Married gay Catholics Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon were chosen as Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter for their role in the U.S. Supreme Court case which led to marriage equality’s legalization across the nation last June.
Bourke and DeLeon were plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that marriage rights should be extended to lesbian and gay couples.
NCR‘s editors said this ruling was among the “truly important, history-changing events, events that will touch future generations intimately and profoundly.” Catholic responses have ranged from some bishops who decried the decision, to some bishops made welcoming statements to lesbian and gay people, to exuberant LGBT advocates who had worked for years for this outcome. But whatever the response, the legal question of marriage equality is now a settled matter in the U.S.
What is less settled are how cultures and churches are changing as people in same-gender marriages become more well-known. The editorial cited theologian Lisa Fullam’s response to the Obergefell ruling, which in her estimation strongly echoed Catholic teachings on marriage. Fullam said church leaders should “take note of the powerful spirit of love and commitment vivifying lesbian and gay marriages as well as straight marriages.” Eventually, “acceptance will replace fear,” but until then the editorial continued:
“Today, we address a more fundamental issue: How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters? We are past the time of ‘love the sinner’ platitudes.”
Bourke and DeLeon, who are Catholic, are “emblematic” of these challenges in the Catholic Church. By their existence as a married same-gender couple who practice their faith, “they force us to ask not how will we live out a hypothetical situation, but how will we live with Greg and Michael.” Current answers by the church are, in the editors’ words, “confused, uneven and often cruel” and LGBT Catholics deserve better.
Indeed, the couple’s involvement challenging Kentucky’s marriage equality ban came out of Greg Bourke’s expulsion as a local Boy Scout leader because the troop was hosted by a Catholic parish. Bourke remains barred from leadership despite the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept gay leaders because Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville refused to accept that decision.
NCR’s editors further highlighted the discrimination faced by LGBT church workers, writing:
“Bourke and DeLeon are lucky in that they are only parishioners and volunteers. Their livelihoods do not depend on the institutional church. In 2015, at least 10 church employees in the United States lost their jobs because of sexual orientation. . .In most cases, their orientation and even their partners were known by the community. They experienced no difficulties until they entered civil marriages.”
Church workers’ rights are, as this blog noted yesterday, a preeminent issue with which Catholic communities must grapple in 2016, the Year of Mercy. The editorial noted that even Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, who repeatedly calls for LGBT Catholics’ consciences to be respected, is facing two discrimination claims from terminated church workers.
The Catholic Church’s response to marriage equality’s ongoing expansion is troublesome. The presence of sexual and gender diverse Catholics in the Church requires that we review pastoral ministry, employment policies, doctrinal teachings, and deeply rooted identities . Their lives and their love demands of Catholics that our faith communities abide by the principles we preach and that our church universal lives with greater fidelity to the Gospels.
I have to add that, in and of itself, it is significant that the leading U.S. Catholic newspaper chose a married gay couple as their Persons of the Year in 2015. This was a year with few comparisons for U.S. Catholics, which included major events like the papal visit in September, and the Synod on the Family in October. That the National Catholic Reporter chose lay Catholics who remain, in many ways, on the margins of our church is a positive step towards a less hierarchical and more inclusive church.
Greg Bourke, Michael DeLeon, and the many, many faithful LGBT Catholics who bear witness to the true sanctity of marriage are hopeful signs for the coming year! It is so good that they have been recognized so prominently.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry