In North Carolina, Lay Catholics Take the Lead to Support Marriage Equality

Voters in North Carolina go to the polls today to vote on a constitutional amendment which would ban marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in that state.  While the Catholic bishops of the state have campaigned hard for passage of the amendment, at least one Catholic parish in Charlotte, NC, has promoted having an open mind about the matter.  And scores of Catholic lay leaders are working for the amendment’s defeat.

St. Peter’s Church, Charlotte’s oldest parish, hosted a forum on the amendment this past month where both sides of the issue were presented. (St. Peter’s has long been listed on New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly parish directory.) According to a news story in The Charlotte Observer:

“The event made some diocesan leaders uncomfortable. Bishop Peter Jugis, the spiritual head of some 500,000 Catholics, has been an outspoken leader in the campaign for the amendment’s passage.

“While members of St. Peter’s say they tried to avoid controversy with their leaders, they don’t apologize for what they did.

“ ‘Faith … it’s a struggle and a journey,’ said parishioner Robert Singagliese, who helped organize the event. ‘Open conversation and discussion, no matter where it leads, can only enhance that.’ “

Though the parishioners alerted the diocesan office about the two-sided discussion, and even arranged for the diocesan spokesperson, David Hains, to be a participant, Hains dropped out of the event three weeks before it occurred.  According to the Observer story:

“In an email to Singagliese, Hains said he had thought he was to be the night’s only speaker, as was the case during all his visits to other parishes. A panel discussion, he said, would challenge the authority of church teachings.

“Asked about his decision this week, Hains said he had discussed it beforehand with Jugis.

“ ‘I felt, and the bishop agreed, that church teachings do not belong in that kind of context,’  he said. ‘So I withdrew.’ ”

Interestingly, parishioners remain divided on the issue of the amendment:

“Panelist and parishioner Jerry Schmitt said he believed in fairness for all but that his Catholic beliefs would lead him to vote yes Tuesday.

“Jeremy Needham said his same beliefs would lead him to vote no.

“Needham, a longtime lay leader at St. Peter’s, is gay. He and his partner, Rick Hudson, often help Earl on the altar during mass.

“They have two adopted sons, Luke and Rudy. Both were baptized at St. Peter’s.

“The couple says they had cut back on their activism in recent years to focus on being parents.

“ ‘But then this amendment came up,’ Needham said. ‘And now we want our children to see us as vocal and standing the ground on something we truly believe in.’

“During the forum, Needham was among the last to speak.

“ ‘Gay people don’t choose to be gay, but we choose to live honestly,’ he said. ‘We are created in the image of God just like you. God did not make a mistake when he created me.’ ”

An article in The National Catholic Reporter on the amendment examines how other lay people, particularly parents,  in the state are working to defeat the amendment which the state’s bishops support.   Stan Kimer, a former Catholic who is president of the North Carolina Council of Churches has been leading the religious campaign to defeat the amendment, and that he is supported in that effort by his Catholic mother:

“His mother, Fran Kimer, has been a member of Raleigh’s St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church since 1970.

“Fran Kimer says she supports the church’s view on marriage, but for her, freedom trumps theology. ‘The way I feel, a marriage should be between a man and a woman, and they have children, but I respect the lesbians and the gays, and I feel that they should be given every single opportunity and every advantage that I myself have,’ she said.

” ‘I was brought up to be very broad-minded and accepting of everybody; it’s my background,’ she said. ‘I believe as long as you’re a good person, which my son is — he’s an excellent son — as long as you’re a good person — you obey the laws, you don’t steal, rob, kill — to me, you should be accepted. Most of my friends are very accepting of lesbians and gays. A few them, I just don’t understand how they feel. To me, they are not good Christians. They say they are, but they’re not.’ “

Mrs. Kimer’s position in the article is supported by another vocal Catholic North Carolinian parent:

“Gail Phares of Raleigh is a former Maryknoll missionary and cofounder of Witness for Peace. Her daughter is gay.

” ‘As a Roman Catholic with a beautiful daughter who is gay, I am deeply saddened to read about some of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ stand against gay people and gay marriage,’ she said. ‘I believe that God loves us all more than we can imagine — everyone. I believe that God loves people who are born gay just as God loves everyone else. Why would any church leaders take a stand against some of God’s beautiful and gifted people? The Gospel is very clear — love one another.’ “

Enough said.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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