The churches have a history of persecuting persons who
fall outside their rigid concept of normality. Consequently, many MAG
members are disturbed at coming to terms with their religion and their sexual
proclivity. Many have known that they were gay from an early age and that
gayness is a part of their nature. Yet the churches say that they can be cured
and then they can return to the fold. Many faiths including the Christian church
have a horrendous record of persecution of gays down through the centuries and this
rubs off on to many aspects of secular life today.
Social justice, religious leaders and homosexuality
A talk given by Justice Michael Kirby
to students of St Ignatius College, Riverview
An upbringing in religious values affords many instances of
saints and heroes. They are generally
troublesome people who look ahead and speak up.
Where necessary, they stand bravely against established power,
even against the whole world. This is
why our heroes include Thomas More, Martin Luther, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Rosa
Parks, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
In some matters of social justice-Aborigines,
refugees, the poor and unemployed, alcoholics and the sick and dying-the
churches have an admirable record of defending human rights.
They stand up like heroes. But in other matters-the role of women, the
predicament of drug-dependant people and sexuality-they have a long way to
It has been reported that the Anglican and Catholic
archbishops of Sydney have reminded their congregations of what they say are
church teachings that homosexual acts are contrary to moral law.
I am not competent to engage with these
reverend men in theological debate, but I can give you another point of view,
drawn from my own experience.
When I was at school in the 1950s, no one spoke about
homosexuality. There was very little
talk at school about sex generally.
Sometimes there was schoolboy derision of certain students as
'poofters'. But for the most part the
subject was well and truly locked in the closet.
It was at high school that I realised that I was gay.
I also discovered that my church, my school
friends and my society expected me to be thoroughly ashamed of myself.
I was supposed to keep totally silent and to
hide my feelings. I thought that there
was no one that I could talk to about them.
If I showed my feelings or tried to respond to them, I ran the risk of
being caught by the police and locked in jail.
I never really accepted these attitudes.
But I went along with them, as most people did in those
days. It was a lonely time of denial -
even from my family.
I want to tell you that gays and lesbians exist, as they
always have, in every walk of life.
They are no better and no worse than other people.
They have most of the same problems and joys
and worries and hopes as heterosexual people have.
Many have a long-term partner, as I have.
Most have families, mortgages and domestic
pets. Nowadays more and more are
unwilling to go along with the game of shame.
As you grow up, you will meet many people who are
homosexual. They may be footballers,
musicians, truck drivers or judges. You
should refuse to join the herd mentality that calls them 'poofters', 'queers',
'faggots' or other words of hate. You
should reject 'poofter bashing' and harassment of people you think might be
gay. This is the conduct of
cowards. These are the attitudes that
led to the burning of heretics, the Holocaust, the Pink Triangle of the Nazis
and the genocide in Cambodia and East Timor.
Such wicked conduct is only stopped when ordinary people
reject the philosophy of 'don't ask, don't
tell' and fully accept their fellow human beings in all of their diversity.
Often it takes the
churches a long while to see the errors of their ways.
Ultimately they tend to get it right.
Martin Luther's call for the use of modern languages
in the place of Latin caused a terrible fuss.
Galileo narrowly escaped burning as a heretic for teaching that the
universe did not circle the Earth. Some
protestant churches in South Africa claimed a scriptural basis for
apartheid. Nobody defends such wrongs
today. Usually the churches belatedly
I believe that there is now another matter upon which the
churches-yours and mine-will ultimately realise their mistake.
It concerns homosexuals. In May last year, two fine catholics, Sister
Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, were prohibited from continuing
their ministry to a gay and lesbian congregation in Maryland in the United
States. They had done so for 20 years.
Gramick and Nugent were told by their bishop that they must cease their
ministry because they were not teaching the authentic doctrine of the
church. They were not instructing their
congregation about what was described as the 'intrinsic evil' of homosexuality.
'Intrinsic evil' is a very serious verdict. It is the kind of language that, I believe,
inflames hatred by outsiders and self-doubt and loathing amongst those
concerned. I for one deny that I am
'intrinsically evil'. Boringly enough,
I think I am quite a good man. I
respect and uphold the human rights of others.
I do not think that it is too much to expect that others will respect my
human dignity for who I am.
To demand a life of celibacy of the millions of homosexual
people in this world-as some churches
do-is not only totally unrealistic, it is completely
unreasonable. Indeed, for most of
humanity it is seriously unnatural.It
amounts to an important aspect of personhood which is impossible and wrong to
demand of all but a very few who are suited to the celibate life.
In my experience, few if any gay and lesbian
people choose their sexuality. It is
like your gender, your skin colour or being left-handed.
From the earliest days of puberty, you just
know how you are. And if that is how
you are, that is how God meant you to be.
With the wonderful intelligence that we were given at our
birth and with the lesson of love and reconciliation that we are taught by our
religion, we have, I believe, a duty to reject the notion that homosexuals and
their sexuality are 'intrinsically evil'. They are not. Those who suggest
that they are carry a very heavy moral responsibility for the hate crimes, the
bashings, the denigration, the family rejections, the shame, the suicides, the
despairing exposure to HIV and the lonely denial that they inflict on other
Among gays and straights, there is a need to stand up
bravely together on these issues and to confront hatred and error.
In due course, the churches will get it
right. Let us hope that we do not have
to wait too long for this apology.