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November 17, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 151




Tom Fox Supporting gay and lesbian Catholics

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

As a journalist, I avoid joining organizations. However, I recently felt I had to make an exception. My wife and I earlier this month became members of DignityUSA ( We felt a need to do something more visible in our support for gay and lesbian Catholics.

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Dignity USA describes itself in this way: "DignityUSA works for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Catholic church and the world through education, advocacy and support." Its membership numbers 3,000.

Gays still face considerable discrimination, not least in the Catholic church. Just last week, the nation's Catholic bishops, citing Catholic teachings, overwhelmingly approved a statement urging states to withhold recognition for same-sex marriages.

They insisted they did not intend to offend homosexuals and called discrimination against gays unjust. However, they added they had an obligation to "give witness to the whole moral truth" and reinforce Catholic teaching that gay sex is a sin.

Men and women of good will clearly differ on how they look at gay marriages. But coming in the wake of a number of anti-gay statements, the latest statement seemed to many to be yet another attack on gays and lesbians.

The church, teaches that gay sex is morally wrong because it does not lead directly to procreation, that is, to beget or bring forth offspring. But can't gay and lesbian relationships be "pro-creative," meaning life engendering?

The church teaches that sexual acts must be capable of leading to biological procreation. All other sexual acts are intrinsically immoral. On this, however, the bishops have separated themselves from the ranks of most Catholics, including married heterosexual couples who use contraceptives, and who have come to see sexual intimacy as a broader expression of Christian faith, hope and love.

I have a hard time believing a loving God would create a part of the human family only to demand it that it live in physical isolation. Especially when failure to do so might lead to some kind of damnation.

The God I have grown to believe in wouldn't do this.

Consider for a moment how difficult it is for many clergy to remain celibate even after they have voluntarily taken it on.

Hours after the U.S. bishops approved their new statement last week, I interviewed a prominent gay Catholic, Pat McArron. McArron, who served as president of Dignity from July 2002 to September 2003.

NCR: Clearly, you are not in sync with the U.S. bishops. What is it that they don't get about gays and lesbians?
Pat McArronMCARRON: The essential message that I believe the bishops do not get about gays and lesbians is that, as fellow human beings, we deserve to be treated with the same respect and love accorded to all others. Calling us "intrinsically disordered" does exactly the opposite. And furthermore, this is hypocritical in view of the fact that some of the same persons who use such terms to describe us are themselves gay.

We do not have a "condition" or "tendency" any more than do heterosexual persons. We are not "intrinsically" or "objectively" disordered. My homosexuality is not a lifestyle -- it is an orientation. One does not choose to be gay or straight. One just is. And the sexual expression of my love for my partner is not "evil". In the realm of logic, it is illogical to deprive adult human beings of a basic need to express one's love for another in a sexual manner. It is unnatural to force celibate behavior upon someone who is capable of loving another adult human being in a mutually responsible committed relationship.

Can you understand that some people, coming out of centuries of traditions, would consider that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman? Would calling gay or lesbian relationships "unions" be adequate enough, provided they have the legal protections and benefits of marriages?
I can understand that some people, perhaps many people (gay as well as straight), have trouble with the use of the word "marriage" to describe a homosexual union. Given that this is such an emotionally charged issue and the word "marriage" has been associated for so long with the union of a man and woman it is understandable.

To illustrate, however, why it is so important for some to associate "marriage" with the union of any two committed persons (be they gay or straight), let me point to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Emotions ran high as the black population of our society demanded equal rights and protection under the law. The claim then as now was that you cannot treat one segment of the population with one set of standards while denying the same set of standards to another.

I have heard arguments both for and against the use of the term "marriage" to describe the union of two men or two women. Language, as we all know, is so important and what and how we say something means so much. For the sake of argument one could say that a homosexual union and a heterosexual union are different in that one union is between persons of the same sex and the other is between persons of the opposite sex. Therefore it would follow that you would refer to them in different terms.

You could also say that such unions (be they homosexual or heterosexual) are the same in that they both provide for the same outcome -- the mutual love and support of two persons committed to one another in a covenant relationship. With that in mind the term of "marriage" would apply in both instances.

Other Today's Takes by Tom Fox
Oct. 10, 2003 Why Catholics are jittery
Sept. 26, 2003 Priest of the poor
Sept. 25, 2003 A revolution deferred: sex and the church Part II
Sept. 24, 2003 Sex and the mission of the church
Sept. 23, 2003 Jim Andrews Scholars combine service and learning experiences
Aug. 5, 2003 Compassion lacking in gay union discourse
So how to resolve the dilemma? For those who are able to get beyond the moral questions of same sex unions and who realize that there is nothing immoral about same sex unions, then the question becomes one of equality. Is one union more equal than another? What about heterosexuals couples incapable of creating a child of their own? Are they less equal in their relationship to one another? Regardless of where one stands on the argument of terminology to describe the union between any two persons, equality is the bottom line. All should be treated equally under law and not separate and unequal.

What might gay and lesbian Catholics bring to the church that they are not yet doing were they given its full support?
Were that gay and lesbian Catholics given the full support of our church hierarchy we would be able to come out of the closet as healthy role models for the thousands of gay and lesbian children born every year. We would be able to devote all of our energy and talent toward ministry in all its forms and at every level of the church without the constant threat of expulsion or derision. Lesbian and gay Catholics would be able to share openly the fullness and richness of our understanding of the feminine and the masculine in all of us. We would be able to play an active and open role in the development of a healthy sexual theology in our church.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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