The Vatican more liberal than the US bishops on same-sex marriage?

The Vatican’s top official on family life endorsed legal protections for same-sex couples in his first public press conference in the Vatican earlier this week. Reporting on the first Vaitican press conference by the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Religion News Service wrote:

Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of “cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,” and that their number is growing. Paglia suggested that nations could find “private law solutions” to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, “to prevent injustice and make their life easier.”

He also said he would “like the church to fight against” sodomy laws in the nations where they’re still in effect.

Paglia, of course, reiterated a firm opposition to recognizing same-sex marriages, saying, “The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman.”

But if his statements truly reflect the church’s official position, then the Holy See now seems to be to the left of its bishops in many countries—including the United States.

Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly sent a missive to the White House threatening to help block an immigration reform package if it would smooth the immigration path for same-sex partners of American citizens.

The USCCB would not make the letter public, but the bishops’ spokesperson, Sister Mary Anne Walsh, told the Associated Press that inclusion of these provisions—which have been endorsed by the White House—could “jeopardizes passage of the bill.” This threat is shocking because immigration reform has been a major priority for the U.S. church, and one of the few big issues in which it has seen eye-to-eye with the Democratic Party.

The immigration reform package recently unveiled by President Barack Obama proposes treating “same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

The Chilean Church has also staked out a position to the right of this new line from the Vatican in its fight against President Sebastián Piñera’s proposal to provide some protections to same-sex couples, called “Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja.” This translates more or less to a Life Partnership Agreement, and it would be a civil contract that mostly protects the property rights of same-sex couples.

During a hearing last month in the Chilean senate, Bishop Juan Ignacio González testified that even this level of protection would lead to “the destruction of human beings and …. destruction to social and family peace among men.”

Similarly, Catholic hierarchy helped kill a Costa Rican civil union law late last year, pronouncing that recognition of same-sex couples “distorts the perception of fundamental moral values and undermines the institution of marriage.”

Of course, it’s an open question whether Paglia actually is voicing church policy or whether the church intends to follow his words with actions. His call to decriminalize sodomy seems especially contradictory given that the pope gave a special blessing in December to the member of parliament from Uganda who is pushing the “Kill the Gays” bill.

We have seen some softening of the hard-line against protections for same-sex couples in countries where the church is losing the fight over same-sex marriage. In Uruguay, for example, where the Congress is expected to pass an “Equal Marriage Law” this spring, the country’s top bishop has endorsed civil unions, hoping to head off full marriage rights.

The Vatican may be similarly moderating its line as it sees how quickly it is losing the marriage debate on its home continent. It will be interesting to see how long bishops in other places where the same-sex marriage movement is gaining ground—including the United States—will hold onto their hardline position.

The Argentine Catholic Church responds

After Argentina’s top bishop ran away from me, he sent in Nicolás Lafferriere to speak for him. Lafferriere is a member of the Conferencia Episcopal Argentina’s Life team and directs the church-sponsored Center for Bioethics, Personhood, and Family.

I asked him whether the fact that the gay marriage law’s passage in Argentina–and that it had a good deal of popular support nationwide–meant for the church in this overwhelmingly Catholic country. Did this reflect a loss of power or moral authority for the church?

“I don’t think it’s only an equation of power,” he said. It is, he explained, about faith and salvation, not about politics.

The church knows that its message isn’t purely about morality…. The church’s goal isn’t that you live morally well. The object of the church is that you love Jesus Christ and you know salvation… So, in a sense, it’s a problem shared in the world and the Argentine church is no exception. Continue reading

LGBT Movement stalls in Mexico?

After legalizing same-sex marriage in two states and winning nationwide recognition for these unions through the court, it sounds the Mexican gay rights movement has lost unity and direction.

That was the message from Antonio Medina in a conversation I had with him last night. Medina is a Mexico City-based activist and journalist who helps run Letra S, a monthly supplement to the newspaper La Jornada covering sexuality and HIV issues.

But perhaps the bigger news from this interview is that I can, in fact, do a telephone interview in Spanish. (At least that was what I was most excited about when I got off Skype at 9:30 last night, exhausted but sure that I really did understand everything Medina said.) I’ve done reporting before in Mexico, but doing it on the phone–and not having been in a Spanish-speaking country for more than two years–I wasn’t entirely sure I could pull it off and I was more than a little nervous about the fact that we’re leaving for South America in just about two months.

Medina and his partner, an economist named Jorge Cerpa, were the first couple to register as domestic partners under a law Mexico City passed at the end of 2006. (They chose to be the first because no one else wanted to take the step, and Medina was worried about how it would look if no one used a right the movement had faught so hard for.) Full marriage was legalized three years later with leadership from the leftist PRD Party, and  Mexico’s high court later ruled that these marriages must be recognized nationwide.

Gay marriages are also now performed in the state of Quintana Roo–home of Cancún–thanks to some very clever activists, who realized that the state’s marriage laws actually were written without references to gender.

But the victories by LGBT rights activists–that also include a domestic partnership law in Coahuila–provoked an organized counterattack from the Catholic Church, Medina said, and the gay marriage bills that had been introduced in other states stalled. And the activists in other states are not well equipped to make an organized push.

“The reality is that in the vast majority of states, activists have neither the strength nor the level of organization that the Distrito Federal has,” Medina told me. And, because anti-gay violence is more common in other states, he said, “It is a very frightened kind of activism.”

Medina also said that the movement in Mexico was divided (“sectorizado“) over what issues matter most, and that it hadn’t found a way to unify around a common agenda.

The movement, he said, “is moving, with all honesty, in a way that is a little bit unequal. There is a very active movement in Mexico City, but … we’re not all advancing in unison, to a more-or-less standardized track. I think that is our big problem–we haven’t agreed on the minimums that we can achieve as a collective.”