Silent or supportive, U.S. conservatives give gay marriage momentum

By Peter Henderson

On a frosty December night last year, about two dozen guests slipped into the Alta Club, a century-old private retreat a block away from the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that dominates Salt Lake City.

Two men, who didn’t know each other, were the reason for the dinner: church lobbyist Bill Evans and gay rights leader Rick Jacobs. Evans was a point man for the church’s successful effort to pass California’s gay marriage ban, known as Prop 8, in 2008. Jacobs, leader of Courage Campaign, produced a 2008 commercial against the ban showing Mormon missionaries ransacking the home of a lesbian couple.

silent supportPolitics was not on the agenda – just getting to know each other. “The two hit it off,” said host Greg Prince, a medical researcher and church member who had come to know both men. He noted that less than a month before the dinner, the church had launched a website with a major change in its view of gays: the site said homosexuality was not a choice.

“There has been a shift of some tectonic plate somewhere,” Prince said.

Shifting attitudes among some conservatives and many businesses is altering the landscape around gay marriage, long considered a uniquely liberal and political issue, at one of its most crucial junctures – its review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the court’s nine justices will hear arguments on the constitutionality of Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes gay couples from federal benefits.

Some jurists look to societal changes when interpreting the law, and scholars speculate that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the possible swing vote in the divided court, will be pondering increased public support for gay marriage.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found 63 percent of Americans supported gay marriage or civil unions.

While the Mormon Church has backed “traditional marriage” in Supreme Court briefs, it has been silent in recent ballot battles and has not promoted fundraising as it has in the past.

Republicans like Senator Rob Portman of Ohio are supporting gay marriage and publicly conflicting with party leaders, such as House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. Portman this month said he had switched position on the issue after his son told him he was gay.

Corporations, including Goldman Sachs, whose chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, has campaigned in support of gay marriage, have joined the battle, arguing in briefs to the court that federal policy of not allowing gay marriage is bad for business.

The issue is far from settled, however. Gay marriage opponents have been written off as dinosaurs before, including in California, and most states ban same-sex weddings. But the momentum has been moving towards the proponents of gay marriage.


Money has played a huge part in the pivot, both in terms of the financing of campaigns in favor of gay marriage and the funding of opposition groups.

When the New York State Senate voted to approve gay marriage in 2011, four Republicans joined Democrats. Republicans led by hedge fund manager Paul Singer, whose son is gay, gave the four financial and moral support, and in the 2012 national race, Singer led a political action committee that spent more than $2 million to help pro-gay marriage Republicans.

“You have billionaires telling Republicans ‘Vote our way and you’ll receive more money than you’ve ever seen,'” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, the leader of the movement to stop gay marriage. “That was new.”

Pro-gay marriage groups have routed their opponents financially, outraising them three-to-one in November 2012 ballot races that legalized same-sex marriage in three more states, bringing the total to nine states and the District of Columbia.

The single biggest fundraising change between 2008 and 2012 was the disappearance from the political arena of the mightiest foe of gay marriage – the Mormon Church.

While the church has petitioned the Supreme Court in favor of Prop 8, it has focused its public messages about gays on personal issues of respect and love rather than politics.

In the four November 2012 votes – Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota – the top ballot committees raised about $30 million for gay marriage and $10 million against it. The $20 million difference between the two campaigns last year is close to several estimates of what the Mormon Church and its supporters gave to California’s Prop 8 in 2008.

More than 800 Utahns gave $2.7 million to support Prop 8 in 2008, state campaign finance records show. In 2012, a total of 16 Utahns gave $1,264 to the main ballot committees against gay marriage.

“The Mormon Church left as a major funder,” concluded Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the biggest gay rights group.

Frank Schubert, who ran the 2008 and 2012 anti-gay-marriage campaigns, downplayed the Church hierarchy’s silence last year. “Not having a direct statement encouraging people to get involved in the campaign naturally would result in fewer people getting involved in the campaigns, but there were fewer Mormons in these states to begin with, and there was never any expectation that they would be involved.”

California Mormon Brooke Crosland, 27, gave $1,000 in 2008 for Prop 8 and made campaign phone calls, but she stayed out of politics in 2012. She described a personal search for understanding, which she saw reflected in the church. “I feel like the ideal for a child is a father and a mother, but I also feel under the law we should have equal rights,” she said.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose portrait of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk won an Academy Award, was approached for informal talks by Mormon officials after he narrated a documentary critical of the church called “8: The Mormon Proposition.” Church officials were surprised to learn that he, a young, gay man, deeply wanted a family. “That was this big ‘ah ha’ moment,” he said.

