Opinion: Let Catholics Support Marriage Equality

Meredith Geaghan-Breiner

According to Archbishop John Myers, Catholics in favor of marriage equality are not true members of the faith.

Meredith Geaghan-Breiner

Last week, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, the religious leader of over a million Catholics in New Jersey, declared that Church members who support same-sex marriage should “refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they can do so with integrity.”

“I urge those not in [agreement] with the Church regarding her teachings on marriage…to reexamine their consciences,” wrote the Archbishop in a tone-deaf 16-page letter in which he compares homosexual love to incestual relationships and effectively wields the Holy Communion as a political weapon.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist to which the Archbishop refers constitutes an integral aspect of the Catholic identity and the most important act of the Mass service. I know this because I have been a baptized Catholic all my life. Born into a family that has practiced for generations, I attended Catholic school from preschool through fourth grade and have undergone the sacraments of First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation. I now teach a Sunday School class and attend Mass every week.

But, according to Archbishop Myers, I am not really Catholic at all, simply because I want to extend God’s message of acceptance and equality to gay people.

I wish the Archbishop’s position on gays amounted to nothing more than one clergyman’s unfortunate dip into politics, an isolated incident of small-mindedness in the Church. But we can’t simply shake our heads and laugh at his comments, because his beliefs represent not the exception but the rule. They typify the disconnect of a religious hierarchy out-of-touch with its laypeople.

As reported by the Public Religion Research Institute, Catholics in the U.S. show stronger support for legal recognition of same-sex relationships than any other religious group in the country, and in fact Americans overall. 53 percent of Catholics in the U.S. favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, a number that climbs to 72 percent among Church members between the ages of 18 and 34, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Yet the Church as an institution is moving in a decidedly backwards direction. Forbidding women to serve in positions of spiritual authority, condemning the use of contraceptives to stop the spread of AIDS, and maintaining the infamous doctrine of infallibility, the Church perpetuates conflict within its members and provides its own critics with ready ammunition.

The disparity between the the liberalism of the world’s Catholics and the reactionary agenda of that infamous old boys’ club known as the Vatican – the last standing absolute monarchy in the world – helps explain the dwindling numbers of Catholics and Catholic priests-in-training worldwide.

“We live in a time when Catholics are walking away from the faith in record numbers,” said James Salt, executive director of the liberal organization Catholics United, in a press release. “When so many families live paycheck to paycheck, pew-sitting Catholics like myself want our faith known for its service to the poor, not for the far-right politics of the bishops.” Indeed, by making Catholicism unattractive to a forward-thinking new generation and frustrating its current followers, the Church acts contrary to its own interests in the survival and propagation of the faith.

New Jersey State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a Roman Catholic himself, also released a statement in response to Myers. He pointed to the Church’s participation in the abolition movement and the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s as evidence that “the Catholic Church is capable of amazing acts of kindness, generosity, and social progressiveness throughout its history.”

But “when church officials promote an unblinking worldview that invalidates the loving relationships of others as wrong or evil, they are not following that most basic of Catholic teachings – ‘God is Love.’” 

To legitimize its own doctrine of goodwill and social justice, the Church must reconsider what it means to be a Catholic in the 21st century. As the gap widens between the orthodox agenda of the Roman Curia and the increasingly liberal mindsets of the world’s one billion Catholics, the need for the Church to grasp the realities of the modern world will only grow more pressing.

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10 Responses to “Opinion: Let Catholics Support Marriage Equality”

  1. shoover on October 9th, 2012 7:44 pm

    Catholics definitely get a bad rap for being old-fashioned and not accepting gay rights among other things. I had no idea that the Catholic community is in reality so strongly in favor of a change. I think the Church definitely needs to make some changes, if not to gain more followers, then to stay true to the beliefs of equality that they so strongly preach.
    Furthermore, even if the Church doesn’t believe in gay rights, it certainly has no right to impose that idea on government policies.

  2. ewebb on October 9th, 2012 9:34 pm

    Great article, Meredith!

  3. Hannah on October 9th, 2012 9:43 pm

    Wow, very in-depth article, thanks for reporting! Interesting how you included other examples of the Catholic Church has been moving in a “backwards direction” which, in my opinion, have furthered the gap between more liberal, modern Christian sects and the Catholic Church.

  4. Annalise Deal on October 10th, 2012 8:59 pm

    It repeatedly seems ridiculous to me that leaders of the church dislike gay people more than they like marriage. Marriage, between people of any gender, shows lifetime commitment and stability-typically traits that both Catholics and conservatives alike support and encourage. By preventing people from entering into such committed relationships, they are only making it easier for homosexuals to have more numerous and shorter-term relationships. By asking supportive people to not take communion, they are by default asking them to agree with their lack of support of marriage, which Catholics are supposed to see as a Holy Sacrament. Does the fact that the people entering into such godly relationships are of the same gender really make it so much less holy that they should’t be entering these relationships at all? I think they should look at the motive behind the sacrament, and the type of commitment it encourages rather than focusing solely on preventing certain groups of people the opportunity to enter into such relationships.

  5. Robbie Gordan on October 11th, 2012 2:03 pm

    It’s past time the Catholic Church moves into the modern era, but I’m glad you highlighted how this reactionary attitude in no way represents the opinion of the average Catholic.

  6. Nolan Martin on October 11th, 2012 5:47 pm

    Excellent article! Religions are going to have to make concessions to adapt to the times and it’s excellent to see that many Catholics are staying open minded about gay marriage. There is undoubtedly a stigma against the supposed immutability of religion, but instances like this show that those with religious beliefs are willing to stray from official positions.

  7. josephrabinovitsj on October 11th, 2012 6:52 pm

    It seems that using the Holy Communion as a political weapon immediately removes the ‘holiness’ from this practice. It is one’s own business the beliefs to which one ascribes and one reserves the right to be free of any harassment because of said beliefs. However, inconsistency in one’s own system of belief always merits eyebrow-raising, especially when said inconcistency is purposed for the ends of harassing another group for THEIR beliefs. Thus, Archbishop Myers deserves some form of punitory measure for his inconsistency with his own faith and his harassment of the homosexual community whilst he holds the hypocritical expectation that his Catholic beliefs do not warrent eyebrow-raising.

  8. Sam Parish on October 11th, 2012 8:28 pm

    It’s really sad that this is what people see when someone mentions the Church or Catholics. There really is so much more. Such a shame that old beliefs just don’t seem to fit in a modern society.

  9. David Schmitt on October 12th, 2012 9:19 pm

    I find it very interesting that church-goers seem to be more liberal than prior years. The Vice-presidential debate last night offered quite an interesting spin on another hot-button social issue, abortion. Both Biden and Ryan are devout Catholics, yet they took opposite sides of the issue.

  10. amacfarlane on November 9th, 2012 9:24 pm

    As more and more of our nation moves towards acceptance of gay marriage, it truly is time for leaders of the Catholic Church to deeply consider their views on this issue. While I know that I am biased, as somebody who cannot fathom the justifications for rejecting the right of gay couples to marry, I do firmly believe that careful reflection is in order when one’s views may directly threaten the happiness of others. Thank you, Meredith, for your characteristic eloquence.