Thursday 22 March 2012

Pastoral letter from an average lesbian to the leaders of the Catholic church

Matron initially wrote the text below as a comment on one of the many blogposts by faithful Catholics that are currently promoting the "pastoral letter" written by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith on ‘gay marriage'.

As Matron has already said many a time in various fora, she is no great fan of gay marriage herself because she is no great fan of marriage. As an indoctrinated 80s feminist who grew up on a steady diet of philosophical and legal critique of the institution, she has never quite managed to overcome her resistance to a concept whose sole purpose it seems to be to privilege one way of arranging one's life over another. To her, marriage itself already always seemed to be the epitome of something that creates inequality in a society and she still wonders if gay people who want to be part of it might not maybe be selling those of us who don't down the river to some extent.

For this reason gay marriage is something that Matron has consistently refused to campaign on all her gay, adult life, preferring instead to argue for a society and a legal system where people's life choices in all their rainbow coloured variety are recognised and protected by law. She stands by that even in the face of pressure from her own community because, quite frankly, it seems a bit silly to be for something just because the Catholic church is against it.

However, it cannot be denied that:

(a) there is of course a ludicrous element of inequality in the denial of marriage to one part of society solely on the basis of the gender of the person they love,

(b) the conflation of romantic notions of love, societal objectives, religious dogma, and the law has created a myriad of messy beliefs and understandings of what marriage is and should be about, and

(c) - as the Catholic church has done - the throwing into this unholy mess of argument the imperative of marriage being solely there to enable procreation and the raising of children adds a level of irrationality and - lets face it - entertainment value to the debate that deserves its entirely separate blog post, seeing as it also seems to deny the right to marry to those straight couples who cannot have children or who definitely and freely decide not to have them.

Much has been said and argued on that latter part in particular and many examples have been cited for loving gay relationships where children are nourished, loved and cared for, versus incapable single mothers, despicable rogues of fathers, broken homes and, not least, the Catholic church's abysmal reaction to the fact of child abuse by members of its own ranks. Indeed, Matron, like almost everyone of her ilk, now has gay and lesbian friends who raise children, including a lesbian couple who is providing that loving home for a group of three siblings given up for adoption by social services after suffering physical and psychological abuse at the hands of their heterosexual parents.

But equally, Matron knows of gay and lesbian relationship breakdowns, with or without children, where the partners had to deal with exactly the same social, emotional and legal issues as their straight counterparts. The bottom line is that we are no better and no worse at this relationship and raising children thing than straights have been for millennia. Nor should we be expected to be and Matron does not believe that a "holier than though" attitude is going to help anyone even one iota.

But what she does believe is that the discourse that is currently being had openly on the letters pages of our national newspapers, blogs and social networks is deeply offensive and hurtful, showing as it does to those of us who might just have thought that this society is changing for the better and might be becoming more tolerant, what a morass of hate and prejudice still lurks beneath the surface. To this extent it is not only damaging to individuals' mental health and self esteem but it is damaging to the very fabric of our society.

And for a church that professes to have as its major tenet the commandment to "love thy neighbour" there is remarkably little of that love shown to any neighbour who doesn't play by its own restrictive, narrow-minded and, yes, openly discriminatory rules. So even if Matron could bring herself to have faith in some spiritual superior being for whose existence there is not a shred of scientific evidence, she would never be able to believe in a god this spiteful and a church this hellbent (pardon the pun) on the exclusion and damnation of significant parts of his creation. That sort of god is not a loving god, no matter what his minions preach from their pulpits of a Sunday morning.

"Sticks and stones", one could of course argue and, on the plus side, Matron has also received many messages of support from straight friends, family and acquaintences that make it clear that things are not all bad. But the sticks and stones argument never really works very well for those of us with thinner skins and for Matron this week there was the added complication that she was actually required to attend a full Catholic mass at a time when the only reason why she would ever want to go near a Catholic church would be to picket it.

So here is the comment that she posted on that other blog in which she describes just how that made her feel. It's a bit more private and personal that her usual ramblings and she will no doubt regret posting it later, but for the time being she thinks that there isn't enough out there yet about this aspect of the whole debate:

"Yesterday, I was glad enough to be there for my lesbian partner when we attended the catholic funeral mass for her grandmother, a woman who, aged 85 at the time, welcomed me into her heart and her family 17 years ago when my girlfriend and I first started going out. Walking behind the coffin into the church together with the rest of the family we had to go past a table with a neat pile of your “pastoral letters” and, next to it, a petition on the matter, signed no doubt by many of the parishioners who were sitting in the pews waiting for us to pass.

It made it clear to me once more that although everyone in my partner’s family treats me as a fully signed up member of their clan, the same way in fact, as they treat the spouses of my partner’s siblings, the church they belong to continues to see me as a second class citizen regardless of how much time, love and committment I share with their daughter, how much I get involved in their gatherings, the care for their children and their elderly. Whatever I do and however much love I show towards my partner and those she holds dear, in the eyes of their church I will never be good enough.

I am not sure, if any of those who are promoting this letter have the capacity to understand how much hurt and offence you are causing to those of us who, although we may not be religious, try to live a life in which we do the right things, love those dear to us without constraints and in return only want to get shown the same love and respect for these efforts as everybody else.

Whatever you think about marriage and the rationale for it, the public discourse church leaders are currently creating, the comparisons they are making between what, in my and most other cases, are supportive, loving and committed relationships between two (not three, four or five) people and things like bestiality and legalising slavery etc. are homophobic and show none of the love towards your fellow creature that your own church’s founder commands.

Given everything I read in the papers in recent weeks, it took all I’ve got for me to decide to even go near a Catholic church yesterday. I did it because the woman I love needed my support and because I know the woman we were burying would have wanted me to be there. Which part of that love that we share is so lacking in the necessary quality that it doesn’t make the grade in your book? If an 85 year old Irish catholic woman could accept my relationship with her granddaughter, why can’t her church?"

[Update: on the other blog, a nice Christian gentleman has now replied to my comment to tell me that my relationship "ontologically damages me". But fear not, Jesus loves all the gays and only has their happiness at heart. And according to an article to which I was kindly directed, it is my lifestyle itself, and not the discriminatory treatment by society, that makes me miserable because

"[t]he ultimate misery of homosexuality is, in fact, what every longitudinal study reveals. An active homosexual life most often results in shortened life span, prevalence of disease, drug and alcohol abuse, and relationships that are brief and emotionally hurtful, with little hope of fidelity, and a high occurrence of violent abuse. The chances of a person committing suicide are also greatly increased."

There's clearly no way of responding to this "Through the looking glass" logic" without making oneself even more miserable, so we shall leave it here.]

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