But Black said the initial invitation came only after the church was pilloried in public. “They didn’t contact me after making ‘Milk’. They contacted me after making ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’,” said Black, who was raised a Mormon. He since has introduced HRC leader Griffin to church officials, at the December dinner and a concert following, while continuing talks.

Church spokesman Michael Purdy said its hospitality did not signal a change in position. “Being committed to marriage between a man and a woman does not mean that we do not love and care for all of God’s children. Having conversations with gay rights leaders, speaking about compassion and respect for all, and inviting people to attend a concert do not equal pulling back from supporting traditional marriage due to negative publicity during Prop 8,” he wrote by email.

Meanwhile, gay marriage fans and foes agree that same-sex-union proponents have improved their fundraising. Ted Olson, President George W. Bush’s Solicitor General, made it ok for conservatives to support gay marriage when he agreed to take the Prop 8 case, said Margaret Hoover, a pro-gay-marriage Republican activist.

When former Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman in 2010 came out as gay, it was critical mass. “Nightingales don’t sing unless they hear another nightingale singing. As soon they hear one, another one sings, and another one sings,” said Hoover.

Dozens of Republican leaders, including former California candidate for governor Meg Whitman and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, have signed a brief to the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage.

Some 278 businesses, including Goldman Sachs and hotelier Marriott International, whose chairman and major stockholder is Mormon, have signed a similar brief opposing the Defense of Marriage Act. (Thomson Reuters, the parent of Reuters News, is part of that group.)


The person credited by all sides with cementing the victory in California for the gay marriage ban was a little schoolgirl who told her mother she had just been taught, “I can marry a princess!” The girl was in a commercial for Prop 8, and for years Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, has been asked whether he could beat the “Princess” ad.

Wolfson, a fundraising and strategy leader for most recent ballot campaigns in favor of gay marriage, said the answer was chiefly to change his own side’s message, rather than chase the opposition. The pro-gay-marriage campaign, which in 2008 had largely focused on appealing to voters to give gays rights because it said they deserved them, took a more personal tone, he said, of affirming the idea of equal rights and respecting loving couples.

That strategy had some unexpected converts.

David Blankenhorn, founder of the family-focused Institute for American Values think tank, was the prime witness in 2010 in the opening round of the federal trial of Prop. 8. Blankenhorn struck up unlikely friendships with gays while debating the issue in public, and he was sitting at his desk one day last year, when one called and told him to go to a website with a strident, anti-gay article.

“He said, ‘Are you sure that this is the side you are on?'” Blankenhorn recalled. He put down the phone, and in that moment realized he had already changed his mind.

“I have a kind of intellectual reason for shifting from one foot to the other foot,” he said “But I really, honestly think that it was through just personal interactions… if you want to stick with your position, don’t get to know people who disagree with you.”

Gay marriage foe Brown says he is not worried by polls that show gay marriage support snowballing. It’s all about how you ask the question, he said, and a majority of voters do not want to redefine marriage. His side has always been behind in the money battle, he added, but has had some banner successes.

Politicians can see the danger of switching sides, he said. Of the four New York State Senate Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage, only one returned to office, despite financial backing from sources as diverse as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) union, Wall Street Republicans, and libertarian David Koch.

Back in California, Rick Jacobs, the Courage Campaign chief, thinks Prop 8 was the best thing that ever happened to his movement. People sat up and started paying attention when liberal California overturned its own state Supreme Court and took away the right to marry, he said, and the court fight has kept the issue alive.

“It not only galvanized a lot of people who didn’t really care about it before that – gay people – but it also galvanized straight people,” he said. “People said, ‘wait a minute, we don’t like voting on people’s rights.'”

The night in Salt Lake City left little doubt things had changed since 2008. After the dinner, the gay rights leaders all headed over to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas spectacular. It was the hottest ticket in town and, as guests of the church, they had VIP seats.

Complete Article HERE!


Hushed up: cash probe into priest who made sex complaint against Keith O’Brien

A priest at the centre of the scandal that forced the leader of Scotland’s Catholics to stand down was forced to leave his parish following an investigation into church finances.

