Comments like those by Perth Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey that his church might not bury Catholics who entered into same-sex marriages are disturbing — but by no means unique to him.
Hickey made the comments in an interview with The Record newspaper in which he said his church would stop performing legal marriages if compelled to perform same-sex ones — something that no one in Australia has called for and has happened in no country that has legalised same-sex marriage.
These sorts of threats from Hickey are not new. In 2007 he threatened that Catholic MPs who voted for the Human Reproductive Technology Amendment Bill could face excommunication, sparking an investigation into whether he was in contempt of Parliament.
This need to police the faithful and punish dissenting Catholic voices is unseemly enough in 2011 but the Catholic Church has made even worse threats abroad.
When faced with the prospect of Washington DC legalising same-sex marriage, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington threatened to shut down its entire network of social services, potentially leaving tens of thousands of needy people out in the cold.
When the law passed, the Archdiocese instead ceased providing health cover for the partners of all new employees to avoid having to pay benefits to same-sex spouses. It gave no notice to existing employees and heterosexual staff who were yet to register their partners for benefits also missed out.
Meanwhile, with just over a year until the next US presidential election, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is threatening “national conflict” over the Obama Administration’s refusal to defend the Defence of Marriage Act, which prevents same-sex couples from benefiting from their own federal tax dollars as opposite-sex couples do.
In its fight to impose its standards on the rest of society, the Catholic leadership has shown neither the capacity nor inclination to render unto Caesar or to turn the other cheek.
Polling, on the other hand, shows that rank-and-file Catholics remain among the most supportive people of faith when it comes to issues of LGBTI rights, including marriage equality.
The weirdest thing in this debate remains the churches’ need to remove love from marriage to maintain their argument that the gays can’t get married because they can’t make the babies.
It doesn’t take a genius. Marriage symbolises a commitment between two people who love each other, while at the same time it’s generally accepted that it’s irresponsible to have children with someone you don’t love.
It’s not surprising then that childbirth tends to follow marriage for couples who want children, while most of society recognises that a home where the parents don’t love each other is not an ideal place for a child to grow up.