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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Will Scotland Lead the Way on UK Marriage Equality?

There is clear evidence that in the UK as a whole, there is political momentum building in favour of providing for full civil marriage for same sex couples. Opinion polls show that the idea is supported by the majority of British voters, and is gaining support by key people in all the major parties. Of these, the Scottish National Party, who control the devolved Scottish Parliament, were the first to commit publicly to the principle of marriage equality, and have in the past raised at least the possibility of going ahead on this alone, if the national government prevaricates too long. Now, they are coming under pressure from an important quarter to do just that.

This, from Pink News:

Scottish government advised to legalise gay marriage

The Scottish government has been advised to give gay couples the right to marry.

A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says that current law discriminates against gay people and is not supported by public polls.

In England and Wales, the UK government has announced plans to hold a consultation on the future of civil partnerships and marriage. As these are devolved issues, the consultation does not apply to Scotland.

However, polls of the Scottish public have shown rising support for allowing gay couples to marry. In 2006, a poll found that 53 per cent of people supported same-sex marriage. In 2009, this figure rose to 62 per cent.

This, the report says, means politicians should not fear a “backlash” from the public. The government is being urged to start looking at the issue after the May election

(Full report at Pink News)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

In the Navy:Official Disapproval,Sensitivity in Bereavement.

In the Catholic Church, many people will know that in spite of official disapproval from on high, and outright hostility by some individuals in the church, very often parishes on the ground can be truly welcoming and accepting, with acceptance and full inclusion from both parishioners and parish priests. That was certainly my experience at Holy Trinity Parish, Braamfontein, Johannesburg -and is the experience of many others at countless parishes around the world.
A story from Chicago Sun Times demonstrates that this disconnect between official disapproval and practical warmth on the ground also applies in other formally homophobic institutions, in this instance the US marines. In spite of the policy of DADT which was still in force last June, and notwithstanding the vicious persecution that some gay servicemen experienced under that policy, the widowed husband of one Marine, John Fliszar,  found exceptional co-operation from the Naval Academy officials when he approached them for help in executing the dead man's wish to have his ashes  interred in the Naval Academy.

I enjoyed imagining the confused expressions of these officials when they were first approached by the widowed husband, Mark Ketterson:
The memorial coordinator asked about his relationship to the deceased. Ketterson said that John Fliszar was his husband.
“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”

Friday, 18 February 2011

Hawaii Civil Unions Approved; Marriage Equality Update

Three significant news items yesterday illustrated the continuing momentum towards marriage and family equality.

In Hawaii, the state senate has now given final approval to civil unions for same sex couples. All that is now required is for the Gobvernor to add his signature, which he has promised he will do, adding to the number which now offer marriage equality or near equality at state level. More will follow.

In Baltimore, another state senator has stepped off the fence, and announced he will vote in favour of the marriage bill next week. This makes at least 24 votes (and possibly 25) in favour, which will be enough for approval. Passage in the lower house and the governor's signature should follow.

In Delaware, a new group (Equality Delaware) has been formed to push for civil unions, and has announced sponsors for a bill to be introduced to the legislature later this year. (A recent opinion poll showed that a plurality of Delaware voters support full marriage. This would suggest that the early prospects for the more cautious proposal of civil unions must be good).

For the record, here is the current rundown by state, for the US a.nd internationally.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hawaii House Approves Civil Unions, & Other Marriage Equality Updates.

The Hawaii State House yesterday approved a civil unions bill by a comfortable margin. As the Senate has previously passed the measure, all that is now requited is some tinkering to reconcile the minor differences in the two versions, before it is presented to Governor Abercrombie, who has promised that he will sign it.  Hawaii will then join Illinois as the second US state to approve civil unions this year.

Meanwhile both Maryland and Rhode Island have been holding hearings on bills to provide state recognition for full marriage equality. With powerful voices against, including that of the institutional Catholic Church, it is too early to predict the final outcome. I am encouraged, however, by a few straws in the wind.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

