The Seattle Catholic response to marriage equality

Now that more and more states are adopting equal marriage laws — or having their discriminatory laws struck down by federal judges — Catholic archdioceses have begun responding by firing any employees who exercise their right to same-sex marriage. The Seattle Times today carries a good overview of what’s happening. Click here to read the story. (To read a subsequent New York Times update, click here.)

For Seattle, most of the focus has been on the dismissal of a popular vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School, Mark Zmuda. He was fired shortly before Christmas, prompting a student uproar and the collection of more than 20,000 petition signatures online urging the Archdiocese of Seattle to reinstate him.  Presented with those signatures yesterday, an Archdiocese spokesman said that although the school had made its own decision, it was one the Archdiocese supported. “Catholic schools have a right to expect school leaders not only to pass along Catholic teachings but to model it for their students,” the spokesman argued.

I certainly think that the Mark Zmuda firing heads us into new ethical and legal as well as political terrain. We know the Catholic Church doesn’t want to celebrate marriages equally.  But does that mean its institutions should fire people because it disapproves of their legal marital status (even while continuing to employ other folks who violate its norms on birth control, etc.)?    Even if the employees have signed contracts with so-called morality clauses, the selective enforcement of such contract provisions against particular individuals because of their sexual orientation is palpably offensive.

What’s interesting to me to  consider — and an element that the media has not yet followed — is that the mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, is himself a newly married gay man and a devout Catholic who often attends Mass at the St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University, a Jesuit school. Murray went to the chapel to worship on his inauguration day this past week. But a few months ago when he wanted to marry, he and his partner had to go to an Episcopalian Church.

So here we have a situation where the local Catholic Archdiocese wouldn’t hire someone of the quality and experience of the city’s own mayor — and would actually now support firing him if he happened to work at a Catholic institution.

Beyond being senseless, I’d call that a pretty bad way to kick off the relationship with the new mayor — whose help, after all, the Archdiocese might need some day.

I’m fascinated by what might be said at the first meetings between Archbishop Peter Sartain and Mayor Ed Murray.

I’m hopeful that maybe the mayor, as well as  the many business leaders in the Seattle area who know that everyone benefits when diversity is supported, can  persuade the Archdiocese to find a more just approach.

Indeed, maybe Ed Murray and his partner Michael Shiosaki could invite the Archbishop over to dinner sometime… you know, just to break a little bread.

Seattle’s new gay mayor inaugurated

Ed Murray was inaugurated as Seattle’s mayor yesterday, the first LGBT person to claim such a high political post in Washington state.  As a previous state representative and then state senator, Murray has worked for LGBT rights for decades, successfully coordinating the passage of an anti-discrimination law in employment as well as the  passage in 2012 of an equal marriage law. He and his partner Michael Shiosaki, who have been together for 22 years, were just married five months ago.

Ed Murray, left, the new mayor of Seattle and his husband, Michael Shiosaki. Photo from Wikicommons
Ed Murray, left, the new mayor of Seattle and his husband, Michael Shiosaki. Photo from Wikicommons

Ed is a classic example of a social justice advocate who knows how to pragmatically work in the legislative trenches and build coalitions, finding ways to position himself so that others need his help and then coaxing them along to also help LGBT causes.  His early work, under his legislative mentor Cal Anderson, was documented in the closing chapter of the original 2003 version of Gay Seattle; his latest work was detailed in the introduction to the 2013 paperback edition.

In an inaugural day filled with symbolic events — including a breakfast with homeless women and children and a racism workshop with his staff — the one that particularly caught my eye was his decision to attend Mass at the Seattle University chapel. Ed is a Catholic and the SU chapel is often his choice for worship, but as a Catholic institution, SU forbids any same-sex marriages in the chapel. When Ed and Michael married, they had to hold the ceremony in a nearby Episcopal cathedral.

Ed’s decision symbolically echoed one that had been made by Cal Anderson more than two decades earlier in the 1990s. For years, Cal had worked to pass the anti-discrimination bills that Ed would eventually pass. At first, he had the support of the social-justice-minded Seattle archbishop, Raymond Hunthausen.  But when the Vatican cracked down on Hunthausen and eventually replaced him with far more doctrinally minded archbishops, the local Catholic Church withdrew its support for the anti-discrimination bills — to both Cal’s and Ed’s dismay.  But in a startling symbolic statement, when he died of AIDS, Cal — who was not Catholic — requested burial from the Catholic Archdiocese’s cathedral, St. James. What amounted to a state funeral attended by government and religious figures as well as hundreds of citizens made a dramatic statement about the dignity of LGBT individuals in the face of homophobia. (Click for excerpts from “On Catholic Hill” in Gay Seattle)

Attending Mass at SU gives a good indication that Mayor Murray intends to insist upon LGBT inclusion and recognition and dignity — even amid doctrinal rejection.

The pent-up demand for marriage

December 17,2013:  A little more than a year ago, lesbians and gays in Washington state, where I live, began to be able to marry. Now word comes that roughly one out of every six Washington marriages since that time are between men or women of the same sex.  The most recent info from the state Health Department actually only covers ten months from last December until this past September. In  that time 7,071 same-sex couples legally married.

