Tag Archives: same-sex relationships

Vatican gets embroiled in Italy’s ‘banned books’ fray

The Vatican has gotten embroiled in a modern-day, secular version of the Index of Banned Books.

The Holy See press office had to set the record straight on Aug. 28 after the Italian media interpreted a formulaic blessing by Pope Francis of a lesbian children’s book publisher and her partner as an endorsement of their same-sex relationship.

Author Francesca Pardi had written to Francis in June complaining about how her books — some of which deal with children growing up with gay, single and divorced parents — had been maligned by Catholic groups and politicians.

A half-dozen of her titles were among the 49 titles that Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro recently banned from public preschools pending a review of their appropriateness because they deal with gender issues.

Thinking that Francis might appreciate the books’ inclusive message, Pardi sent him copies of her 30 titles, explaining that they had nothing to do with “gender theory” or even sex but merely conveyed a message of tolerance.

A few weeks ago, an official in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, Monsignor Peter Wells, sent her a note in Francis’ name thanking her for the gesture, blessing her and her partner, and encouraging her to continue with her “activities in the service to young generations and the diffusion of authentic human and Christian values.”

Pardi says she didn’t take the letter by any means to be a papal endorsement of her lifestyle — she and her partner have four children together — but the Italian media interpreted it as such, prompting the Vatican to step in.

In a statement, the Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the letter made clear that Francis was encouraging Pardi to pursue activities consistent with Christian values.

“The blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was directed to the person, not at any possible teachings that are not in line with the doctrine of the church on gender theory, which hasn’t changed a bit as the Holy Father has repeated even recently,” he said.

One of the “banned” titles, “Little Egg,” tells the story of an egg about to hatch that goes out in search of a family, and encountering a variety of different ones — two mothers, two fathers, single parents, bi-racial parents, “traditional” parents — concludes that any one of them would be great.

The review of the “banned books” by Venice’s mayor sparked outrage among gay and human rights groups, with sometimes Venice resident Elton John calling Brugnaro “boorishly bigoted.”

Venice’s review harked back to the Vatican’s own Index of Prohibited Books, the 16th century list of books deemed heretical by the Roman Inquisition. The Vatican in 1966 officially removed the ban from its law books.

Nintendo apologizes for excluding gay relationships in ‘Life’ game

Nintendo is apologizing and pledging to be more inclusive after being criticized for not recognizing same-sex relationships in English editions of a life-simulator video game. The publisher said that while it was too late to change the current game, it was committed to building virtual equality into future versions if they’re produced.

Nintendo came under fire from fans and gay rights organizations this past week after refusing to add same-sex relationship options to the game “Tomodachi Life.”

“We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in ‘Tomodachi Life,'” Nintendo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch.”

The game was originally released in Japan last year and features a cast of Mii characters — Nintendo’s personalized avatars of real players — living on a virtual island. Gamers can do things like shop, play games, go on dates, get married and encounter celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Shaquille O’Neal. Already a hit in Japan, “Tomodachi Life” is set for release June 6 in North America and Europe.

Tye Marini, a 23-year-old gay Nintendo fan from Mesa, Arizona, launched a social media campaign last month seeking virtual equality for the game’s characters.

“I want to be able to marry my real-life fiancé’s Mii, but I can’t do that,” Marini said in a video posted online that attracted the attention of gaming sites and online forums this past week. “My only options are to marry some female Mii, to change the gender of either my Mii or my fiancé’s Mii or to completely avoid marriage altogether and miss out on the exclusive content that comes with it.”

Marini said Saturday that he was “very happy” with Nintendo’s response. “I don’t believe they are a homophobic company at all,” Marini said. “I think that the exclusion of same-sex relationships was just an unfortunate oversight.”

Yet the issue does mark a cultural divide between Japan, where gay marriage is not legal, and North America and Europe, where gay marriage has become legal in some places. It also highlights the problems with “localization,” the process when games are changed to suit different locales and customs.

The uproar prompted Kyoto, Japan-based Nintendo Co. and its subsidiary Nintendo of America Inc. to pledge to create a more inclusive “Tomodachi” installment in the future.

“We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone,” Nintendo said. “We pledge that if we create a next installment in the `Tomodachi’ series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.”

While many English-language games don’t feature gay characters, several role-playing series produced by English-speaking developers, such as Electronic Arts, “The Sims,” Microsoft Studios’ “Fable” and Bethesda Softworks’ “The Elder Scrolls,” have allowed players to create characters that can woo others of the same sex, as well as marry and have children.

