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Courageous convictions

Somehow I had missed hearing this story about a priest in Fresno who stood up for what he believed in.

Father Geoffrey Farrow, a Catholic priest of over 20 years service to the Church, defies the instructions of the Bishops and urges his congregation to vote against Proposition 8, the initiative that would take the right to marry away from same-sex couples in the state.

In his homily, Farrow points out that "what most Catholics hear about being gay or lesbian in their parish Church is silence" and goes on to clearly defy the position of his elders, who are urging parishoners to vote for Proposition 8. "I know that thesewords will cost me dearly. But to not to speak them would rob gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights, but of their human dignity as well."

He's also started a blog where he tells his story and gives updates on his situation. You can also find the full text of his homily, which is well worth reading.

One button this story hits is outrage. How dare a high-ranking official in the Catholic church give orders to their priests and their parishioners as to how they should vote in a civil election? This wasn't subtle, either -- according to Fr. Farrow, the bishop sent a fax that said, in so many words, that all Catholic should vote Yes on Proposition 8. Bad enough that they've donated a ton of money to the effort (as has the Mormon church). Isn't electioneering from the pulpit grounds for taking away a religious group's tax exempt status? If nothing else, I hope this election prompts an examination of how many, many churches abuse the system, although not until after November because I'd be afraid to provoke a backlash among the faithful.

Which leads me to this aside: the claim by Prop 8's supporters that churches will lose tax exempt status if they won't perform same-sex marriages. This is a flat-out lie. A church can refuse a religious ceremony to any couple, for any reason; it's a clear case of separation of church and state. No government entity ever forced any church to marry interracial couples, or Orthodox rabbis to marry non-Jews, or the Catholic church to marry non-Catholics or people who've been divorced. Religions are free to draw that line wherever they want. They can even perform marriages outside the law (some liberal churches and denominations have been blessing same-sex unions for decades); the state just won't recognize them. Civil marriage has always been separate from religious marriage, and the legalization of same-sex marriage hasn't changed that, at all. Prop 8 doesn't protect anyone from religious discrimination, and the claims that it will are bald-faced lies.

Of course, there's the other side to this story: the one that gives me faith in people. To see such an act of courage makes me want to cheer, and the words of his many supporters gives me great hope. My heart goes out to Father Geoff, who risked his career and his vocation for his truth.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2008 10:39 am (UTC)
I am sure you have heard of the fundamentalist churches who, on the last Sunday of September, openly defied the ban on political endorsement from the pulpit. Their aim is to test the tax-exemption rule. From another perspective: for many years, the churches of African-American parishioners in the Deep South were centers of political activity leading to the civil rights revolution. I am eager to see where and how these recent incidents are handled. There is food here for a herd of lawyers for decades.
Oct. 13th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: A
I hadn't heard about that, actually, and I'm a little surprised, given how much electioneering that such churches have gotten away with over the years. How much further can the envelope be pushed?

The comparison you raise with the civil rights movement is an interesting one. I do see a big difference between religious leaders who speak out about social issues that are important to them, and those who get up into the pulpit and say "God wants you to vote this way." But I don't know whether the law will see such a distinction.
Oct. 13th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
GOOD FOR HIM. *cheers*

The boy and I were talking about this the other night, and we basically came to the conclusion that the word "marriage" should be banned entirely from legal and legislative use, with "civil union" substituted for any combination of gender. What a church wants to call it is that church's business.
Oct. 13th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
I think that would be a neat solution. Five years ago I would say that it'll never happen -- people seem awfully invested in the word "marriage" -- but given that federally-recognized civil unions are a significant part of the Obama/Biden platform, we may indeed see a move in this direction, especially if (god forbid) Proposition 8 passes.
Oct. 13th, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC)
My friend Jerry has a really fascinating discussion on the matter, the short version of which is that it's not about rights, it's about responsibilities. Denying legalized unions to gay people is telling them that they are not ready for the RESPONSIBILITIES of marriage - just like, 100 years ago, women were not ready for the responsibilities of voting.

It's a very cool alternate take, and one that I'm totally down with.
Oct. 13th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
Ooh, thanks for that. Very thought-provoking and well written.
Oct. 13th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
He has done a lot of commentary on the matter of gay marriage, if you look back through his posts. Really fascinating.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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