Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Catholic Church Lobbying Succeeds In Defeating South Bend Gay Rights Ordinance

After intense debate in front of a packed city council chamber that ran well into the early morning hours, South Bend's Common Council voted down a proposed gay rights ordinance for the second time in as many years on a 5-4 vote. In this heavily populated Catholic community, home to Notre Dame University, supporters of the proposal were outmatched by the lobbying efforts of the Catholic Church.

As the council took up the issue anew a couple of months ago, Bishop John D'Arcy drew an early line in the sand, taking the unusual step of putting out a public statement urging the defeat of the ordinance. He slammed the ordinance, which would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, saying it was "more about validating in law homosexual lifestyles and behaviors than it is about addressing unjust discrimination." He warned that passage of the ordinance would lead to wider efforts to promote homosexuality as it had in other communities which had past similar ordinances.

To make sure all Catholics in South Bend got the message, the church took the step of reprinting Bishop D'Arcy's statement opposing the ordinance in a church bulletin, along with contact information for Mayor Stephen Luecke and each of the 9 common council members. Ironically, the anti-discrimination ordinance exempted the Catholic Church and other religious organizations. The Catholic Church joined forces with the extremist, anti-gay bigoted organization No Special Rights, which spewed hate-filled messages about gays and lesbians over the past several months in South Bend. Interestingly, the Catholic arch diocese in Indianapolis stayed out of a similar debate in Indianapolis this past year as its city-county council narrowly approved an identical ordinance after a hard-fought battle by Indianapolis' GLBT community against the Christian right.

Tonight's loss is a major setback for Mayor Stephen Luecke, a Democrat, in his efforts to revitalize the struggling community, both economically and culturally. He was slapped down by his own party, which controls the council by an 8-1 margin. The council Democrat president, the Rev. Timothy Rouse, publicly announced his opposition to the ordinance in an opinion piece critical of the equal rights proposal in the South Bend Tribune. Rouse falsely claimed that Indiana law prohibited South Bend from enacting an ordinance which provided more extensive civil rights coverage than state law. He also attacked a poll commissioned on behalf of Indiana Equality, which showed 79% of Hoosiers favored equal rights for gays and lesbians, as biased.

The five council members who voted against the amendment were Derek Dieter, D-1st; David Varner, R-5th; Erv Kuspa, D-6th; Timothy Rouse, D-at large, and Karen White, D-at large. Voting in favor of the amendments were sponsor Charlotte Pfeifer, Roland Kelly, D-3rd; Ann Puzzello, D-4th; and Al "Buddy" Kirsits, D-at large.

South Bend Equality, which led local efforts to pass the ordinance on behalf of the GLBT community, should be lauded for its hard work and uplifting message over the past two years in the face of its opponents' message of intolerance and religion-based bigotry. Their efforts have not proved fruitless. Mayor Luecke has promised to issue an executive order adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's EEO policy, which will protect city workers from discrimination.

Catherine Pittman of South Bend Equality assures the South Bend Tribune she is undeterred by last night's vote. The Tribune's Jamie Loo wrote:

Following the vote, Catherine Pittman, a member of South Bend Equality, which fought for the bill's passage, said the group was disappointed but undeterred. The council could've made the choice to pass the amendments to allow gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons to bring their concerns to the Human Rights Commission. The group will continue to fight for GLBT civil rights in this community, Pittman said.

"We're going to keep coming to Common Council," Pittman said. "There's no other place to go. We're going to continue to bring our concerns here."


Anonymous said...

As a Catholic and a gay person, I am really depressed about this turn of events in South Bend. It is difficult to understand how the church I've attended my whole life is working to make my life more difficult.

Anonymous said...

I feel really bad for Mayor Luecke. He really is trying to improve South Bend's image, but the council keeps getting in his way. This is what happens when you put a holier-than-thou minister in charge of your city council.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 7:31 -- I think it's difficult to understand how you've attended a church your whole life and yet are just now realizing that your church believes homosexuality is a sin. Why are you Catholic if you don't agree with some of its most basic principles?

Anonymous said...

Great Recap Gary! Thanks for the thorough review. I too am saddened by the loss, but not surprised. It feels like Indianapolis this time last year when the Council dealt the LGBT community its initial defeat by a democratically led council. The answer is to organize, organize, organize! South Bend will rise again!

Anonymous said...

Church lobbying is a tax NO NO!

Educational outreach is OK under the 501(c)3 part of the tax code.

Advocacy is prohibited!

The church could and should lose its tax free status...it should be reported to the IRS.

Anonymous said...

Church lobbying on ISSUES ONLY is OK if the money spent represents less than 5% or 3% (forget details) of income. ANY church lobbying on PARTIES or CANDIDATES is incompatible with tax-exempt 503c status.

Anon at 7:31, why not consider the Episcopal Church? Sacramentally oriented, Communion weekly (True Presence and all that), and 104 of 111 dioceses are at least somewhat gay-friendly, and a good many have openly gay priests. Or if ecumenically minded, MCC or UCC.


Bkwyrm said...

Sometimes I'm ashamed to be from Indiana - my dad was a director of the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame for about ten years, and they dealt with international issues and peace and justice and scrupulously avoided gay rights. Why? Because they feared for the funding of the department if they annoyed....must have been Hessburg, at that time, who was President.
As for "why are you Catholic?," it's not just a religion, it's a culture. You're born into it, you learn about it, you're enmeshed in it, your family is involved in it, and then you're told "ooops, too bad, because of something you have no control over, you don't get to belong."
More and more people are pushing for the Catholic Church in the US to change some doctrines, and the doctrine against homosexuality is one of them. We know the church can change - look at Vatican II. Unfortunately, most liberal Catholic thinkers see a split with Rome and the possible establishment of an American Catholic church before the current Pope would even entertain the notion that gay people can be Catholic too.
I'm the child of a former Catholic priest and nun and went to Catholic school for 19 years. My husband and I were married in the church, and belong to a parish - but we're still pushing, as best we can, for the Church to adopt more tolerant, sane, and sensible views over things like this. In a time when the Church's public image is crumbling and their financial situation is in dire straits, it seems ridiculous that the instition is trying to push people who want to belong out of the Church - while at the same time bemoaning the fact that cultural Catholics (like my husband and I) are joining other denominations or simply refusing to contribute financially.
If they really wanted to make the communities "safer," maybe they could stop moving the pedophiles around from parish to parish to hide them, rather than lobbying to prevent gay South Bend residents (who may not even BE Catholic) from full protection under the law.