Across North America we are seeing a general move toward marriage equality. Canada has had it for almost ten years, various states within the United States of America have either passed legislation or their laws against equal marriage have been struck down by the courts. On the religious side there are a number of Christian and Jewish denominations that have come to recognise and perform same sex marriages. Currently the Anglican Church of Canada has a commission that is seeking submissions on changing the marriage canon with a mandate to propose a canon amendment to be voted on in 2019 at General Synod1. While I fully support marriage equality I find myself conflicted and somewhat critical of the extreme focus that has been placed on this issue resulting in other issues that face LGBTTQI* people in their daily lives being mostly ignored.
What we have seen in the history of the gay rights movement, and that is what it has primarily been until relatively recently, is a disproportionate focus on the rights of gay men, and a focus on the right to get married. The general argument has been that once these rights are achieved focus would shift to the rights and needs of others under the broad umbrella of queer or LGBTTQI* communities. Those who would not directly benefit were expected to, and mostly did, support the push for these rights. With the focus on the marriage canon in the Anglican Church of Canada we are largely seeing these patterns play out again within the context of the Anglican Church of Canada. While there has been a big push for recognition of same sex marriage in the church, acceptance of gay and lesbian priests who are in long term committed relationships or married we have mostly ignored the larger picture. We have tended to ignore the spiritual and pastoral care needs of those who fall under the umbrella, their families and their friends. It is time for this to change.
There have been many news reports and studies that show the challenges faced by those who fall under this broad umbrella. The challenges include, but are not limited to, rejection, homelessness (particularly for LGBTTQ* youth), inability to find adequate employment, suicide, mental health challenges, and the list goes on. These issues are often compounded by other factors within their lives. Within the church there seems to be a lack of understanding about these issues and whatever pastoral care takes place is often on a case by case basis with each community struggling as the issue comes up for them. While some training exists there is often a lack of training or discussion of pastoral care training with those who are members of oppressed groups. Indeed, there is often no training at all around issues of oppression and safer spaces.
How do we move forward and improve the situation? First and foremost avoid allowing the issue of the marriage canon to dominate the discussion within the church. Yes, the discussion is important, but it is only part of a broader discussion. It gives us the opportunity to start discussing the very real pastoral issues going beyond marriage. Further, the discussion needs to include the people who are most affected and able to speak from personal experience, LGBTTQI* people. One of the key points made in pastoral care is that the most important thing a person providing pastoral care can do is listen and witness to what someone is saying. This also applies when listening to the needs of various communities. When discussing the needs of First Nations people we listen to what they say, or at least we should be listening, white people haven’t been very successful at this over the decades and in the case of the current Federal Government still don’t. The same goes for other oppressed groups that have faced systemic discrimination and erasure and often continue to do so. So far we have had some baby steps on this journey of understanding around the needs of LGBTTQI people in the church. In many places the church still does significant harm to people who are under this broad umbrella.
The future, however, can be bright. We can choose to live out the love taught in the Gospels, welcoming the outcasts, listening to their stories, helping them to thrive in their life journey. In the end we will find that as a community we too have grown.
1: Invitation for submissions to the Commission on the Marriage Canon (http://www.anglican.ca/about/ccc/cogs/cmc/)