A week ago, Australian legislators passed a marriage equality law following the nation’s non-binding postal survey this fall and years of debate. Although some church leaders have offered muted reactions, one Catholic priest has expressed his desire to officiate at the weddings of lesbian and gay couples.
Father Pat Mara is a priest on the Tiwi Islands, off the north coast of Australia. Speaking about marriage equality’s passage, he told the ABC:
“‘I know a lot of people who have same-sex attraction and I see just the goodness in their heart, the honesty and their desire to have equality. . .
“‘We had a wedding here just a few weeks ago. . .The old church over here was just chock-a-block with people, and everybody was just so happy and elated and on a high.
“‘And I think if we could just do that for same-sex attracted people as well and celebrate the love that they have, I just think that’s a really lovely and beautiful thing for the world.'”
Fr. Mara, who is a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, said the marriage equality victory was important for Sistagirls, the name for transgender Aboriginal women, who see the law as a step to “recognition and acknowledgement.” This community on the Tiwi Islands has faced discrimination and abuse, which has sometimes led to several suicides. Jason de Santis, described by the ABC as a queer man and “sometime Sistagirl,” welcomed Fr. Mara’s comments:
“‘It’s really lovely and refreshing to know that someone who is a spiritual leader in the community is very open and very positive.'”
Looking forward, Fr. Mara suggested that, when it comes to same-gender marriage, “anything can happen in the future” because “[t]hings are always shifting in the Church.” Still, such a change is not likely in his lifetime, the priest said.
But not all of Fr. Mara’s parishioners welcomed marriage equality, and some feared same-gender marriages happening in the Catholic Church. He explained, “I tried to reassure them that, ‘look the sky’s not going to fall in and the world will still turn around’. . .The understanding, I guess, was a bit minimal.”
Other Catholic voices have been relatively quiet after the law’s passage, perhaps because statements had already been made when the results of the postal survey showed overwhelming support for marriage equality. After the survey results were released in mid-November, Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher claimed the survey results were wrong because 20% of Australians did not vote. Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, a vocal advocate of marriage equality, said the survey results were “a resounding win for the ‘Yes’ campaign.”
Australia’s passage of marriage equality comes after a years-long and often quite painful debate on the issue, particularly during this fall’s postal survey when demand for mental health services by LGBT people skyrocketed. Thankfully, that debate has ended with a clear victory for LGBT rights, one in which many Catholics played a positive role in. Congratulations to our Australian readers on this historic occasion!
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 14, 2017