Tuesday is going to be an important day for a number of reasons. We have the presidential election, of course, and we have House and Senate elections. But, as you know, there are also fundamental civil rights on the ballot in four states. In Minnesota, voters are deciding whether or not to enshrine anti-gay bigotry in the state constitution by barring marriage equality. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, voters are deciding whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to get married. As much as I’m fully against voters deciding on my civil rights, I believe Tuesday is going to be historic, as it’s looking likely that we’re going to win in at least Maine, Maryland, and Washington. It would be the first time a statewide vote resulted in a win for marriage equality. As disgusting as the idea of holding a public vote on civil rights is, it’s going to be a BFD.
But the anti-gay right is out in full force to stop marriage equality from becoming the law of the land in these three states. That includes the Catholic Church. In Maryland, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori actually sent out a letter denouncing marriage equality and urging parishioners to vote no on Question 6, requiring all of his priests to read it aloud to their congregations. Well, Father Richard T. Lawrence, the priest at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore, decided he was going to do just that—with a twist. Follow me below the fold.
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First of all, I’m going to come right out and say that I love Father Lawrence. What he did—essentially, flip the bird at the Archbishop—took some guts. Lawrence followed the orders given to him. He read the letter aloud to his congregation. Then, he editorialized just a tad, adding his own take on the marriage equality battle in Maryland.
He started with this:
I cannot tell you how any of this will come out, but I will tell you that I stand in genuine awe of all those parents, native-born, naturalized, documented and undocumented, who strive with every fiber of their being to ensure that their children have more opportunities than they had.He then appealed to the parishioners’ common sense, separating marriage in the civil sense from marriage in the Catholic sense, making the point that Catholic can indeed support marriage equality even if they personally believe a Catholic marriage should be between a man and a woman.
And I will continue to stand in genuine awe of all those couples -- straight, gay and lesbian -- whose day-to-day, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade faithfulness to each other is to me a sacrament, a believable embodied sign, of the absolute faithfulness of God to us all.
While the federal courts respect the rights of churches not to hire anyone for a ministerial position whose marriage does not comply with the laws of that church, we do hire and pay spousal benefits, such as medical insurance, for employees whose marriages are not valid in the eyes of church law.And, indeed, Lawrence did go farther than that. He then argued that church law could even change on this subject.
It seems to me, therefore, that even if we do not believe that gay marriage ever could or should be allowed in the church, we could live with a provision that allows civil marriage of gay and lesbian couples. Personally, however, I would go farther than that.
…we could come to recognize the total, exclusive and permanent union of gay and lesbian couples as part of the sacrament of matrimony.Lawrence added that he would not perform same-sex marriages, but he stressed that he would attend the weddings of gays and lesbians he loves and supports. He ended with this:
[The Church has] been willing to marry couples in the church even though their ages suggest strongly that the procreation and education of children is no longer a possibility. Could we not then say that their devotion to and support of each other ... could be recognized by the church as a valid sacrament of God's unrelenting faithfulness to us just as much as the union of an elderly straight couple? Neither will procreate children, but both can be sacraments of God's faithfulness in the living out of their commitment to each other.
I personally believe that this is a possible line of future development in theology and perhaps eventually even in church teaching. And if this is even a possibility, could we not judge that civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples ought to be allowed by the state at this time?
But could not civil law be allowed to progress where church law cannot go, at least not yet? Personally, I believe that it can and that it should. So there you have it: the official teaching of the church and my personal reflections.Now how’s that for a homily?
The St. Vincent congregation responded with a standing ovation.
BuzzFeed notes that Lawrence’s homily makes sense considering his biography on the church website, which makes mention that he has been “"active in social justice ministries all his life, starting with the Civil Rights movement in the [1960s] and the Peace movement in the [1970s], and is today one of the leaders in the Inclusive Housing movement.” Basically, this guy is pretty much a bad-ass.
Archbishop Lori’s response was swift—he demanded that the homily be removed from the church website, which it was. But so far, no other punitive action has been taken.
We need more people in the world like Father Lawrence. He stands up for what is right even when he knows there will probably be repercussions. And I think he’s right—I think the Church can change on this. I also think it will take a long, long time. And in the meantime, I welcome allies like Father Lawrence on our side to make sure civil law goes where Catholic Church teaching is not ready to go.