After Nintendo said this past week — in response to Marini’s growing campaign — that it wouldn’t add same-sex relationship options to “Tomodachi Life,” the publisher of such gaming franchises as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Mario Bros.” was called out by fans and organizations such as the gay advocacy group GLAAD.

“Nintendo has taken a first step, but if the company’s longtime values are rooted in ‘fun and entertainment for everyone,’ then it needs to catch up to peers like Electronic Arts, which has been inclusive of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) gamers for years,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement.

Obama condemns Russia’s anti-gay law

President Barack Obama late on Aug. 6, in an appearance with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show,” condemned Russia’s law criminalizing statements of support for LGBT people and same-sex relationships.

The president said laws such as the one Russian President Vladimir Putin signed earlier this summer violate “the basic morality that I think should transcend every country, and I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays, or lesbians, or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”

Early on Aug. 7, the White House announced that Obama had canceled a trip to Moscow for several reasons, including concerns for the country’s human rights problems.

Responding, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “President Obama is right to be concerned as the Olympic Games in Sochi draw near – not just for Americans traveling to Russia, but for those who must endure the law long after the last medal is won.”

In recent weeks, calls for a boycott of Russian products have been made by LGBT activists in the United States and by gay bar owners joining a Dump Stoli campaign and removing the vodka from its shelves.

The actions follow Putin’s signature in June on a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Russian officials say they want to protect children from “homosexual propaganda.” The law imposes fines or jail time on citizens who disseminate information that may cause a “distorted understanding” that LGBT and heterosexual relationships are “socially equivalent.” The fines are significantly higher if such information is distributed through the media or Internet.

Visitors to Russia also can be arrested, which has led many to protest Russia’s hosting of the Olympic Winter Games next year.

“The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin,” Griffin stated, referring to the International Olympic Committee. “But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Pennsylvania school district scraps anti-gay policy

A central Pennsylvania school district has scrapped a controversial policy that said its curriculum would not “promote or encourage” same-sex relationships or orientation.

The Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era reports that the board of the Elizabethtown Area School District decided to delete the entire policy.

Board president Terry Seiders said it held no educational value.

The main element of the policy said “the curriculum will not promote or encourage same-sex relationships or orientation.”

Approved in February 1997, its passage included months of board meetings that drew up to 1,200 people. It led to a walkout of more than 200 students, resulting in more than 100 suspensions.

Board members say the policy came up last week as part of the board’s regular review of existing policies. 

AME Church denies withdrawing support for Obama

The leadership of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is condemning a false online report that the denomination has withdrawn support for President Barack Obama over his stance on same-sex marriage.

In a statement released earlier this week, Bishop Samuel Green Sr., president of the Council of Bishops, said the denomination does not endorse candidates for political office.

Green also said the denomination is not affiliated with a group called the Coalition of African-American Pastors, which is calling on Obama to renounce support for same-sex marriage.

The erroneous report was published on Christian news website charismanews.com. It now appears to have been taken down.

Obama was a featured speaker at the AME Church’s 2008 general conference. He was a senator at the time.

Recently, Michelle Obama addressed the 2012 conference in Nashville, receiving a standing ovation and enthusiastic cheers from a crowd of about 10,000.

After the speech, several attendees said they were not bothered by Obama’s recent expression of support for same-sex marriage, although they believe homosexuality is a sin.

The Rev. Joseph Williams of Mobile, Ala., said he felt Obama’s statement about same-sex marriage had been misrepresented.

“He didn’t say he was in favor of same-sex marriage; he said every person has a right to marry,” Williams said. “We still don’t know how he feels about it personally.”

The AME Church has a longstanding position defining marriage as a man and a woman, according to Jackie DuPont Walker, director of the denomination’s Social Action Commission.

As gays serve openly, few problems for chaplains

Col. Timothy Wagoner has been an Air Force chaplain for 20 years, serving a denomination – the Southern Baptists – that rejects same-sex relationships.

Yet here he was at the chapel he oversees, watching supportively as an airman and his male partner celebrated a civil union ceremony.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Wagoner said at the McGuire Air Force Base chapel, days later. “I don’t feel I’m compromising my beliefs … I’m supporting the community.”

Wagoner didn’t officiate at the ceremony, but his very presence at the gathering was a marker of how things have changed for active-duty clergy in the nine months since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed and gays could serve openly.

