On the cold and rainy morning of Feb. 10 in Chicago, married couple Arminius and Gary Bucher wouldn’t dream of letting the weather keep them away from the sidewalk in front of Holy Name Cathedral, to protest Francis Cardinal George’s vocal opposition to same-sex marriage.
“We’re here to love each other,” said Arminius Bucher, a German native who married his partner of 13 years in Iowa in 2010.
“For him [Cardinal George] to dictate who gets married is just wrong,” echoed Gary Bucher.
The peaceful protest, a joint effort coordinated between the Gay Liberation Network (GLN) and the Rainbow Sash Movement — a coalition created by LGBT Catholics who believe they should be able to receive Holy Communion — couldn’t come at a more critical time.
With momentum in Illinois increasingly gathering to secure equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, Bob Schwartz, an organizer for the GLN told EDGE, “The irony is that the socially much more conservative state of Illinois may be getting equal marriage rights before the liberal state of California! This is the direct result of the different brands of activism undertaken in the two states.”
The Gay Liberation Network (formerly the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network) has been a huge presence in the fight for marriage equality for many years. In 2011, the group led a high-profile boycott against the Salvation Army. Activist Bil Browning characterized the nonprofit group at the time as having a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations,” said Browning. “Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they’re ’sexually impure.’”
Four years ago the GLN formed an alliance with the Rainbow Sash Movement. The LGBT Catholic organization has garnered increasing attention as a majority of lay church members affirm their support for greater rights, despite the resistance of high-profile Catholic leaders. Schwartz credits the GLN’s partnership with the Movement and the willingness to engage religious advocates of the status quo as one of the main reasons that Illinois has sidestepped the legislative ban of gay and lesbian marriage.
“Because we have confronted Cardinal George and other anti-gay bigots for many years, they have not been able to get the political traction to have a successful statewide referendum,” said Schwartz.
Cardinal George, the eighth and current Archbishop of Chicago (a post he has held since 1998), has been a particularly vocal opponent of equal marriage rights for the gay and lesbian community. The Cardinal has repeatedly drawn comparisons between LGBT activists and the KKK, and has often cast himself in the role of trailblazing sacrifice on behalf of the Church.
After the passage of the 2010 civil unions bill in Illinois, George dramatically declared, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
Chicago LGBTs Not Afraid to Confront Religious Bigotry
Schwartz and other leaders remain unmoved, as well as convinced that peacefully remaining on the Cardinal’s radar is key to avoiding a Proposition 8-like fiasco in Illinois.
“In most other states, like California, LGBT leaders have failed to confront the religious bigots, and hence the Mormon Church and Catholic hierarchy were able to get away with promoting bigotry without paying any political price for doing so. Californians only made an issue of the Mormon Church’s anti-gay bigotry after they had already lost,” said Schwartz.
The morning’s respectful protest was hardly the stuff of anarchy. More than a dozen demonstrators brave the inclement weather to raise rainbow flags (and one kindred umbrella), proud heads and signs bearing affirmative slogans such as “Love Makes a Family.” The protesters marched in a courteous circle as worshipers attending Holy Name’s 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass exited through the cathedral’s State Street doors. Both parishioners and demonstrators allowed each other a considerate berth.
What the GLN and the Rainbow Sash Movement seek is not further acrimony, but rather, unity and acceptance. As Arminius Bucher explained, “I’m German and our marriage is recognized in Germany in the sense that we enjoy the same civil rights as a married couple. That’s what we want here.”
It may be that much easier to rebel in deferential silence as Catholic leaders are increasingly finding their discriminatory positions untenable. In a Jan. 17 press release publicizing the protest, members of the GLN and the Rainbow Sash Movement called upon more enlightened Church members to foment change from the bottom up: “However much we, and the majority of lay Catholics, disagree with the church hierarchy’s discrimination against women and LGBTs in the Church, it is the Church’s right to be a discriminatory institution. We can vociferously disagree with that, but it is up to Catholics themselves to correct that situation.”
The complete absence of acrimony between demonstrators and worshipers, which left a dozen Chicago police officers on the scene with little to do, provided hope that the fight for marriage equality in Illinois may soon achieve a peaceful and successful resolution.