Editor's note: Rev. Tom Altepeter is a priest in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, which is an independent Catholic tradition, not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Soon we will vote. In addition to casting votes for political candidates, we will be asked to decide on Referendum 74, which addresses the issue of marriage equality. The Washington Roman Catholic Bishops have made a number of public statements in opposition to Referendum 74. As a lifelong Catholic, an ordained Ecumenical Catholic priest in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (which differs from the Roman Catholic Church), and a licensed psychologist, I feel compelled to respond to these statements, and to offer an alternative Catholic perspective.
1. Is homosexuality unacceptable?
The bishops would have us believe so. The Roman Catholic Catechism characterizes homosexuality as a“grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered” and asserts that “Under no circumstances can they be approved” (CCC # 2357). However, the facts do not support the assertion. Numerous studies have consistently found that homosexuality occurs in a significant subgroup of people across all cultures. The commonly accepted estimate is about 10 percent. Based upon this estimate, approximately 700,000 people in Washington State are gay. And, the scientific and clinical experts have concluded that being gay is not abnormal or pathological. All mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country have concluded that both heterosexual and homosexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Who are these folks? Where are they? You may be surprised to learn that they are all around you. They are the friendly grocery store clerk; the physical therapist that worked with mom after her stroke; the soldier that is overseas protecting your freedoms; your child’s teacher; your favorite aunt and her friend; your insurance agent; your family doctor. They are your friend’s daughter or son. They have jobs and pay taxes. They are well respected, contributing members of our society.
2. Is it detrimental to a child to have gay or lesbian parents?
The bishops would have us believe so. Recently Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane wrote, “In the past 50 years the international community has made progress in coming to a consensus on a standard of rights for the protection and care of children. Redefining marriage is a step backwards in the progress that has been made in protecting the rights of children.” However, again, the facts do not support the assertion. The American Psychological Association has stated, “On the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the APA and other health professional and scientific organizations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. This body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.” There is nothing about being a gay or lesbian parent that interferes with effective parenting — children can thrive equally well in heterosexual or homosexual families.
3. Is marriage equality a religious issue?
The bishops would have us believe so. However, this is clearly a legal and not a religious issue. It has to do with civil laws which define certain obligations and rights. All of the various marriage equality laws, including Washington’s, have nothing to do with religious practice. Under these laws, all religious groups, from the most conservative to the most liberal, remain free to practice their faith and worship their God as they always have. Passage of marriage equality laws puts no restrictions or mandates on any religious group.
4. Is there a need for a same sex marriage law?
The bishops say no because Washington already has a domestic partner law. However, there is a conflict between state and federal laws in this matter which require a state marriage equality law. It is the purview of the states to define ‘marriage,’ and who can legally marry within the state. Yet, in many federal laws certain rights are extended to those who are legally married and withheld from those who are not. By excluding same gender couples from the status of legal marriage at the state level (even when forming a separate legal category such as ‘domestic partnership,’) the state effectively excludes these couples from the federal benefits, rights and protections afforded married couples. And, this is no minor thing. Currently, there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. These include provisions concerning taxation, federal loans, dependent and survivor benefits (e.g., Social Security, military and veterans), health insurance, health care decision making, property rights, pension and retirement benefits, inheritance, etc. All of these benefits, rights and protections are significantly limited or excluded for gay or lesbian persons involved in loving, committed relationships because they are not allowed to legally marry. And, they are significantly limited or denied to the children of these individuals, often putting these children at a disadvantage, and perhaps at risk.
5. What would Jesus say?
Since the bishops cast this issue in religious terms, it is worth examining what Jesus says about this issue. Nothing. That’s right, nothing. If you read all of the gospels from beginning to end, and pay close attention to what Jesus says, you will never see homosexuality, same gender relationships, or same sex marriage mentioned. Jesus says absolutely nothing about it. On the other hand, the teaching of Jesus is overwhelmingly in favor of love of our neighbors and concern for the welfare of others. Jesus talks frequently about compassion for those among us who are marginalized and treated as outcasts. Certainly, many of our lesbian and gay friends have been treated as outcasts, and marginalized with regard to marital status and associated legal rights. Jesus would have us reach out to these neighbors, our sisters and brothers, with compassion. And, Jesus talks frequently about justice in social structures and social systems, including legal systems. He would have us advocate for victims of injustice, and to correct unjust structures. Referendum 74 seeks to do this, to promote justice and equity for these loving couples. It is sad that some of our religious leaders openly and energetically advocate a position which lacks mercy and compassion for our neighbors, and which withholds justice from a marginalized group.
The Washington Roman Catholic Bishops do not speak for me. They do not speak for the majority of Catholics in our state. Several polls have documented that a majority of Catholics support marriage for same sex couples. I plan to vote yes for Referendum 74, and thereby take a stand in compassionate support of my lesbian and gay neighbors. My personal commitment as a disciple of Jesus, and my public commitment as a minister in the Christian church compel me to do so. I invite all Catholics, all followers of Jesus of other denominations, and all people of good will to join me in standing in solidarity with our lesbian and gay friends, and voting yes for Referendum 74.