Posted by MeganFinnegan at 4/17/2009 5:49 PM EDT
Recently, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a statement that ending the unconstitutional “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military is not a priority for the administration right now. They are putting it on the back burner.
All Catholics, gay or straight, are familiar with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. In my family, it is unspoken policy that you can go about your heathen ways as long as you don’t tell Grandma. Family members actually instructed me to lie to my grandmother about the sleeping arrangements when my boyfriend and I moved to New York together. I chose to respect the head of our family by telling her the truth, but that’s just me.
Many Catholic families have their own version of this policy, and in the Church at large, it has nothing to do with the military, but with the general Church policy on being gay. The official stance is that it’s fine to be gay, but you are not permitted to act on these feelings. Don’t bother dreaming of marriage or children. But we still respect you.
In college, I took a class called Contemporary Roman Catholicism. It was an easy way to fulfill my Religion requirement; all but two of the kids were Catholic (one curious Jew, one overzealous born-again Christian), and amongst ourselves we referred to the class as CCD Advanced. Father K, as we’ll call him, the beloved Catholic chaplain who held Mass at our traditionally Lutheran school, went back to the basics and asked little more of us than class attendance and some memorization. It was controversy-free until we reached the inevitable gay rights and birth control class, which Father K conveniently packaged into one lesson plan.
“We’re not going to have a debate on this, although I’m sure most of you are itching at the chance to do so,” he said with a smile. “There is always room for debate, but this class is about teaching the views of the Church, and those views are that homosexuality cannot foster human life, that it is unnatural and illogical, and the Church will not change its stance on this.”
I recall exchanging exasperated glances with the venerable Miss Meghan Sweeney at the time (oh yes, we go way back). We would cram breakfast sandwiches and Gospel facts together before tests, quizzing each other on the Beatitudes and expressing skepticism where warranted.
“However,” continued Father K, as everyone’s ears perked up, “the Church demands that all people, including homosexuals, are treated with love and respect.” Oh. Well that’s nice to say. And that’s where the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy comes unofficially into play. Because how can you respect a person while telling them that you believe at a fundamental level that their very existence is unnatural? How can you treat a person with dignity if you condemn his loving relationship as illogical? And what, exactly, is logical about most heterosexual relationships anyway? Logic doesn’t usually have much to do with it. So we can all be friendly at a superficial level as long as don’t discuss things like personal identity and family.
Something about that rings hollow against the Church’s mission to bring truth and justice to the world. The Gospel is about truth, but we encourage gay people to hide who they are. Gay Catholics aren’t supposed to exist, but they do. We have Catholic people organizing, putting their time, effort, and money into initiatives to prevent gay people from legally marrying in the United States, and it makes no sense. Don’t worry, people. The Church won’t be changing its position on gay marriage any time soon. Is it really necessary to spend your time on earth preventing other people from receiving equal protection under U.S. law? It won’t infringe on the Church’s staunch rejection of gay rights.
I was extremely disappointed that our President told us that equal protection under the law for all citizens is not a priority for him, but I hold hope that the Obama team will get around to overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Maybe the fact that NATO has pledged a disconcertingly low number of troops to the continuing war in Afghanistan will stop our military from discharging perfectly capable soldiers based on their sexuality.
Other Catholics are more concerned about President Obama speaking at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. Are we afraid that Notre Dame students cannot form their own moral opinions? Should they not be interested in what the President of the United States has to say to them, even if they may disagree with some of his policies? No one is asking Notre Dame, its students, faculty and alumni, or the Catholic Church to embrace the pro-choice movement. And I think we can all be sure that he’s not going to give a 30-minute speech on Roe vs. Wade. The man does have other things to say. The school is presenting an important and influential man to its graduating class and saying, Listen to him. Not, Agree with him. Just listen. Heavens to Betsy, what a conundrum.
The Church has a history of standing up for the disenfranchised, and the LGBT community is the current poster group for legalized disenfranchisement. I understand that the Church will not change its doctrine on homosexuality. But isn’t it the definition of compassion to work for the rights of those who are denied them? What Catholic could deny that?