By Gerry Braiden

The man is the cleric who has complained to the Vatican he was sexually assaulted by Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Rome on the night he was made cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

O'BrianThat complaint was made in September 2012. Now it has emerged that, in 2011 the priest, currently on leave of absence from the church, was found to have overspent parish funds by a six-figure sum.

He resigned within hours of the appointment of Hugh Gilbert as Bishop of Aberdeen in August 2011 and several days later was told to leave his presbytery.

As parish priest, sources insist he had a legal right to many church items he is alleged to have taken on his departure.

One source said: “I wouldn’t say the money was trousered. There was clearly money not there. A lot of money. Six figures. But it was found to have been overspent.

“When he left the place was stripped. It was church items. But in the eyes of the law, as the priest, these were his possessions so it was never reported to the police.

“Bishop Moran [the previous Bishop of Aberdeen] didn’t want to deal with this. Bishop Hugh Gilbert did. He loves this man like a son but he told him to leave the parish.

“There was no willingness to make any of this public because of the damage to the church.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “The priest concerned is a priest of the diocese of Aberdeen currently on a leave of absence.”

Among the items left behind were printouts of online conversations he had with a youth who claimed to have been abused by a priest in Northern Ireland.

The printouts were given to police in Northern Ireland but they decided not to act against the Belfast-based priest.

It has also emerged the priest who complained about Cardinal O’Brien is a long-standing and close friend of a senior figure in the Catholic Church in Scotland and was on holiday with him on the continent months before being told to leave.

The senior church official has been insisting he has had no part in any campaign to bring down Cardinal O’Brien.

Earlier this week, The Herald reported that one of those who has accused Cardinal O’Brien had been in a long-standing physical relationship with him.

The man is still a priest and is currently a chaplain on the continent. Two of the others are still serving priests in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. All their identities are known to The Herald.

It has also emerged two of the complainants were very close friends of a priest in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh who committed suicide a decade ago, having attended Blairs College and Drygrange seminary with him.

He was found hanged in his presbytery by Cardinal O’Brien, a week before he was due to go on holiday with one of the complainers.

Cardinal O’Brien, 75, was due to help choose the new pope before he admitted his sexual conduct had “fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”. He apologised and said he was retiring from public life.

Complete Article HERE!


Cardinal was in physical relationship with accuser

Cardinal Keith O’Brien had a long-standing physical relationship with one of the men whose complaints about his behaviour sparked his downfall as leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

The man left the priesthood in the middle of the last decade but rejoined and is living on the continent in a post the cardinal helped him secure.

Cardinal-O-Brien-and-Pope-Benedict-XVIThe complainant is known to have been in regular telephone contact with Cardinal O’Brien until recently and was a frequent visitor to St Benets, his official residence in Edinburgh’s Morningside.

It is understood the cardinal confessed to the relationship after it was recently revealed there had been several complaints to the Vatican about his sexual behaviour towards priests in the 1980s. It is thought to be part of his reference to his sexual conduct as “a priest, a bishop and a cardinal”.

It also emerged the dramatic downfall of Britain’s leading Catholic cleric was spurred by gay priests angry at his rhetoric and hypocrisy about same-sex marriages.

All those who complained about Cardinal O’Brien and alleged they had been abused by him were known to him for decades. At least two are known to have been in same-sex relationships and had become exasperated at double standards in his statements about gay marriage.

In the six months building up to him being forced to stand down last month, the cardinal had been under some pressure from priests to tone down the rhetoric.

However, his statements, such as describing homosexuality as a “moral degradation”, were a tipping point for those previously close to him.

The first complainant alleged an assault in the Vatican on the day Cardinal O’Brien was made a cardinal. He is living outside Scotland, having taken temporary leave from the church. He was given leave of absence from the Diocese of Aberdeen and is understood to be in a relationship with an Anglican churchman.

This complaint, made in September 2012 and known among some members of the Catholic clergy in Scotland beforehand and immediately afterwards, led to the four others lodging their own complaints with the Vatican.

The man was due to speak to The Herald but is understood to have taken advice not to do so by his bishop.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “The priest concerned is a priest of the diocese of Aberdeen currently on a leave of absence from parish ministry.”

One senior church figure said that while some fundamentalist Catholic groups had previously linked the priest with Cardinal O’Brien “there were many questions that others were asking about the relationship”.

Another source said: “These guys, we now know, were part of an inner circle. In the 30 years since these allegations took place there’s been ample time to complain. The Cardinal has had a huge profile for the past decade. But the door wasn’t just shut on them, it was bolted in the past 18 months.