One of the first same-sex couples to be married in Seattle leaves City Hall, wikicommons photo
One of the first same-sex couples to be married in Seattle leaves City Hall, wikicommons photo

Compare that to the 2010 census, in which final estimates were that 19,000 same-sex households existed in Washington state, with about 3,000 of the folks in those households already married (presumably in states where it had already been legalized, or in Canada). The figures on new Washington state marriages means that about half of same-sex couples here have now legally married.

Wow! That was fast.

A health department spokesman told local radio station KPLU that “it’s clear that there was a pent-up demand early on, because in December 2012, the numbers were the largest we’ve seen. People wanted to take advantage of the law, so the minute that they could, they did.” (Click here for the KPLU story.)

Now what does all this portend, as we move from a long-standing cultural imagination that romantic, heterosexual monogamy (enshrined in marriage) now also includes romantic homosexual monogamy (enshrined in marriage).

It’s worth recalling (as I point out in the preface to the new edition of my book Gay Seattle) that in the 1970s, when the lesbian and gay movement began to gather momentum, practically no one was promoting marriage as a goal. The most important gay male writers of that period  — the members of the literary circle that came to be known as the “Violet Quill”–insisted that one of the main undertakings needed to be challenging the conventional social imaginations. In their novels, luminaries such as Andrew Holleran and Edmund White acknowledged the lure of domesticity represented by heterosexual marriages, but then immediately savaged it, arguing that an essential part of the very reason for the gay and lesbian movement was to challenge the privileges of straight marriage. David Bergman, in his book The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture, points out that whatever sense marriage might make for heterosexuals, writers like Holleran and White and many others considered marriage “a formula for disaster in homosexual ones.”

And lest you think that was just the position of supposedly promiscuous gay men, lesbians were also delivering harsh socialist critiques of the way in which marriage represented the values of capitalism and property — and even harsher feminist critiques of the way it supported paternalism. Laurie Morton, a member of Seattle’s Radical Women, declared in a mid-1970s speech, for example, that map-new-key-cc9she had come to understand that “we gays are not persecuted as social outcasts because we are sick, or perverse, or child molesters as our oppressors would have us believe. . . . No, the roots of oppression go much deeper. The truth is that homosexuality challenges the most basic social institution in this system of private property and profit: the unit upon which capitalism is built–the heterosexual monogamous family.”

In Seattle, that attitude was manifested in many ways. When the Gay Community Center opened in 1969 on Capitol Hill, it placed a large sign directly on its porch so it would be visible to every passerby. It showed three of the symbols for “male” with their arrows pointed upwards, and three symbols for female with their crosses pointed downward, all linked together. The number three was important: gays and lesbians would no longer be isolated; henceforth they would have groups they celebrated as families. But they would not couple into twos as heterosexuals had done. Even Faygele benMiriam and Paul Barwick, the two gay men who applied for the first gay marriage license in King County, admitted that they were not a couple in the traditional sense. “In the 1970s, you weren’t couples and lovers,” Barwick would say years later. We were collective. We weren’t a pair. We weren’t partners.” (Click here to read some excerpts from Gay Seattle about ben Miriam and Barwick. )

But here we are. Headed to the altars in record numbers…. and, as I put it in the preface to the new edition of Gay Seattle, waiting to see what happens, particularly amongst young lesbians and gays  as they try to fuse those older visions of queering relationships, of taking pride in not being the norm, of being “wrong,” with a romantic heterosexual legacy.

A return to social justice emphasis for Catholics?

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, may be signaling a return to emphasizing social justice over doctrines — something that had begun to get the Jesuits in trouble with his two predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul.

In September, as the New York Times reported, Pope Francis “sent shock waves” through the church by remarking that the Vatican had grown too “obsessed” with issues like abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He urged an inclusive church, a “home for all,” contrasting sharply with Benedict’s insistence that stricter enforcement of doctrine should produce a smaller, purer Catholicism.

On the other hand, the same month he was issuing his remarks, Pope Francis was also issuing his first excommunication of a priest: that of the Rev. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne for his support of ordaining women and of equal marriage rights.

What impact will the change in tone, if not of actions, have in Seattle. In Gay Seattle, in Chapter 16, I discuss the history of the relationship between the local Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community in the 1970s and 1980s. (You can read excerpts from the menu above.) That history is updated in the introduction to the new paperback.

New paperback edition of “Gay Seattle” nears

atkins_gay_SeattleThe University of Washington Press has decided to re-issue Gay Seattle in both a paperback and digital edition. I’ve written a long, new preface that updates the themes in the original book from its close in 1994 through 2012…. including details on Washington state’s landmark decision to equalize marriage opportunities for all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

So soon you can have Gay Seattle either a lighter-weight or entirely no-weight book!  Stay tuned for more details. The targeted date of release is Spring 2013.

Check out the new cover… much flashier than the old!