Recently, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), who previously supported civil unions, voiced his support for marriage equality. In an op-ed published in the Providence Journal, Rep. Langevin stated that it took the commitment ceremony of a long time staff member to convince him that all loving unions, regardless of the gender or sexuality of the people involved, deserve to be treated equally under the law. Rep. Langevin, a devout Catholic, has previously been supportive of LGBT rights, but his new position on marriage equality is a turning point – one which reflects the views of many lay members of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Over half of the United States population now supports marriage equality; among lay Catholics that number jumps to nearly three quarters when talking about any type of relationship recognition or civil marriage. The percentage of lay Catholics who support marriage equality is higher than among any other Christian denomination in the United States. And yet, in every state in which the legislature or court system has moved towards marriage equality, the local Catholic Diocese have vigorously objected. In the past week, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, RI, has written multiple editorials claiming that allowing all loving couples the chance to marry would somehow be “dangerous.” Now that marriage equality is no longer the current focus in Rhode Island, the diocese is targeting civil unions.
Other recent conflicts between lay Catholics and local diocese have occurred in Minnesota, Maryland, and Iowa. In Minnesota, lay Catholics who support LGBT equality created ReturnTheDVD.org after their diocese sent out hundreds of thousands of anti-marriage equality DVDs called “Preserving Marriage in Minnesota.” The founders of ReturnTheDVD.org stated in a letter accompanying 3000 returned and disabled DVDs that “the message in the DVD conflicts with core Christian values of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect” and asked the Archbishop to “[i]magine the positive effect the money spent on these DVDs could have had on homelessness and poverty in our communities, especially in this economy.”
Catholic leaders are urging their followers to “make [their] voices heard” (as was written in a joint statement released in late February by three Maryland and Washington Catholic leaders) but a majority of those voices disagree with the Church’s official position on marriage equality. This disconnect may speak to a deeper divide between lay Catholics and the church hierarchy. Like the group in Minnesota, many lay Catholics have chosen to express their faith through work on issues of social justice, like poverty and homelessness, rather than the injustice of denying LGBT Americans the ability to marry whomever they love.
When the media speaks about the “Catholic position” on marriage equality, writers and reporters need to reflect the fact that the church’s official position is very different from the position the majority of its members hold in their hearts. If they do not, they are telling an incomplete story.