“I believe they wanted to silence O’Brien – as he’s about to do another conclave, and make a huge deal of it. As he’s retiring, a decision’s been taken to go public and take him down.”

Another said: “If you’re asking me to describe what this is about in one word, it’s revenge. I’ve no doubt the allegations did take place in the 1980s but they’ve come out to – destroy O’Brien.”

One clerical source said: “I can’t answer for those who have complained and it could well be that their reaction [to the anti-gay rhetoric] was at the heart of this. I thought his words were very harsh and I’m not alone in that. There certainly were those who were close to the Cardinal, an inner circle.

“One particular priest was a very close friend of the Cardinal. It seemed to some to be a very unusual friendship.”

A Catholic Church spokesman said: “Some clergy were not in favour of Church efforts to persuade the Scottish Government against same-sex marriage.

“It is also the case that objections were raised to Cardinal O’Brien’s robust rhetoric.

“A number of complaints about Cardinal O’Brien were passed directly to the Vatican. Whether they were precipitated by his comments on homosexuality is not known, since the detail and nature of the complaints were not shared with the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.”

Complete Article HERE!


Theology Has Consequences: What Policies Will Pope Francis Champion?

By Mary E. Hunt

Now that the smoke has cleared from St. Peter’s Square, the future of the Roman Catholic Church is on the minds of many. Catholics are eternally hopeful, so the news of the papal election of an Argentine Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a man of simple personal ways, engendered a certain enthusiasm.

My first official act in the new pontificate was to call a wise octogenarian friend in Buenos Aires, my favorite city in the world, to join in that country’s pride and get an initial assessment of the man. Her reaction was what I would have expected from a Catholic in Boston if Cardinal Bernard Law had been elected. Her one word that stood out was “scary.”

Francis smilingProgressive Catholics had low expectations of the conclave since only what went in would come out, only hand-picked conservative, toe-the-party-line types were electors. Moreover, the process was flawed on the face of it by the lack of women, young people, and lay people. It was flawed by a dearth of democracy. Not even the seagull that sat on the chimney awaiting the decision was enough to persuade that the Holy Spirit was really in charge.

Structural changes in the kyriarchal model of church are needed so that many voices can be heard and many people can participate in decision-making in base communities, parishes, regions, and indeed in global conversations among the more than one billion Catholics. Short of this, no amount of cleaning up the curia or leading by personal asceticism, which are both expected of Pope Francis, will suffice for more than cosmetic changes. Leaving aside the ermine-lined cloak that his predecessor favored is symbolically notable but not institution changing.

The papal selection process, long thought to be secret, is now quite transparent. Once the white smoke rose, but before the name was announced, the Italian Bishops’ Conference tipped off the world in their email of congratulations to Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. Oops! He was not elected pope, even though he was widely considered the choice of the Pope Emeritus and those who want the curia reformed. Instead, the second highest vote getter at the previous conclave (2005) that picked Benedict XVI was chosen this time. Cardinal Bergoglio was apparently more acceptable to left, right, and center of a very conservative group of electors.

Geography is destiny. A cursory look at the Roman Catholic Church worldwide shows more than 400 million Catholics in Latin America, 125 million each in Asia and Africa, 265 million in Europe, 100 million in North America, and 8 million in Oceana. A Latin American pope is a good business decision, consistent with what an economist suggested as part of a wholesale makeover of the institution. The European Catholic Church has simply lost market share (from 65 percent a century ago to 24 percent now). The Global South is the church’s future. So a Latin American pope is a logical choice. But let the record show that this one comes from a country where Mass attendance numbers are more like France today than Italy of old. Argentina is an increasingly secular democracy where Cardinal Bergoglio grew used to being on the losing side of social change efforts, including divorce and same-sex marriage, which are now legal there. Argentina is Argentina.

After completing a doctoral dissertation in which I compared Latin American liberation theology and U.S. feminist theology, I spent 1980-81 as a visiting professor at ISEDET, the ecumenical Protestant seminary in Buenos Aires. I volunteered at Servicio Paz y Justicia led by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, where I got an education about social justice. The “Dirty War” was raging. Religious people were working feverishly to find thousands of people who had been “disappeared” and prevent others from suffering the same fate. Many Catholic priests perished; Jews suffered disproportionately to their numbers in the population.