Before repeal, various conservative groups and individuals – including many conservative retired chaplains – warned that repeal would trigger an exodus of chaplains whose faiths consider homosexual activity sinful. In fact, there’s been no significant exodus – perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal. Moreover, chaplains or their civilian coordinators from a range of conservative faiths told The Associated Press they knew of virtually no serious problems thus far involving infringement of chaplains’ religious freedom or rights of conscience.

“To say the dust has settled would be premature,” said Air Force Col. Gary Linsky, a Roman Catholic priest who oversees 50 fellow chaplains in the Air Mobility Command. “But I’ve received no complaints from chaplains raising concerns that their ministries were in any way conflicted or constrained.”

Wagoner, who commands five other chaplains at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey, said the chaplaincy corps was responding professionally and collegially to what he called a “balancing act” precipitated by the repeal.

“We’re good at this stuff – we want to take care of our folks,” he said. “We have to respect the faith requirements of the chaplain and we have to take care of the needs of the airman.”

That attitude meshes with the official Pentagon guidelines on the repeal: “The Chaplain Corps’ First Amendment freedoms and their duty to care for all have not changed. All service members will continue to serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs, and they will be expected to treat everyone with respect.”

Wagoner would not have been willing to officiate at the June 23 civil union ceremony at the McGuire chapel, nor would his Catholic or Mormon colleagues. But he had no problem with another member of his team, Navy Chaplain Kay Reeb of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, doing so.

Reeb, who will be will leaving the Navy in a few weeks after 20 years as a chaplain, held a couple of pre-ceremony consultations with the couple – Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali and civilian Will Behrens – and was impressed by their commitment to one another.

On hand at the chapel were the couple’s family and friends, several gay-rights activists, and Sgt. Elizabeth Garcia, the chaplain’s assistant who handled logistical arrangements. And then there was Wagoner, whose denomination preaches that homosexuality is sinful and is “not a valid alternative lifestyle.”

“As a Southern Baptist, why was I here? I was here to lend support,” Wagoner said. “I was here supporting Airman Umali. I’ve worked with him. He’s a comrade in arms.”

“I’m also supporting Chaplain Reeb,” he said. “She gave a beautiful ceremony.”

According to the latest Pentagon figures, there are about 2,930 chaplains on active duty, most from theologically conservative faiths and organizations. The Southern Baptist Convention has the largest contingent, with about 450 active-duty chaplains; the Roman Catholic Church is next with about 220.

The Catholic official who oversees those chaplains, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, had vehemently opposed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and issued a statement after repeal conveying ongoing concerns “in this difficult time.”

“This archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic chaplain will ever be compelled to condone – even silently – homosexual behavior,” he said then.

However, Broglio said he was unaware of any major repeal-related problems that had arisen for his chaplains during the first nine months of the new era.

“There have been no overt difficulties,” he said. “It’s more a question of what might occur in the future.”

Broglio remains concerned that Catholic chaplains might somehow be pressured to participate in or facilitate ceremonies or programs that bestow recognition and approval on same-sex couples _ “As time goes by, it will be a challenge, to make certain you’re not silently condoning.”

As for preaching the Catholic doctrine that homosexual behavior is a sin, Broglio said he expects chaplains to retain the freedom to do so as part of their religious services. But he said there is confusion as to whether that freedom extends to other settings where chaplains might face pressure to deliver inclusive messages.

Broglio said he has not given his chaplains specific instructions to either emphasize church teaching on homosexuality in their preaching or to avoid the subject.

He concurred with the estimates that only a handful of chaplains have left the military because of the repeal. He said “two or three” Catholic chaplains had resigned their commissions in recent months, and guessed that repeal may have been a factor though they didn’t cite that specifically.

Another conservative denomination with a large contingent of chaplains – 114 on active duty – is the Assemblies of God.

Scott McChrystal, a retired Army chaplain who oversees them, said the concerns that preceded repeal had not been borne out.

“Since the actual repeal, I cannot recall a single instance where I’ve gotten a call from one of our chaplains who’s had a problem,” he said. “Our goal as an organization is simply to provide as much help as we can to anybody we can.”

Likewise, Frank Clawson, director of military relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said none of the 42 active-duty Mormon chaplains with whom he works has reported problems linked to the repeal or expressed a desire to leave the service.

Yet Clawson remains wary that the military could become increasingly inhospitable to religious conservatives.

“I don’t know if the vote is in yet,” he said. “The pendulum has swung the other way, to where if you do have a faith, you’re almost looked down on.”

The loudest assertions that conservative chaplains face problems come from outside the active-duty ranks, notably from a coalition of retired chaplains and other religious leaders called the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. In a letter to a Republican congressman in March, the alliance contended that repeal has been implemented “with an open and palpable hostility” to chaplains and service members who disapprove of homosexuality.

The alliance supports a measure backed by House Republicans that would ban the use of military chapels for same-sex weddings and other similar ceremonies. The Pentagon says it will allow such ceremonies when in accordance with state law.

The alliance’s executive director, retired Army chaplain Ron Crews, says some active-duty chaplains are dismayed by repeal-related changes but don’t speak out publicly because they fear retaliation or do not get permission from superiors.

However, Crews agreed that few chaplains have left the military because of the repeal.

“We’ve been encouraging our chaplains to stay the course – we don’t want to see an exodus,” Crews said. “Some of my chaplains have stated they are going to stay, but they realize there may come a day where they may have to choose obedience to God or their career, and they’re going to choose their obedience to God.”

With an eye toward the future, when the military community is likely to include more same-sex couples, Crews’ alliance has drawn some lines in the sand for chaplains from its affiliated denominations: no role in any ceremony for same-sex couples, no jointly presiding over religious services with gay or lesbian chaplains, no pre-marriage or marriage-strengthening counseling to same-sex couples.

Wagoner suggested there were “no hard answers” to some potential dilemmas, such as if a conservative chaplain objected to participating at a marriage retreat that included a same-sex couple. Perhaps a substitute chaplain could be found, or perhaps the gay couple could pick another date for a retreat, Wagoner said.

“Think of it as an experiment,” Wagoner said of the post-repeal era. “It’s evolving.”

The chaplain coordinators for some relatively liberal denominations suggested that the Chaplain Alliance and its allies are exaggerating the impact of repeal for political purposes.

“They are grasping at straws, in terms of getting something substantial to counteract the repeal,” said the Rev. Stephen Boyd of the United Church of Christ, which has about 18 active-duty chaplains and was an early supporter of same-sex marriage.

Bishop James Magness, the coordinator for about 75 active-duty and reserve Episcopal chaplains, said he’d heard a common, positive verdict about repeal from his more conservative Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist colleagues.

“The whole argument about religious liberty is so incredibly uninformed, and inflamed by some of the very conservative legal groups,” Magness said. “In reality, there’s been very little if any of the services forcing any ministerial activity on a chaplain against his or her will.”

Chaplain Linsky said he’d respect any chaplain who did leave the military out of principled objections related to the repeal, but knew of no such instances thus far.

“The chaplain corps,” he said, “has navigated this issue with great calm and prudence.”

Anti-gay group was major player in election

The National Organization for Marriage waged a national campaign against legalizing same-sex relationships in the midterm election without placing a single anti-gay measure on a statewide ballot.

NOM waged its campaign with the endorsement of 29 anti-gay candidates in Nov. 2 races and with a successful push to oust three Iowa justices who ruled that denying same-sex couples marriage rights violated the state’s constitution.

An analysis of NOM’s political activities by the Human Rights Campaign found the organization invested an estimated $5 million into federal and state campaigns in the 2009-10 election cycle.

More than half of NOM’s candidates lost at the polls, yet the organization has become what HRC president Joe Solmonese called a “political force.”

“It’s clear they will stop at nothing, including repeatedly ignoring state campaign finance laws, to elect anti-gay candidates and punish elected pro-equality officials,” Solmonese said. “And nothing illustrates NOM’s cynicism more than the defeat of the three supreme court justices in Iowa who were part of a unanimous decision that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. An independent judiciary is now threatened, and no organization is more responsible for that than NOM.”

Judicial elections, even at the state supreme court level, tend to be low-key elections for the retention of incumbents. NOM spent about $600,000 on television ads, phone calls, rallies and a 20-city bus tour in the campaign to defeat justices on Election Day.

NOM president Brian Brown, explaining the organization’s goal in Iowa, said, “Many people … are looking at the Iowa judicial retention election (and) actually saying this is the most important election because it will send a clear signal to the Supreme Court and other judges that they don’t have the right to make up the law out of thin air. If the people of Iowa … remove these judges, there will be reverberations throughout the country, all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”

David Lane, director of the American Family Association, another anti-gay group that spent about $100,000 to defeat the Iowa justices, warned of future campaigns: “For those who impose what we perceive as an immoral agenda, we’re going to take them out,” he said.

The tactic has LGBT civil rights advocates concerned about judicial intimidation.

But civil rights advocates also expressed concern last week about NOM’s fundraising abilities. The organization began just three years ago, operating on a $500,000 annual budget. NOM’s annual budget now is about $10 million.