Hey Catholic Bishops! If You Don't Want to Be Called Bigots, Then Dial Back the Bigotry

[Content note: queerphobia, hostility to marriage equality, hostility to reproductive agency]

To: The Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, President of the US Council of Catholic Bishops

CC: Members of the USCCB

BCC: @Pontifex

From: Aphra Behn, Associate Professor of Historical Ladybusiness

Re: "Made For Freedom" Video

Dear Archbishop Kurtz:

Greetings! You know, it's been a while since I've written one of these. In fact, I think this is the first one I've written to you. (I might have written one or two or ten to your predecessor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.) So anyway, hi, how are you doing, I hope your collar is starchy and your mitre is pointy and and your crosier is crooked today! And all that. Howdy!

I'm writing to talk to you about the swell new video the UCCB has released as part of its "Marriage: Unique for a Reason" campaign. In it, you feature people from the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom with hot takes like this (courtesy The New Civil Rights Movement):

Arguing that Catholics should be able to discriminate in public, Heritage Foundation's anti-gay spokesperson Ryan T. Anderson says in the video that the "most important thing now is to protect the freedom to be faithful in the public square." He goes on to insist that Catholic institutions (which receive state and/or federal funding) "shouldn't be penalized because of their faith, because of their beliefs."

But much of the video features anti-gay attorney Kellie Fiedorek with the Christian legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom. "...As an attorney, I represent a number of clients who are being punished and coerced by the government to change their views on marriage," Fiedorek notes. "We're seeing this happen to florists, to bakers, to photographers, we're seeing this happen to judges and to clerks who are authorized to solemnize weddings and have a religious objection to doing so....The implications of the redefinition of marriage for religious freedom are vast," says Fiedorek. "I think that the short term effects we will see will first come in the attempt to silence people of faith, or people that hold a conviction that marriage is something sacred, something special, they will be silenced. Whether that's by the government, or simply out of fear."

..."If in any way shape or form, you disagree with the prevailing narrative about what is appropriate in terms of sexuality, same-sex marriage, even a hint of it, it sort of takes the air out of the room," says Gloria Purvis. "People begin to think you're closed minded, you're a bigot, and you're hateful.

All that, plus lots of filmy shots of female brides and male grooms clutching hands, toothily grinning at each other, attending pre-Cana, serving the poor and needy, wandering around in 80s concept music videos, etc.

So here's my own hot take: if you don't want to be called a bigot, then maybe don't act like a bigot.

That was good, huh? For no extra charge, I will throw in specifics:

1. Why are you obsessed with same-sex marriage? There are many conditions that prevent a sacramental Catholic marriage, or one that the church recognizes as valid if not sacramental. Admittedly it's been a few years since I graduated from Catholic high school but (a) I did take the prize in religion class and (b) I seem to recall that there are many conditions preventing Catholic recognition of a marriage. Special dispensations are generally necessary for a Baptized person to marry a non-Baptized person, such as a Catholic marrying a Jew or lifelong atheist. (The whole interfaith marriage is a really complicated issue.) I seem to recall that an annulment of the previous marriage was necessary for a formerly divorced person to marry in the church (and such annulments are far from automatic). And there's something about being in good standing with church law. That means living together with your intended is a big no-no. If memory serves, a Bishop could even deny marriage, like any other sacrament, to a person who publicly advocates positions contrary to the teachings of the church (such as being pro-choice).

And yet, curiously, you are not fervently campaigning against divorce and premarital sex between straight people. Don't get me wrong: I'm sure priests and teachers are promulgating formal Catholic doctrines in these areas. But not with the singular passion you have about same-sex marriage. Your cool videos and "defense of marriage" FAQs and your big-bucks campaigns are disproportionately focused on homophobic narratives with a generous helping of anti-birth control on the side. (Maybe the utter failure of the latter to persuade most ordinary Catholics should tell you something.)

In short: the disproportionate focus on same-sex marriage, among all the many forms of marriage you discourage or disallow, sure does look and feel discriminatory! What's that saying? If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is probably not a wombat!

