“Ubi Caritas, Deus Ibi Est”–An Argument for Marriage Equality

A commentary on marriage equality from Catholic lay people appeared this weekend in Michigan which contains some arguments worth noting.

In the Detroit Free Press, George Van Antwerp, a resigned priest who has since married heterosexually, makes the case for marriage equality by noting the Latin saying, “Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est,”  which he translates  as “Look for love, and there you will see God.”  (The strict translation is “where there is kindness/love, there is God.”)

Van Antwerp argues that even those who agree with the magisterial teaching that the church should not approve of same-gender marriages should be ashamed at hierarchical involvement in the last election cycle:

” . . . even if one believes that our church’s position should not change, surely you can understand why I would be outraged that our church, during this past election, organized against same-sex marriage.

Who are we to limit God? Can people outside our tradition not come to know God in ways we have not? Seeking to legislate that there should be only heterosexual marriage is a bit like trying to legislate Sunday as the Sabbath and enforcing that all people, regardless of belief, observe it.

Of course, it was not “the church” which organized against marriage equality, but only the church hierarchy.  The church, properly defined as the entire people of God, actually organized for marriage equality.  An essay in The Washington Post by Sharon Groves, the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Director, details how faith communities made the difference in the four states where marriage equality was on the ballot this year, noting particularly the contribution of Catholics:

“In all four states, we also saw an increase in pro-equality Roman Catholic organizing. Following a model established in Maine, a loose federation of Catholics for Marriage Equality emerged in all four states and in bold, yet theologically sound ways gave permission to Catholics to follow their conscience even if it meant going against the bishops. In Minnesota, a priest in favor of marriage equality cited Pope Benedict on the limitations of ecclesiastical authority, ‘Over the pope . . . . stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.’ Using conscience as their touchstone, Washington State mobilized thousand of Catholics and raised money to run a powerful ad in major newspapers across the state showcasing Catholic support. Similar impressive efforts occurred in all three other states.”

Van Antwerp examines his own personal experience to make the case for marriage equality:

“Why am I writing this? Why do I feel so strongly? It is because, as a former priest, I know what it is like to feel that, much to my surprise, God was not asking for my celibacy as the church suggested. And, as an 85-year-old grandfather, I know that one of my grandkids might grow up to be gay or lesbian and that they, like me, might feel that the church’s call to celibacy limits where God is leading them.

“And, whether it is my grandchildren or not, I know that there are sisters and brothers, parents and children within our church and outside of it who are saying that God is right there in the midst of their love for one another. When the issue next comes up on a ballot or over coffee, I hope you’ll speak up for the acceptance of gay marriage within our legal system, even if you don’t believe we should allow it in our churches.”

In making the distinction between civil and sacramental marriage, Van Antwerp shows how the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage for lesbian and gay couples is discriminatory:

“Ultimately, the political issue before us is not a question of whether same-sex marriage is sacramental. Rather it is a question of whether it should be legal.

“With that in mind, I would urge us to take a step back for a moment and remember that as a church, we are not seeking to ban heterosexual marriages that do not fit in our religious schema. No bishop has suggested that you quit receiving Communion if you aren’t working to make sure the marriage chapels in Vegas be outlawed, or fourth or fifth marriages forbidden by the state.”

The testimony of this married man who served his church for many years as a priest is practical and theologically sound.  It shows that our church needs to hear voices from many quarters as it develops its teaching on marriage and LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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