I support gay rights because I am Catholic, not in spite of it.
I grew up Catholic. Catholicism was early morning and late night masses, hot cross buns on Good Friday, wearing a pretty white dress for my first Communion, confused friends who wanted to know if I worshipped Mary. It was glowing candles on the dinner table during December, and palms folded into crosses in April. It was simple, and it was good. I believed it then, and I believed it now.
But it is not as simple now as it was then. Now I realize being Catholic isn’t defined by whether or not you attend Fish Fridays, but is a complex world of the orthodox and the not-so-orthodox. I am not an orthodox Catholic (used in the sense of one who follows every belief to the letter, not in the sense of the church that became identified as such during the Great Schism). And there is a reason that we have that term “orthodox” or “traditional” (the term my husband’s uncle, a religious, used instead of our term which I believe was “crazy conservatives” at brunch last week). Because despite Catholicism’s call for us to adhere to one set of beliefs, we do recognize, at least popularly, that there is a myriad of beliefs, experiences, and practices that create Catholicism. All this to say, my beliefs here do not reflect the beliefs of the Catholic Church, which opposes the legalization of gay marriage.
But I believe in it, and other gay rights, because I’m Catholic, not in spite of it.
You see, if the Church had wanted to turn me off of supporting the marginalized in our society, it should not have read the Sermon on the Mount to me each year. It should have silenced Jesus’ cry of blessings on the poor in spirit, the persecuted, the meek, the peacemakers, and those who thirst for righteousness.
The Church should not have taught me of the love God has for all of his people. It should have taught me instead that Jesus only came for those who were rich, who were white, who were straight, who were male, who were powerful, who were orthodox.
If the Church wanted me to oppose gay marriage, it should not have taught me that scripture is historical and contextual. It should have taught me instead that it is always literal, but it did not. It should not have taught me that God is love. It should not have taught me about the dignity of the human person, that everyone deserves a place to live, a place to work, a place to eat without being discriminated against.
It should not have taught me about the beauty of marriage. How the love between two people mirrors the love of God and his people. It should not have instilled me with the morals of faithfulness, commitment, and love if it had wanted me to discourage those practices in others.
The Church taught me instead about personal conscience (Catechism) and that “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself” (1790). It taught me that the conscience is inscribed on our hearts by God.
The Catholic Church taught me not to judge. And not in some trite “love the sinner but hate the sin” (but secretly hate the sinner too because that’s just easier) way, but in a deep, true way. It taught me to look inwardly to my own faults, not outwardly to the faults of others.
It taught me to fight for the rights of the least among us. It reminded me that those whom society deemed okay to hate, we were required to love.
Of course, some will say that I am a shining example of the fallen American laity. They will remind me that the Church does not conform to the whims of modern society, and instead follows the teachings of Christ.
To which, I would respond that I agree. The Church is bigger than simple societal whims of oppression, of hate, of bigotry, of fear. I would say that the Catholic Church, at its core, preaches love and acceptance, hope and grace. If it wants me to adhere to another belief set, one of prejudice and marginalization, it should have taught me something else.
I support gay rights because I am Catholic. Not because I do not understand the teachings of the church, or because I simply choose not to follow them out of convenience sake, but because I do believe them, because I do follow them. And it’s not just me. A study in 2011 showed that Catholics are more in favor of same sex marriage than any other religious group, and more than Americans as a whole.
If the Catholic Church wanted me to oppose gay rights, it shouldn’t have told me what Christ taught.