As the new year begins, our list of threats to world peace includes the usual suspects: poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation, the availability of devastating weaponry and sectarian violence. To this list, Pope Benedict XVI would like to add our neighbor Bob.
In his message for the World Day of Peace, which takes place January 1, the pope said that allowing gay and lesbian people to marry “constitutes an offense against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.” That the pope holds these notions is not news. He has previously said that gay marriage threatens the “future of humanity itself.”
We are fortunate enough to be able to contrast the pope’s rhetoric with the reality of Bob’s life, and those of many other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people whom we know. They don’t seem like threats to world peace or the future of humanity. They are men and women trying to earn a living, love their spouses, raise their children and contribute a little something to their churches and their communities.
The pope is losing the fight against marriage equality because Catholics weigh his abstract definitions of what it means to be human, what it means to be male and what it means to be female, against the evidence of their own experience. They understand instinctively that human beings are too complex to be captured in such arid taxonomies, that categories devised by celibate philosophers no longer make much sense in a world in which traditional gender roles were abandoned long ago. Rather, what they know, what they believe, is the evidence of their own experience. Like John the Evangelist, they testify to what they have seen and heard.
It is difficult to think of the pediatrician who cares for your children, or the Sunday school teacher who is introducing your children to their faith, or the couple who open their home for a community fundraiser, as threats to world peace. It is hard to believe that the pope and his advisors understand our neighbor Bob’s “nature” better than he knows it himself. At some point you come to realize that it is not same-sex couples who pose a threat to our shared future; it is the people who work so hard and spend so much money to deny these couples the love and support they need to live generous and productive lives.
An ever-lengthening stream of public opinion polls confirm that a majority of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality and want to get rid of laws that discriminate against LGBT people. According to Pew research this year, “among [American] Catholics as a whole, supporters of same-sex marriage now outnumber opponents (52 percent vs. 37 percent).” Whether because of the great value that Catholic voters place on the family—all kinds of families—or the commitment rooted in church social justice teachings to treat all people equally, the U. S. Catholic electorate has crossed a bridge on this issue and shows no sign of going back.
History gives us every reason to believe that the church will one day follow suit, but that journey will be long and tortured. The pope presents his arguments against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as immutable truth, just as the church once asserted that it was right when it argued against women’s suffrage, supported slavery, and banned new understandings of astronomy. On each of these issues, the church finally caught up with its people, but only after decades—and in the case of Galileo, centuries—of argument, exclusion and persecution. Catholics know that their leaders will eventually change their views on human sexuality.
In the meantime, most Catholics hear the pope’s increasingly strident rhetoric, think of our neighbor Bob and others like him, and scratch their heads. Then they go about their business of voting for marriage equality, opposing discrimination, and rejoicing at the unions of their gay and lesbian family and friends. We hope it doesn’t take several more popes and many more World Peace Day missteps before the Catholic hierarchy finally reforms its ways. Thankfully, ordinary, faithful Catholics are not waiting.
Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata are co-founders of Fortunate Families, which ministers with Catholic families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children, and is a member of the Equally Blessed coalition.