December 4, 2003
The hierarchy of the American Catholic Church - which last weekend issued a call for all Catholics to join a jihad against gay marriage in Massachusetts - says that the Supreme Judicial Court's historic ruling is a "national tragedy."
And, from the looks of it, they're absolutely right. Unless the church eases up, takes a deep breath and tones down its campaign against gay families, this will indeed be a tragedy - for Catholicism in the United States.
Good Catholics right now are being forced to make a choice between their church and their families. And when it comes right down to it, the church is going to be the big loser. If the Catholic church - or any church for that matter -wants to shut gays out of their flock, that's their business. But the church's mounting crusade against gay marriage is far more troublesome.
All of us have at least one sibling, cousin, or an aunt or an uncle who is gay. Many of them have been in committed relationships for years and, increasingly, they have been absorbed without incident into family life, especially with the advance of science that is helping to produce a whole generation of new life.
And, more and more of us are outraged at the indignities that these good people are forced to endure so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Christian right, including our very own Archdiocese.
For me, the whole "debate" ends at the door of my first cousin, Julie McManus, a longtime Dorchester woman and,despite it all, a practicing Catholic, who has been "married" in my eyes for many years now. She and her partner, Michele Gillen, are a Dorchester couple that anyone would love to have as neighbors. They're involved in civic affairs, especially politics, a passion that is just one of the many gifts that Michele has brought to Julie and our family over the years.
In fine Dorchester tradition, they are rabid political junkies who usually pop up on the short list of anyone who even thinks of running for office in these parts. Michele and Julie are card-carrying union members, homeowners, and, most joyfully, parents of an adorable two-year old named Ciara.
Thanks to a procedure that is now commonly carried out by parents gay and straight, Michele was able to conceive little Ciara and carry her for nine months in her womb. That's almost as long as it took Julie to jump through all the legal hoops our Commonwealth lined up in front of her before she could become, in society's eyes, Ciara's other parent. Of course, we all know that she was really Ciara's parent from the moment the little girl was born.
Anti-gay haters see kids like Ciara as a threat to their way of life. They should be worried; beautiful, innocent children like her are - one by one - changing the way our society views gay people.
The anti-gay lobby's keystone argument against same-sex marriage is that it cannot result in the creation of life and therefore does not meet their standard of "sanctity." And with each new, miraculous birth, hundreds of people find out that's patently false. The 2000 Census shows that 34 percent of lesbian couples and 22 percent of gay male couples had at least one child under 18 years of age living in their home.
And how do we encourage this creation of life? We punish gay partners by denying them access to the 1,049 different benefits and priviledges now available to married people under US laws. Gay couples are denied the right to share health benefits, burdening them with more bills that undermine the family's budget. They cannot claim retirement payments or other inheritance rights that would normally go to a spouse when their partner passes away.
Most egregiously, we deny them the ability to make life-and-death decisions when their partner is sick or injured, often leaving estranged relatives to decide the fate of a brother or sister they long ago disowned.
Thanks to the gay rights movement, films, and personal experiences, the horror stories have slowly eaten away at the consciences of fair-minded people of all persuasions. Younger Americans in particular recognize this issue for what it is: a terrible miscarriage of justice and an affront to civil liberty.
And yet, even here in the supposedly liberal state of Massachusetts, our lawmakers have consistently failed to redress the wrongs, fearful perhaps of the backlash from the right-wingers. Some of those same legislators and our governor are now devising ways to torpedo the gay marriage decision.
Sadly, one of them is Speaker Tom Finneran, a man who many of us admire greatly, but who is on the wrong side of history on this one. The Speaker has consistently blocked civil union efforts in the Legislature and is now, according to House sources, conspiring with Romney, Attorney General Tom Reilly and other right-wing members to find a loophole in the SJC ruling.
That's a real shame. Hopefully, Finneran will take a cue from Congressman Stephen Lynch, and state Representatives Marty Walsh and Marie St. Fleur - good Catholics all - who are steadfast in their support for gay marriage as outlined in last month's landmark decision. Thanks to courageous leaders like them, and the court, our family will have a wedding to look forward to sometime in the near future.
Michele and Julie are now, for the first time, contemplating a ceremony that will finally celebrate the love that's been so evident all along. They know it probably won't be in the church of their faith, (although some brave Catholic priests do perform gay marriages.)
But wherever that special moment happens, you can be sure the pews will be packed with family and friends of all creeds. It will be quite a day.