New York Catholics Support Gay Marriage

Barbara Bush's public support for gay marriage has garnered a lot of press attention over the past week. Reporting on this the Washington Post has drawn my attention to another finding that should have drawn more attention. Alongside the number of Republican politicians and Evangelical Christians who are breaking ranks with their traditional opposition and starting to support equality, the majority of US (and European) Catholics have already parted company with their bishops on the matter. This has been demonstrated in several polls in recent years, at national level, and in state level polls, as in Rhode Island.
When I read and reported on the recent finding of the Quinnipiac poll that a majority of New Yorkers now support full legal recognition of same sex marriages, I neglected to follow through on my usual practice of checking the cross-tabs for a breakdown by religion. This was a mistake. (In mitigation, I plead that I was under intense pressure  for time last week). As the Washington Post has now observed, the national pattern is found in New York, too.  An absolute majority of New York Catholics support full marriage (not simply civil unions). As the paper's report notes in its concluding remark, "Republican and Catholic leaders may find themselves increasingly out of touch with the rhythm and blues that are moving their constituents and congregants on these issues".
For how much longer can bishops, in the US or elsewhere, get away with claiming to speak for "Catholics" on such matters (or, in the Philippines), it is patently obvious that they are not speaking of the real beliefs or real Catholics, but only for Vatican doctrine and the rule book Catholics who would prefer to get their ideas from a moral manual, without personal thought or reflection?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Seeking Gay Parents, Dispels Myths

A Welsh children's charity, Barnardo's,  is actively seeking gay and lesbian prospective parents, in yet another demonstration that those in the know, the professional experts working in the field, recognize that parenting ability has nothing at all to do with gender or sexual orientation.   What matters far more, is the quality of love and the emotional stability of the home. Abundant scientific research has amassed reams of evidence, frequently disseminated by the professionals, and other agencies before this one have likewise made the same plea for more queer applicants - but the myths, freely promoted by ignorant Catholic spokesmen, still survive.
The resulting prejudice is one of the factors that discourages some potential prospective parents from applying. This is in direct conflict with the interests of the children, which the Church falsely claims to be promoting. The best interests of the children, the professionals know, lies in admitting the largest possible pool of applicants, irrespective of orientation, so that each child may be matched with the best possible parents. At present, there are an estimated 64,000 children in the care system in England: one quarter of whom will never find a family.  Excluding same-sex couples even from consideration as adoptive parents, as the Catholic bishops would like to do, cannot possibly improve the chances of that 25%, and could lead to some of the others being placed with parents who are possibly not necessarily the most suitable just the best suited heterosexuals.

Queer Families at Gay Pride, Rome
Fortunately, British law recognizes the facts, and does not allow agencies to practice discrimination. Now, we need to ensure that public opinion catches up with the facts, to eliminate the continued self-exclusion by some gay couples, who might otherwise to offer their help to children in real need. The tragedy here is that some Catholic agencies, rather than filling their obligation to do the best for the children, have simply stopped finding homes for children at all.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Pope Benedict's Strong Argument for Gay Marriage, Queer Families.

Last Sunday, I picked up a little book at the Soho Masses bookstall called "Christians and Sexuality in the Time of AIDS", a useful little book, which I bought at a ridiculously low bargain price. Some of the insights have little to do directly with the main theme, and it is one of these that is relevant here, an observation made by James Alison in his introduction, writing about Pope Benedict XVI and the nature of his theology.  James has frequently observed that when we respond too quickly or too superficially to the pope's reported remarks, we often underestimate his thinking, which is substantially more nuanced than we usually recognize. In his position, he argues, Benedict cannot do other than repeat the well-worn, established magisterial positions on topical issues.

The really interesting questions surrounding what a pope is doing are never the politically immediate headline grabbers, but always the small, apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges which are either going to make change possible over time, or try to block it.
When I read these words, they brought into focus for me the speech that Benedict  gave to a group of Italian politicians and public officials last Friday, which has been widely interpreted as an attack on gay marriage. This is not the way I interpreted the speech: instead, I wrote (in the post below) that the reference to "marriage between a man and a woman", and to the forces undermining it, were curiously minor. The main thrust of the speech was more usefully seen as in praise of strong families - which could equally well apply to the families of same sex parents as to any other.   After reading James Alison, I thought how perfectly his warning applies to the present case: well, of course he made the obligatory noises about marriage between a man and a woman (how could he not?) - but the headline writers have missed the main points. With just a little "apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges", this attack on gay marriage can instead be read as a statement in praise of all families - including those which are queer. 

I submit my original post below, just as I wrote it Sunday -- with profound apologies to my colleague Bart, who very generously responded to my request for preliminary comment with some very useful and helpful suggestions, which I have duly ignored. This is not in any way a reflection on his contribution - but just on my acute lack of time this week.  (I am writing this close to midnight, as it is). I will revise and refine this text later, to incorporate the additional links, Bart's contribution - and possibly later thought as well (both my own and that of readers' comments).