Michael Sam, the first professional football player to come out as gay, proposed to his partner at the Vatican last week just as Pope Francis made his harshest comments against same-sex marriage since he became the pontiff.
In a tweet, Sam announced the engagement to longtime partner Vito Cammissano and included a photo of the couple atop St. Peter’s Basilica. Enterainment site TMZ called it an “act of defiance,” while The Daily Mail reports:
“Now Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, has taken another leap of confidence – and likely controversy – by proposing to his longtime love from what is renowned as one of the holiest Catholic sites…
“The move is yet another step the 25-year-old has taken into uncharted territory and is sure to anger church officials and their strict opposition to gay marriage.
“The announcement coincided with a visit to the Philippines by Pope Francis, who said in a speech today: ‘The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage.’ “
Indeed, Sam’s engagement announcement comes as Pope Francis also claimed there is an “ideological colonization” of the family occurring, a statement this blog found more troubling than his criticism of marriage equality. Sam’s latest act is not a ‘colonization,’ but extends a liberating witness to the Vatican of the goodness and holiness present in the relationships of many LGBT people. In bringing the love of a same-sex couple to the heart of institutional Catholicism, Sam and Cammissano are not colonizers or defiant, but bridge builders.
When Michael Sam came out a year ago, Catholics like Vice President Joe Biden and Jesuit Fr. James Martin publicly affirmed the football player. Even New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan told NBC’s David Gregory, “Good for him. God bless ya…Bravo.” Since then, Sam was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys though he has since been though remains hopeful about his prospects in the NFL. For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Michael Sam, click here.
In being open and authentic, Michael Sam adds his courageous voice to those calling the Catholic Church to greater welcome and acceptance of LGBT people. These include Irish Fr. Martin Dolan who came out to his parish during Mass and Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny who called on the church to formally recognize same-sex couples.
As Bondings 2.0 wrote previously, courage breeds courage. Perhaps Sam and Cammissano will inspire more couples to propose at the Vatican in 2015–or at the very least, to let church officials know of their love and commitment.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry