Pride is approaching, and gay communities in Malta will be celebrating the major legal advancements that took place, including marriage equality. For many gay people (not all of them), this is a landmark victory, a step towards liberty, equality and a more just and secular society. For many (not all), people of faith, this is a great loss, a tragic moment and the destruction of G-d’s design for humanity, but is this so?
While there is great joy within gay communities for liberation, (at least achieved at the legal level), the freedom to express and publicly declare one’s love, marriage equality has also created anxiety and resentment among Church goers (not all of them) because, marriage equality in fact does not sit well with the official position of the Catholic Church (including some Christian denominations / Churches and other religions). For the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, it is a particular and delicate time, a dark period, with more reports about the mishandling of child abuse cases, and the protection of perpetrators and sexual predators.
For many (including a number of practicing Catholics), the Church’s stand about morality on sexual matters is pretty dented. How do we recover from all of us, without ending up into a battle of rosaries and rainbows?
The state has adopted a secular, rights-based approach towards its interpretation of marriage law. The official teaching of the Catholic Church about marriage stands as is; marriage is an institution and a sacrament for heterosexual couples (within a particular framework) and changing that implies destroying G-d’s design and plan for humanity.
For people of faith, marriage equality means an attack on the sanctity of marriage. We may fight about these definitions, but these interpretations are deeply rooted in scripture, tradition and some would argue humanity itself. For many this is a very serious matter for both sides of the debate.
It seems to me that positions are even more polarized now that civil marriage law has in actual fact changed, and it seems to me that we will face more people who will want to reverse the process; returning civil marriage to what it was, an institution for heterosexual couples, that excludes gay people from it - this view of marriage is rooted within religious beliefs. Both sides of the camp have informed arguments, and both believe that their position is ‘sacred’. In that sense, they mirror each other, and are very similar in the way they defend their position and fight for it.
I am one of those unpopular persons who stands in the middle. I do not view marriage equality as evil. I also perceive marriage as traditionally (and for as long as we remember) an institution for heterosexual couples (not necessarily in the shape and form we know it today), that in recent years, within the so called Western context, has been opened up to include couples of the same-sex, mainly to enjoy the rights, benefits, but also the obligations and protection that this institution offers to a couple who promise love and faithfulness throughout their lives. Laws can and do change through democratic processes and in this case, one can say that a step towards inclusion was taken, opening up and including a minority group which was marginalized and oppressed since time immemorial.
And yet, laws do not change belief systems, or traditions, and though one may argue that the secular state should be separate from religion(s) and their view of the world, the lives of people are lived within and among these identities, particularly in a small country like Malta, with its history of dominant Catholicism shaping the way we live, we love, we celebrate and we hate.
A simplistic answer to these questions would be that those who are religious may still enjoy a religious marriage service which remains reserved for heterosexual couples, while those who do not fit within that scheme, have the liberty to tie their union at the civil registry.
Problem solved. On the one hand, it does work like that. But I also believe that the human person is far more complex, and our lives go beyond the simple secular, religious divide. For many, the sacred remains an important aspect of their lives and from what I have seen, marriage, including that which is secular, has deep and profound meaning for that couple and is not a mere contract between two adults about their domestic future together.
Another simplistic view is that marriage equality is the ultimate liberation while religious figures are hateful and spiteful people, resentful of these legal developments and all they offer is hate for gay people and their achievements. While some of this may be true, I also firmly believe that the Church’s opposition to marriage equality cannot be simplified to hate or resentment but is also the result of the Church believing in her faithfulness to scripture, tradition and the ways of Jesus. Of course, there are a number of theologians and scholars who also use scripture and tradition as their base to argue in favor of marriage equality, presenting it as the result of a deeper understanding of human nature, human sexuality and therefore a development of the Christian understanding of what marriage could look like, mainly a relationship grounded in Just Love.
The conflict between the secular definition of marriage and in our case a Roman Catholic view of it is not going to be resolved easily. I believe that it is within this conflict that we may find the seed of creativity, of finding ways how to live together and forging societies where people can flourish and not live oppressed lives. Hating each other over social media will lead us nowhere and is an utter waste of energy. Parades and prayer protests are what they are, and we live in a country where people enjoy the freedom to express themselves in that way as well. However, I do believe, that rational and pragmatic debating could enrich our society, especially if these take place within a context of encounter, acknowledging that all parties (including those who hold opposing views) have at heart the common good. The lived reality of people is a complex one, and we are also living in more complex and democratically sophisticated societies (though at times, debates sound so primitive!).
Each and every person is after all searching for a meaningful life, which is lived profoundly grounded in love. Maybe, it is within these diverse voices and world views that we may find who we want to be as a society, and what we want to offer future generations. One last point, about Pride Parade. While there is scope for gay communities in Malta to celebrate, we who are people who know oppression - its shape and form, let us not rainbow wash reality and forget that oppression is still a reality, including for some LGBTI persons themselves. Our vision of liberation was fundamentally rooted in a vision of a more Just and Equal society for all, a civilization of love which has at heart the liberation of those who are still struggling in our island, including those who lack a political voice, those who still lack the tools to make their needs and demands heard, and who have no vote to use in their fighting.