Gay Catholics discuss marriage equality
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Reaching out to people of faith is seen as one of the most important aspects of repealing Proposition 8, and that was one of the topics addressed as Dignity USA, a group for LGBT Catholics, held its biennial convention in San Francisco last weekend.
Catholic church leaders, including San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer, urged parishioners to support the measure, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to be married in California.
In a phone interview, Marianne Duddy-Burke, Dignity's executive director, said that along with other progressive Catholic organizations, Dignity is part of a program called Catholics for Marriage Equality.
"We're really trying to tap into that support that exists and that we believe has grown since those 18,000 [same-sex] couples were able to legally wed in California," said Duddy-Burke, noting the unfairness of couples being allowed to marry before Election Day in November while, later that same week, same-sex couples weren't allowed to wed.
"We really have to do it one heart at a time, one family at a time, one congregation at a time," said Duddy-Burke. "Unlike the bishops we can't send a pastoral letter to every church in California and expect it will be read at Sunday mass, so we depend on the power of truth and Catholics' commitment to justice to do this work."
Duddy-Burke drew a distinction between civil marriages and religious marriages.
"Dignity has certainly believed that our relationships should be recognized with both civil and religious marriage, but I think for purposes of political discussion, keeping the clarity between the two is important because of the lies that our bishops told in 2008," said Duddy-Burke, referring to claims during the Prop 8 campaign that clergy would be forced to recognize same-sex marriages if Prop 8 didn't pass.
Duddy-Burke said that at its highest point the convention, which ran from July 2-5, had about 370 people on hand. She said Dignity has close to 4,500 members.
During a Prop 8 panel at the convention, Father Geoff Farrow, a Fresno priest who lost his position after coming out last October as a gay man and urging his parishioners to vote no on the measure, recalled the dread of at least one person who had come out to him.
"This is an issue of human dignity ... the greatest fear a young person has when they're lesbian or gay is they'll be rejected," said Farrow during the panel.
In a phone interview, Farrow said that the most important thing for LGBT people to do is "tell their stories, come out."
It's easy to be opposed to an issue, but it's another thing to be opposed to a person, said Farrow, "so I think the greatest thing that first of all LGBT people or their families and loved ones can do is simply to make themselves visible, to tell their stories."
Farrow, who now lives in Los Angeles, said that he's been working with the group Love Honor Cherish, which is preparing to collect signatures for a ballot initiative to repeal Prop 8 in November 2010. He's also been doing public speaking engagements and interviews with the media to talk about Prop 8.
Eugene McMullan, another panelist, talked about how the grassroots activism after Prop 8 inspired him to get involved. He participated in the march to Sacramento this spring led by the group One Struggle, One Fight. McMullan, who identifies as bisexual, wore his rosary every day and said the march was a "deeply religious" and "life changing" experience "about figuring out how to be Catholic and be fully who I am and be an activist."
McMullan also started a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality. The group he started will be combining efforts with the Dignity group of the same name, he said.
Another group working on marriage equality is California Faith for Equality.
Pastor Samuel Chu, California Faith for Equality's interim executive director, said that when working with Catholics, his group is focusing on training lay members.
"The people in the pews are the people we really need to connect with and engage," and change the minds of, said Chu. He said California Faith for Equality will be working with Dignity on marriage equality.
Andrea Shorter, Equality California's coalition coordinator, also has been reaching out to communities of faith and color on marriage equality.
Responding to an e-mail addressed to Shorter and her about EQCA's plans for reaching out to Catholics, Vaishalee Raja, EQCA's communications director, said in an e-mail that Shorter was traveling and wouldn't be able to comment, but Shorter's "coalition building and faith outreach efforts are broad-based and designed to reach out [to] the diverse faith community."
Farrow after Fresno
Farrow, the Fresno priest who lost his job after coming out, said he supports himself from honorariums from speaking engagements, a small stipend from his family, and performing weddings.
Farrow said he did have a job "lined up" as executive director at Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-Los Angeles. However, Farrow said a board member told him that the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles had said that if CLUE-LA hired Farrow, the archdiocese would disaffiliate from the group.
The Reverend Jim Conn, chairman of CLUE-LA's board, said the group had liked Farrow's application and had scheduled an interview with him but had not offered him a job.
Conn, who was limited in what he could say about the situation since it involved a personnel matter, said he couldn't say anything about the archdiocese and would not confirm the archdiocese's threat. He said he was the board member who had told Farrow of the interview cancellation.
"There are a lot of reasons. This is a personnel issue. That's stuff that's hard to talk about," said Conn.
He said CLUE-LA doesn't get any direct funding from the archdiocese.
"CLUE is a broad coalition of faith communities who organize people of faith to advocate for low-wage workers," said Conn. "That's what we do. That is the single purpose of this organization. So everything that we do has to be consistent with that mission statement, and to our best ability we're going to do nothing that jeopardizes that capacity."
Conn said the archdiocese is a participant in the group's work, along with Methodists and other faith communities.
Asked about the archdiocese protesting the possibility of Farrow's hiring, Tod Tamberg, director of media relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, offered a curt response.
"CLUE has its own procedures for hiring people and retaining people," said Tamberg. "That's not our business. You'll have to talk with CLUE."
Tamberg said individual priests are members of CLUE. He said he didn't believe the archdiocese provides funding to CLUE.