Gay Couples’ Love is “Like the Love of Friends,” Says Australian Bishop

An Australian bishop has said same-gender couples’ love is “like the love of friends,” weighing in as the nation’s postal survey on marriage equality continues through early November. He also commented on pastoral care for lesbian and gay Catholics in general.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane made his remarks about marriage equality during an interview with ABC, telling the program’s host of same-gender couples:

“‘That love is like the love of friends. . .It is love and it is valuable but it’s not and it can’t be the kind of love that we call marriage. . .Parents can’t marry their children, children can’t marry their parents. Sibling marrying sibling has always been ruled out. People underage have been disqualified from marrying but so too people of the same sex. . .That is not to say that they are not equal. It’s simply saying that they are not the same and that they don’t qualify for what we call marriage.'”

Coleridge said he does not “think it’s enough to say that ‘love is love,'” but that there are different forms of love and only heterosexual love can constitute marriage, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. He also called the phrase “marriage equality” a “a brilliant piece of marketing,” and cautioned about LGBT people, “Their dignity has to be respected at every turn.”

LGBT advocates criticized Coleridge. Janine Middleton, a Catholic who co-chairs the Equality Campaign, said that people should remember that “when they speak, words can inflict real damage, and there’s a need to be respectful in the choice of words we use.”

Coleridge’s comments about marriage equality come as Australia’s bishops grapple with the fallout over the scandal of clergy sexually abusing minors. As the Australian Bishops’ Conference vice-president, Coleridge recently traveled to Rome for discussions on how the church can find a new approach after the scandal, reported The Tablet.

While there, he said the abuse crisis had “shaken [the Church] to the core.” Asked by an interviewer about pastoral care for lesbian and gay Catholics, Coleridge replied:

“It’s not just a question of how to accompany gay Catholics. Them certainly – but others as well who struggle to find their place in the community of the Church and to recognise the truth of their life in the teaching of the Church.  The big question is how we become a more inclusive Church without abandoning truths of the faith we have received rather than concocted. That question was at the heart of the two Synods on marriage and the family, and it’s at the heart of Amoris Laetitia. It’s very much a work in progress, and that’s seen in the range of Catholic responses to the same-sex marriage vote in Australia. But this wasn’t part of our discussions in Rome.”

Two other Australian bishops have joined Coleridge in opposing marriage equality. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney “sent hundreds of flyers to city churches and published articles available on many church websites” encouraging Catholics to vote no, reported News.com.au. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said church workers might be fired if marriage equality was legalized, though this report was later clarified that it would be up to each bishop to decide on their employment policies.

Australia’s debate over marriage equality has been intense, especially now that the non-binding postal survey is underway. The Huffington Post described the situation thus, “there has been abuse, death threats and even sackings. ..The tone of the debate has seen an increase in young people seeking help from mental health services, and there’s still seven long weeks left. . .” Thankfully, most Catholics are not like the aforementioned bishops and have largely supported equal marriage rights, or at least called for consciences to be respect.

Bishop Vincent Long, OFM Conv., of Parramatta said Catholics are free to decide how they will vote, and will have their own reasons for doing so that may include having LGBT members of their family. Bishop Bill Wright said Catholics should discern their vote carefully, but ultimately, “people of good will might honestly disagree.”

Earlier this year,  two rectors at elite Australian Catholic schools came out publicly for marriage equality, as has the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry which released a pro-LGBT voting guide this summer. Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, the head of Catholic Social Services Australia, also wrote that he would be voting “yes” in the postal survey.

It is unfortunate that Archbishop Coleridge is so intransigent about marriage equality. It is even more unfortunate when he harms the Australian church’s already wounded credibility by making ill-informed and offensive arguments against LGBT people. To dismiss same-gender couples’ love as simply that of friends is to disregard core parts of the couples’ respective humanity. There is a deeply misguided anthropology behind such remarks.

The archbishop can never help create the inclusive church he desires with such rhetoric and a very mixed record on LGBT issues. During the Synod on the Family in 2015, he was a positive note with his recognition that the church needs a “new language to speak about homosexuality” and “a new listening is where that will begin.” But in a tweet he has also referred to marriage equality as a “new totalitarianism.” A helpful start for the bishop would be to take his own advice and stop using such language.

