Why many Catholics vote ‘Yes’ for marriage equality

Peter Maher, Sydney priest, explains why about 66% of Catholics support marriage equality.


About 66% of Catholics voted ‘yes’ in recent polling regarding a change in the civil Marriage Act to include all Australians as equals. This is a marked difference to the official Catholic party line as spoken by most bishops. Why has this happened?
Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry produced a fact sheet noting that Catholics might consider making a decision in conscience based on the gospel and catholic social teaching principles of inclusion and non-discrimination. They went on to make the point that changes in civil marriage need not have any impact on the church’s teaching on Sacramental marriage and that the survey was not about religious freedom which must be fought wherever it is at stake and when it is threatened. It is not threatened as we see in the current Marriage Act where religious groups are protected against any pressure to marry anyone that does not meet Catholic laws. This would remain if the Act were changed to include all Australians. Just as now, the Catholic church marries people according to Catholic rites. This is already enshrined in the Marriage Act.
In his letter, Archbishop Hart articulated the many Catholic and human rights principles on which Catholics should make a decision on the survey. He suggested we all should take part as citizens and we have a responsibility to be informed by teachings and principles such as “to act and speak out for the common good especially for the poorest and suffering among us. …to cherish the dignity of the human person and support all in need: especially families, our indigenous brothers and sisters, migrants, refugees and all who need the compassion and mercy of Christ” and that “we make [the decision] in good faith according to the demands of our consciences.”
It is precisely these principles that will lead so many Catholics to choose to vote yes. They have come to the conclusion that they must support their LGBTI sisters and brothers in natural justice to be treated equally under the laws of this country.
What is holding back the official line on this topic? The history of homophobia and transphobia in the way the Catholic Church teaches and acts must surely be a factor. The Catholic leadership, at least in its pronouncements, is still unaware of the historical pain and trauma deeply felt by LGBTI people as they struggle to maintain their deeply held Catholic faith living by the very values Archbishop Hart enunciated. They simply cannot understand what, to them, is utter hypocrisy. The church calls for inclusion, non-discrimination and justice for all but on this issue maintains a stance of exclusion and hurtful rejection.
It seems we have not listened to the pain and exclusion in the stories of LGBTI Catholics. It is like the admonition of Jesus to the disciples – you have blocked your ears for fear you might hear and understand, and therefore be converted.
In my work with LGBT Catholics, I see and hear a tale of painful exclusion and rejection, a legacy of historical victimising and a failure of the church to recognise mistakes in its articulation of teaching where outdated philosophy has inflicted deep damage to the psychological and spiritual health of LGBTI Catholics – especially those who have chosen to stay faithful to their baptism. They are unable to accept that they and their partners are ‘seriously disordered’ or ‘intrinsically evil’ because it is precisely in their loving partners, families, friends and allies they experience the very God of love that keeps them holding on for dear life to their Catholic roots. While the vast majority of their LGBTI siblings have long since abandoned a faith they experience as cruel, those LGBTI Catholics who maintain their faith feel rejected and even victimised by the church they love, while being considered mad by their LGBTI siblings for staying Catholic.
What must change? In a word – it is language and relationship. We can no longer remain silent on the harm done by the way we teach on this issue. We can’t maintain our social justice principles in the light of the shocking pain inflicted on LGBTI Catholics. We have the Catholic principle of conscience and social teaching to support LGBTI Catholics in pastoral care and inclusion as members of the church. We must stop referring to them as clients in need of care based on their sexual orientation. Do we realize how hurtful that is? But if we considered what it would sound like if we assumed all heterosexual people needed ‘help in their struggle’ based on their heterosexuality we might just glimpse the hypocrisy and stupidity of it.
Then we add insult to injury by spending millions on telling LGBTI Catholics, we oppose them and their loving relationships. We doubly victimise them by making them seem responsible for the church’s loss of its freedom in a false scare campaign. That is hard for LGBTI Catholics to bear.
These are just some of the reasons why many Catholics will vote yes in the postal vote. Things must change and it starts with breaking the silence and supporting a hurting section of our Catholic community. I have seen and heard the tears in the conversations with LGBTI Catholics over recent months. For Jesus’ sake, let’s reach out and say ‘you are not alone – I support you – I’m in your corner’.This is pastoral care language and it is needed now for our hurting LGBTI sisters and brothers.