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Same-Sex Marriage: A Call For Intense Dialogue

In the present ongoing discussion about same-sex marriages, the one thing that seems to be missing within the Roman Catholic Church and within our country, is a dialogue among people who respect one another.

And for me, as your pastor, it is much easier to remain silent, than to take up the challenge to use my own mind, and to listen to my own conscience, about how to deal with this very contentious issue, and to share some thoughts with you today.

I do not mean to be disrespectful towards the Pope, or towards our Canadian Bishops, but I am concerned that we are being treated like "parrots" rather than being recognized for the important role that we have as members of the Body of Christ of being pastors, parishioners, and yes, some are even parliamentarians. What we need is dialogue, not dictates.

As your pastor, I try, through my homilies, to challenge myself, and you, to lead Christian lives and to follow Gospel values. Can homilies not also be challenging to those in leadership positions as well?

In my homily today, I am not trying to tell anyone how they should vote or act. I am merely presenting other perspectives to consider as you form your own conscience on this important issue.

Certainly the recent Vatican statement must be considered, but it must also be studied to see if it reflects the lived experiences of the People of God, and whether it has been truly received by them.

We are in the midst of great social change regarding our understanding of homosexuality, spurred on by scientific studies about human sexuality. What is needed now is an intense dialogue among people of goodwill that will incorporate this new understanding of sexuality into our theology.

In past centuries, theologians and the Church used to consider women as being less human than men because of ignorance about reproduction. No one would dare suggest such a concept now.

For centuries the Church tolerated slavery, and, once again, no one would dare suggest such a concept now.

The Vatican's harsh language in the document Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons is very hurtful to our gay and lesbian relatives and friends, and their families. I can only hope that a serious dialogue will take place between gay and lesbian Catholics and Church leaders, in order that the lived, loving experiences of gays and lesbians can be truly listened to, and taken into account in a re-examination of the Church's attitudes regarding homosexuality and those persons with a homosexual orientation.

But there are two issues here.

There is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church's leadership on homosexuality, and there is the question of civil recognition of same-sex marriages. With regard to the legal recognition of homosexual unions, the recent Vatican document states that "... the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."

And yet, how do we reconcile this statement with what the Second Vatican Council teaches about the dignity of one's own moral conscience?

For in the Pastoral constitution On The Church In The Modern World it states: "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that.

"For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary .... Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships."

In Vatican II's Document of Religious Liberty, it further states: "The search for truth ... must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and his social nature, namely, by free enquiry with the help of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue.

"It is by these means that men share with each other the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in such a way that they help one another in the search for truth ... It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience."

I believe that Prime Minister Jean Chr»tien and Paul Martin are right in stating that, although they are Roman Catholics, in acting as Members of Parliament, they must take into account a much wider range of factors than the Vatican's directive on same-sex marriage.

How politicians should deal with conflict between their own personal, moral or religious beliefs and their obligations as parliamentarians is very complex.

All politicians, not just religious ones, are open to such conflicts, because all have we hope moral beliefs. As is required, they must act in good conscience and with integrity. Sometimes that can require having the courage to accept either political damage or the wrath of their religious community.

If Parliament and the Supreme Court agree to law reforms that will give the country same-sex marriage, it will be only one more example of the state respecting the individual's freedom to choose without impinging on the freedom of churches or other faith communities to do their best to persuade people to behave otherwise.

This should not offend churches and other faith communities. For any church or citizen group is free to teach Canadians that homosexual behaviour is still wrong, and same-sex marriage is a sin, if that is what they really believe.

They just won't have the arm of the law reinforcing their beliefs. Such legislation will hardly amount to a social revolution. It will be more of an evolution.

If we accept sexual diversity as believing Christians, it does not necessarily mean that we approve it, like it, or understand it. It does mean that we can live with it because it is in everyone's interests, even when that can mean rethinking what many Christians see as the sacrament of marriage.

Marriage has traditionally been the precious way that a man and a woman have shared themselves with one another, in joys and in sorrows, in bearing one another up, from youth to old age. Gays and lesbians are telling us that is precisely what they want to do too.

Their way of doing it may not be your particular choice, but courts in Ontario and Quebec have ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry contravenes the spirit if not the explicit letter, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

And let us not be distracted by the argument about the primacy of Parliament over the courts, or about free votes in the House of Commons, or about the 1999 Commons resolution on the definition of marriage.

The Charter is the law of our land, and both the courts and Parliament must follow it. For extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples is fundamentally a matter of law, not religion. Church groups will still be free to bless only those marriages that their religious denomination recognizes.

The Vatican directive also takes aim at gay parents being able to adopt children. It says: "As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these (homosexual) unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood.

"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such union would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."

This position has been condemned by the Canadian Psychological Association as repeating misconceptions about same-sex parents that are scientifically unfounded, since psychosocial research into lesbian and gay parenting indicates that there is no basis in the scientific literature for this perception.

One might ask whether the Vatican opposes adoption by single parents, since those children would have only a mother or father.

In many cases, gay and lesbian couples have adopted children who are often considered not adoptable because of age, race or special needs. Are these children better off in revolving foster homes and orphanages? For who is truly acting in the best interests of the children? The gay and lesbian couples who open their homes to those vulnerable children or the Church hierarchy that has a terrible track record of protecting children?

Before you sign any petitions or write any letters, I urge you to consider all the information at your disposal.

Talk to your friends, talk to someone who is gay or lesbian, read the Vatican document (off the Vatican Web site), read Bishop Colli's letter at the doors of the church this weekend, read the newspapers, and do your own research. Draw your own prayerful conclusions and then act as your conscience dictates.

by Reverend Scott Gale
Pastor of St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
This is his homily of last Sunday which first ran in The Chronicle-Journal. Reprinted with permission.