Hopefully, Archbishop Coleridge will look around at his fellow Catholics and come to know what they already know: the relationships of LGBT people are good and their love is real and sacred.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2017

8 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    It’s clear from his remark that “Their dignity has to be respected at every turn” and from previous statements that the archbishop’s heart is in the right place. Sadly, his idea that same-sex couples’ love is like that of siblings demonstrates as clearly that he just doesn’t understand human sexuality. Just like the majority of celibate Catholic bishops, he’s hopelessly out of touch with reality on this topic. It’s way past time for the church to allow teaching on sex and marriage to be guided by those with some practical experience of the subject.

    Reply
  2. Richard J. Rosendall
    Richard J. Rosendall says:

    Reading the remarks of Archbishop Coleridge confirms my views about the importance of the separation of church and state. It also brings back a lifetime of memories of my relationship with the Church and resistance to its authoritarianism from my childhood onward.

    The gift of a human brain is beyond price and carries with it the responsibility to think for oneself. Churchmen like the archbishop, even when they make an effort to understand and respect the diversity of God’s creation better than their predecessors, have always insisted at the end of the day that we behave like sheep. This is a consequence of the Church’s concept of doctrine and its orientation around dogma and impulse to control.

    As a gay rights activist I have never demanded receipt of the sacraments. I have defended the rights of those who disagree with me, even when they did not reciprocate. I have insisted that ministers of any faith must be able to bar me from their sanctuary, deny me their sacraments, and denounce me from their pulpit. That respect is essential in a society with a diversity of faiths. The invocation of a particular sect’s faith dictates as a basis for denying my civil marriage equality violates that essential respect.

    The archbishop is no more entitled to impose his false anthropology on others than His Holiness is entitled to make public policy based on his lack of understanding of the science of gender identity.

    I respect and appreciate the pastoral gifts and efforts of Coleridge and Francis. They have done more to deal with modern reality than, say, the late Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington or Pope Benedict. But with all due respect to the Psalmist, I am not a sheep and not require a shepherd. If the Church is to survive and thrive in a diverse snd free society, it must find a new model and a new metaphor grounded in respect for people’s ability to think for themselves and a willingness to learn from them.

    My love for and commitment to my partner Patrick is not merely the love of friends. We have faced enough challenges stemming from an international and cross-cultural relationship without having to deal with the Church’s interference in civil government. Having won my battle with the Archdiocese of Washington before the D.C. Council, I leave to my Australian counterparts their battle with the Archdiocese of Brisbane. They have my deepest sympathies and fraternal regard.

    As the struggle for equality continues, I am increasingly mindful of the passage of time. I grow old. Like all of us, my time here is limited. I cannot have the years of struggle back again. Those who came before me, who never knew gay equality, are in my thoughts as are those of a new generation for whom that struggle will be a history lesson and not a personal memory. This change and growth can be seen as a blessing and not a threat. Our journey will continue in any case, with or without the Archbishop. My greater concern is for the gay and gender nonconforming children and youth within his influence, whose journeys will be burdened rather than eased by his static and ill-informed views. Thank you Robert Shine for the good you do.

    Reply
  3. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    I am sure he is attempting to be nice, but he is way off. The love among gay couples is more than friends love. It includes, among other realities, sexual attraction and sexual acts, which are normal and God blessed behaviors.

    Reply
  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    So as I read the Archbishop’s comments he is endorsing friends with benefits, just not marriage for homosexuals. Won’t this be scandal to my straight friends who have to wait for sex until marriage? Also his list of who can’t marry whom are mostly based on scientific reasons that such unions result in genetic abnormalities. If he wants to rely on science, then there is no reason for homosexuals to not to marry. And finally the reason about the ages of the marriage participants being a precursor to marriage has until recently been basically when puberty began.

    Why doesn’t the hierarchy just say “Because I say so.” and be done with all of their silly attempts to support a hateful tradition forbidding same sex love? As the composer Lin-Manuel Miranda said after the Orlando shooting tragedy – Love is love is love is love is love is love.

    Reply
  5. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    Sad. Marriage Equality is a “brilliant marketing term”? How arrogant! Non-discriminatory Sacramental Access is the Law of Unconditional Love, established by our Founder, who never had heavy-handed bishops” in His plan.

    BTW: It might help to drop “sex” from the term Same-Sex Marriage. Marriage is certainly more than sex. Can we use “Same-Gender Marriage” instead? After all, isn’t it the sex that so many people are confused about? My sister once said, “Tom, I love you, but I don’t understand homosexuality”, to which I replied “Neither do I, Maureen. And I don’t fully understand why the sky is blue. It just is. I don’t spend a lot of precious time trying to understand. It just accept and love what is.”

    Reply

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