2. Why are you partnering with horrible bigots? So, the guy you're quoting from the Heritage Foundation is notorious for using junk science to promote anti-LGBTQ positions, and for just outright lying about easily disprovable claims. Via Media Matters:

In his Heritage Foundation report, "Marriage Matters: Consequences of Redefining Marriage," for example, Anderson claimed that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts forced Catholic adoption agencies to close (false) and resulted in public schools being forced to teach children about same-sex marriages (also false). He's repeatedly warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would create a slippery slope to "throuples" -- three people in a marriage -- and polygamy.

In 2014, Anderson twice parroted the bogus story ordained ministers in an Idaho town being "forced" to perform same-sex marriages or face jail time. In reality, the ministers had received no threats of any legal action from the town and were able to remain exempt from local non-discrimination laws by registering their chapel as a religious non-profit.

In an error-filled report criticizing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would have prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Anderson claimed that extending non-discrimination protections to LGBT employees would create "special privileges" and punish workers who have religious convictions about homosexuality.

Anderson also routinely conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, and touts harmful conversion therapy as an effective way to change people's sexual orientation. In short: he lies and twists facts in order to paint a marginalized group as twisted and harmful. That's pretty much a definition of bigotry, right there.

And how about your other pals? Well, Kellie Fieodorek has a neat history of equating LGBTQ folk with KKK members, for a start. Her bosses at the ADF have enthusiastically promoted laws that would give jail time for gay sex. One of their attorneys has called Matthew Shepard's death a hate crime hoax. Of late, they've been busy trying to make sure trans kids can't safely use the bathroom. And they were the geniuses behind Arizona SB 1062, which would have allowed any business owner to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sincere religious belief. This was so extreme that Jan Brewer vetoed it. Yes, that Jan Brewer. (Which hasn't kept the ADF from drafting more of these laws in other states, of course! Wheee!)

In short: when you hang around with hideous bigots, people just might conclude you are... also not a wombat, if you get my drift.

So, I'm sorry to have gotten this to you so late, because I realize I could have saved you a whoooole lot of money that you just spent on a garbage video. What I am suggesting is pretty simple, and it doesn't even involve the repudiation of Catholic doctrines about same-sex marriage. (For the record, I don't agree with those, either! But I'm trying to meet you halfway, okay? I will even bring lunch, if you let me.) In any case, I think I can solve your great anxiety about being seen as horrible bigots!

First: Treat same-sex couples getting married with precisely the same amount of concern (or lack thereof) that you treat other couples getting married who don't happen to meet Catholic standards. To be clear, I'm actually not suggesting you pour your money into videos about the evils of divorced people people getting married down at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I think you can figure this out. Do you encourage Catholic caterers, florists, dressmakers, and the like to refuse service to divorced brides and grooms? Do you tell Catholic JPs they shouldn't preside at the civil marriages of interfaith couples, or couples who have been living together? No? Then stop doing so for perfectly legal same-sex marriages.

Second: Stop allying yourself with hateful bigots who openly advocate anti-LGBTQ positions that are blatantly at odds with Catholic teaching about treating LGBTQ folk decently. If I recall, Catholic teaching talks about treating gay people with "with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." Now admittedly, I'm no Most Reverend or even Mildly Reverend, but I don't see much respect, compassion, or sensitivity in promoting laws that jail people for having sex, or torturing kids with bogus "therapy,"or promoting hateful untruths about Matt Shepard.

So that's my advice about this big problem you have with people perceiving you to be bigoted! I sure do hope you find it helpful. If you find yourself having the urge to partner with assholes, single out queer folks for discrimination, or say silly things about ladies, well... you can always write back. Any time!

Most Irreverendly Sincerely,

Aphra Behn

(Commenting note: please take care in comments to distinguish the Catholic Bishops from ordinary Catholic practitioners, many of whom are completely appalled by the discriminatory words and action of their leadership. Thanks.)

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