – Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo (The Washington Post, February 14, 2012).
Some MN Priests Differ with Catholic Hierarchy Over Marriage Amendment – Sasha Aslanian (Minnesota Public Radio, May 17, 2012).