Our faculty, some members of the Lutheran school, and those of Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano led brilliantly by Conservative Rabbi Marshall Myer (to whom Jacobo Timmerman dedicated his stirring book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number) met monthly for lunch and discussion of how we could be useful in a difficult situation. I do not recall any Jesuits in attendance. Plans to host a weekend meeting at our school focused on human rights and youth resulted in the firebombing of the ISEDET library in November 1980 with the loss of 2,000 books. I learned close up and personal that theology has consequences.

The controversy over then Cardinal Bergoglio’s role in the kidnapping of two Jesuits during this period is instructive. As a Jesuit leader, Padre Jorge, as he liked to be known informally, opposed liberation theology and the ecclesial model of base communities that was consistent with it. In my view, he opposed the most creative, politically-useful, scripturally-sound way of thinking about how people who were made poor by the avarice of others could change their context and bring about justice.

Instead of putting the public weight of the Jesuit order behind the efforts of some of his brothers in slums and shantytowns (and the women who were involved in both theological and pastoral work from this perspective), he ordered Jesuits to stick with parish assignments. The two priests in question chose to cast their lot with the poor instead of obey the dictates of the order.

Did the Jesuit superior-now-Pope Francis call the military dictators and agree to their kidnapping? No one is accusing him of this. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a human rights champion and Nobel Peace Laureate (1980) knew the scene so I trust his word. He says that the now pope was not involved with the military. There were bishops who played tennis with the generals, but Bergoglio was not one of them. In fact, Padre Jorge is alleged to have intervened with military leaders for the release of the two Jesuits. But this is small comfort.

The larger conservative theological program—which was in public opposition to the best efforts of church people to bring about justice by living out liberation theology principles—helped to create the dangerous situation in the first place. To apologize thirty years later and say the institutional church did not do enough does not bring back the disappeared. Theology has consequences. Moral do-overs are few and far between.

The hierarchical church’s behavior was to Argentina what the sex abuse cases and episcopal cover-up have been for U.S. Catholics, namely the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am haunted by a picture of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, mothers of the disappeared, who went to the church center where the bishops were on retreat to clamor for their help in finding their children. The picture shows a line of police between the mothers and the bishops, the mothers on one side of the fence and the bishops on the other. The institutional church in Argentina has never recovered its credibility. To the contrary, it is further eroded by similar instances of being on the wrong side of the history of justice.

The election of a doctrinally conservative pope, even one with the winning simplicity of his namesake, is especially dangerous in today’s media-saturated world where image too often trumps substance. It is easy to rejoice in the lack of gross glitter that has come to characterize the institutional church while being distracted from how theological positions deepen and entrench social injustice. A kinder, gentler pope who puts the weight of the Roman Catholic hierarchal church behind efforts to prevent divorce, abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage—as Mr. Bergoglio did in his country—is, as my Argentine colleague observed, scary. While he may clean up some of the bureaucratic mess in the curia, he shows no evidence from his Argentina actions that he will be any more responsive than his predecessor to changing policies and structures that oppress the world’s poor, the majority of whom are women and children.

There is something perverse about opposing condom use and then washing the feet of people with HIV/AIDS. There is something suspect about opposing reproductive health care for women who may not want to get pregnant and then generously insisting on the legal baptism of children whose parents are not married. There is something dubious about calling the hierarchical church to a simpler way of being and ignoring the many women whose ministerial service would enhance its output. The Spanish expression that comes to mind is “what you give with the wrist, you erase with the elbow.” This seems to be the Jesuitical pattern of the new pope.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people kill themselves because Catholic hierarchs tell them that their sexuality is “intrinsically morally disordered.” Women die from unsafe, illegal abortions because the Catholic hierarchy spends millions of dollars opposing legislation that would make their choices safer. Survivors of sexual abuse by clergy live tortured lives because the cleric-centric structures of the church favor their abusers. While a few nuns famously ride the bus, the Vatican’s current crackdown on women religious makes most of them feel as if they have been thrown under the bus. Theology does indeed have consequences.

It is early to opine about the pontificate of Pope Francis. Catholics, including this one, are a hopeful lot. Five thousand journalists in Rome for the conclave should have asked more critical questions. My observation is that the recent papal election only serves to reinforce and reinscribe the Vatican’s power. In the absence of a religious counter-narrative, at a time when progressive Catholic voices are all but silenced, the papal theatrics—complete with an appealing hero triumphing in the end—keep the focus on the personal and spiritual, off the political and theological. It is time to reverse that pattern before any more people disappear.

Complete Article HERE!