Monday, November 30, 2009

Progress stalled but not stopped

Tomorrow, Washington, D.C.'s City Council is expected to pass legislation that will legalize same-sex marriage. The mayor has promised to sign the bill and it looks like Congress will leave it be. By the new year, lesbians and gays will be able to marry in the nation's capital.

Unfortunately, it will be some time before other jurisdictions will - either through legislatures much less referenda - grant marriage equality to its citizens. The defeat in Maine; the weakening of the Democratic Party; the push back from conservative forces; the gnawing anxiety among the masses; and the fear of loss in the approaching midterm elections among politicians has vanquished any resolve they may have had. I can not see how anyone can remain optimistic about prospects in New Jersey and New York. Corzine's loss put the brakes on equality's progress in the Garden State while ossified political dysfunction hinders any movement in the neighboring Empire State.

This means that those of us who support and fight for equality have to accept the fact that it will take longer than many of us had hoped for and that it will be an uphill battle. A rather steep hill at that. But, so is it a fact that history and progress are on our side. So tomorrow, let us celebrate cautiously. Then more confidently when the 30 days have passed during which Congress may intervene.

We will celebrate one state at a time, one court case after another. This will be how it is until we have finally prevailed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dogma trumps charity

Catholic Charities, the social services agency of the Catholic Church, has threatened to stop providing services on behalf of the District if the D.C. City Council approves legislation to legalize same-sex marriage next month. The organization is concerned that if equal treatment of gay people is codified, they will have to provide benefits to same-sex couples just as they have been doing for different-sex couples (that is the reality of taking money from Caesar – one has to abide by Caesar’s laws). More importantly, the nonprofit’s representatives argue that to see LGBT individuals and families as no different from others goes against Catholic dogma.

The City Council, on the other hand, reacted appropriately by not giving in to blackmail. They are the people’s representatives, and their mandate is to uphold man’s laws, not some perceived divine injunction. Thankfully, they are more concerned about justice and equity and are determined to do what is right by D.C.’s citizens. Fact is, they and the District have nothing to lose if Catholic Charities refuses to take government money. There are a lot of outstanding social services providers in the market that will welcome much-needed funding and have no issue with treating everyone fairly.

What troubles me though is how the Catholic Church puts principle before people. How an idea - in this case, that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are abominations and their families abhorrent - far outweighs the needs of those that benefit from the services they provide. How it outweighs the fact that their tradition, holy scriptures and God mandate them to serve the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed and the needy. They would rather lose funds crucial to providing succor to their constituents – homeless people and families; at risk children; people living with disabilities; immigrants and refugees; and adults and families in crisis – than provide benefits to the few employees who happen to have been born LGBT.

This is nothing new, however. The church hierarchy is so obsessed with the gay menace that they put so much time, money and energy into stalling equality rather than focusing on people who desperately require aid. They focus on a minority that only wants equal treatment rather than on their struggling parishes. In Maine, the diocese spent well over half a million dollars to defeat the state’s same-sex law while parishes continue to close and church membership drops. Nationwide, seven Catholic dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection since the church abuse scandal erupted seven years ago.

Unfortunately, this disconnect between the real needs of real people and Catholic dogma extends to other issues and other parts of the world. In the predominantly Catholic country of the Philippines for example, powerful, well-fed and lavishly housed bishops have been opposing government-sponsored family planning initiatives, even though such a policy would alleviate poverty and address overpopulation. With a total land area roughly the size of Italy divvied up into 7,107 islands, the Philippines is a pretty crowded place, and six years from now, its population will hit 100 million. Currently, a third of Filipinos live below the poverty line. Fifteen percent – over 13 million people - live on less than $1 per day. Yet the Catholic Church would rather allow millions of children to be born into lives of destitution and despair than permit the faithful to use contraception.

So let Catholic Charities sever its ties with the government of Washington, D.C. Let us give our taxpayer dollars to agencies that do not discriminate.

This post is also available on Washington Blade.

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