RECENT efforts by some Catholic dioceses to distribute anti-marriage equality booklets to school children has been slammed as “desperate” by a Brisbane priest and a sign that they’re “increasingly despairing”.
The circulation of booklets from the Catholic Bishops of Australia called Don’t Mess with Marriage that lays out a case against same-sex marriage made headlines last week after it was revealed children at numerous Catholic schools around the country were being given the material.
“I feel angry and disappointed but not surprised that the hierarchy of the Catholic church would chose such a desperate measure to influence the debate on marriage equality,” he told the Star Observer.
“It is definitely a sign that they are becoming increasingly despairing and worried that they are on the losing side.”
Fr Fitzpatrick condemned those in the church responsible for the booklet for imposing their religious belief upon others and using children to disseminate their political message.
“They see the last vestiges of their power and influence rapidly disappearing into the sand,” he said.
“They refuse to believe that we live in a secular state and not a religious one where one religion’s laws apply to everyone regardless of their beliefs.
“They cling to the role of being the moral guardian of the nation when this serves neither society nor the church.”
Several marriage equality advocates, including Australian Marriage Equality (AME) national director Rodney Croome, described the booklet as harmful to children.
“We have written to all Catholic Education Offices urging them not to distribute the booklet because it contains misinformation about marriage equality and because it harms vulnerable children including young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and the children of same-sex couples,” Croome said.
“If Catholic educators have already distributed the booklet we urge them to provide both sides of the debate or stand accused of propaganda rather than education.
“We are happy to work with Catholic educators to ensure students who have heard the case against marriage equality also hear the case in favour of it.”
The booklet focuses primarily on what the church believes will be the negative impact on children if same-sex marriage is legalised in Australia, relying on the belief that it is fundamentally about children and that raising a child without a mother and a father would be “gravely unjust”.
For Fr Fitzpatrick, opposition to marriage equality based on the argument of what’s best for children does not make sense.
“If marriage is about children why aren’t they supporting it? Marriage has the potential to create stable, committed relationships. It enables people to share economic resources. It nurtures the couple and any children they have,” he said.
“Good marriages benefit the community and for many people express values of long-term commitment, generativity and faithfulness.”
The booklet argues it is a “natural right” that children require parents of both genders to provide the love.
“Only a woman can be a mother; only a man can be a father… Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to a mother and a father,” it reads.
Fr Fitzpatrick refuted this, highlighting how children already have access to close familial male and female role models.
“Children deserved to be loved by mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents, by whole communities,” he said.
“The argument that every child needs a mother and father doesn’t seem to apply to children of divorced parents and often these children don’t have a good experience of parents in a harmonious relationship.
“Research shows that children raised in gay and lesbian families do just as well and sometimes better because definite planning decisions need to be made in order to have children. Children are planned for and wanted and loved because of such efforts by same-sex couples.”
Being involved in providing care and support to the homeless in Brisbane through his work with Micah Projects, Fr Fitzpatrick has witnessed first-hand the harm that discrimination towards the LGBTI community can cause.
“When any group with in a society are marginalised and treated unequally there are repercussions,” he said.
“We are all aware of people who identify as GLTB who have been rejected by their families and wider communities. The effect of this is devastating leading to self-harm, suicide and homelessness.”
Fr Fitzpatrick said organisations and bodies within the Christian faith have contributed significantly to sexual persecution and should respond to the issue of same-sex marriage with compassion, not further discrimination.
“The Christian church has to take a lot of responsibility for [discrimination], but its response is not one of compassion, but of taking the high moral ground and the denying of equal rights when it comes to marriage,” he said.
“It has not seen the damage it has caused and continues to cause in the name of God.”
The generational changes to marriage or the varying levels of religious involvement in marriage over time are points Fr Fitzpatrick believes opponents to same-sex marriage fail to acknowledge.
“[Opponents] refuse to recognise that the institution of marriage has been in a state of flux. For many centuries, neither the church nor the state were involved in solemnising marriages,” he said.
“It has been an evolving as a civil and religious institution throughout history. It will continue to evolve and soon we will see in this country marriage laws that will include everyone.
“The bible says very little about marriage, as we understand if today, and nothing at all about same-sex marriage.
“If the church hierarchy stuck to the basics of Christianity instead of trying to control everyone they would not be in the mess they are today.”