I’m a devout Catholic, and I fully accept and support all of the Catholic Church’s teachings on social issues that divide the world today. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed reading the first two editions of Vaughn Shirey’s Queerview column in The Triangle despite our fundamental disagreements on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. It’s encouraging to hear a reasonable voice on the other side of the argument. When dealing with an issue like this, it can be hard to speak out against the flaws of those who want the same outcome as you. I applaud Shirey for having the courage to do this, and now I’d like to do the same.
Religiously motivated opponents of same-sex marriage often make very poor choices of how to defend their cause. I’m not just talking about the Westboro Baptist Church or radical Muslims here. The Catholic Church gives very clear guidelines on how its members ought to approach the issue, but many Catholics instead take approaches that only further alienate the church from the LGBT community. That’s largely our fault; we need to do a better job of understanding what the church really teaches about homosexuality, and all of us (not just the clergy) need to be more consistent in how we live out those teachings and share them with others if we ever want to gain the respect of those who disagree with us.
In case you’re not already familiar with the church’s actual teachings on homosexuality, I’ll try to dispel some of the most commonly held misconceptions. First and foremost, the church does not hate LGBT people, nor does the church teach that God hates them. Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that LGBT individuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
Needless to say, supporters of same-sex marriage perceive opposition to their cause as unjust, but they often forget or are unaware that the primary Catholic motive of this opposition is love and concern for the well-being of all people. We don’t believe what we believe solely because “God said so.” Many people of faith consider the most important anti-LGBT lifestyle arguments to be rooted in theology, but research on the sociological effects of the LGBT lifestyle also plays into the discussion. Different studies have reached different conclusions. Some have suggested that people in LGBT relationships are at greater risk of finding themselves in harmful situations, while others have concluded that there is no statistically significant difference between such risks in LGBT relationships and heterosexual relationships. The church wants all people, whether they believe in God or not, to be happy and free from unnecessary suffering. It is with a sincere, compassionate desire to minimize people’s risk of unnecessary suffering that the church opposes LGBT lifestyles.
As recently as last year, I struggled to accept the church’s teachings on this issue because unlike similar issues on which the church requires its members to hold a particular position, such as abortion and euthanasia, LGBT rights aren’t a life-or-death matter. I’ve known all along that there are some happy, committed same-sex relationships out there. Even now, after making so much progress in my spiritual journey, the church’s outright opposition to same-sex adoption still troubles me. I imagine the options of a poor, drug-addicted single mother who doesn’t want her child anymore. Perhaps no heterosexual couples are offering to adopt. Would it really be better to have the child stay with such a parent, or be bounced from foster home to foster home, than to let a healthy, financially well-off same-sex couple have a chance with the child? I sympathize deeply with LGBT rights supporters on issues like this, though my faith would require me to vote against what they want regardless of the circumstances.
In other words, there is still an extent to which my position on LGBT issues is based entirely on faith, and I can’t expect anyone who doesn’t share my faith to agree with me on those grounds. But secular reasoning does support much of my stance, so I think it’s a shame that we as a society have struggled to start a civilized dialogue on the issue. Notice that I used the word “dialogue,” not “debate.” A debate is an argument between opposing viewpoints in which the participants strive to win by proving themselves right and their opponents wrong. Most of the public discussion of LGBT rights these days is nothing but a big, ugly debate. A dialogue is different in that the participants strive to work toward a mutual understanding for the common good rather than to defeat each other. We won’t start making any progress toward an agreeable long-term outcome until we turn this debate into a dialogue.
Religious opponents of LGBT rights need to be more willing to listen to what the LGBT community has to say. They need to love LGBT persons as fellow human beings and act with their best interests at heart. Likewise, I encourage the LGBT community to heed the advice that Shirey has given in his first two columns. The dialogue we need can’t begin until people on both sides make some major attitude adjustments.
Aaron Strauss is one of the co-chief copy editors of The Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected].