I've been asked in recent days why I'm so bitter about the gay "marriage" stuff, why my tone in writing about this gets so bleak and depressing. So I thought I'd use this opportunity to share a little bit about where I'm coming from.
I'm coming from ancestors who, according to family stories, fled France in the late 1780s, when being a faithful Catholic in France might cost you your head. Literally.
I'm coming from ancestors whose families left Ireland in the face of religious persecution and the grinding poverty that comes when the people who hate you the most make all the laws about where and how you can work the land, and what other jobs you can legitimately hold.
I'm coming from ancestors who came from Wales, where being Catholic wasn't exactly a ticket to fame or fortune, either. Especially after the Reformation.
I'm coming from long lines of people who came here because of the glimmer of hope they saw distantly reflected from Lady Liberty's torch, and the promise that here they could live and work and bring their faith into the public square along with them instead of having to hide it six days out of seven for fear of persecution.
And it wasn't easy.
It wasn't easy to be torn away from homes and families they'd never see again. It wasn't easy to get here and see signs on workplaces that said "No Irish need apply," or hear about the loyalty oaths that kept Catholics from holding public office, or witness the battle to close Catholic schools and force all children to attend public ones instead--not when the promise of religious freedom was what had drawn them here in the first place. It wasn't easy to fight for generations so they wouldn't be treated like second-class citizens.
Somehow, my ancestors prevailed, and enough of them kept the faith so that I, here in 2012, have no problem stating that I fully accept every teaching of the Catholic Church and strive to worship God faithfully not only at Mass on Sunday but in every aspect and every facet of my life. That I fail at times is the human condition, but that I even want to keep trying is a testament to the faith my ancestors preserved like a priceless jewel through every hardship, every danger, and even through the threat of death.
But now the shadows of the past are looming large over Catholics in America again, and the battle to redefine marriage has become the weapon of choice for those who would really prefer it if Catholics went back to their little Catholic ghettos and didn't mix much with the "real" Americans, or expect to be able to hold certain public offices (anything pertaining to marriage, for instance) or jobs (anything where you have to sign a "diversity statement" that is actually a denial of your faith) or own businesses (anything where you have to maintain the fiction that two men or two women are a "marriage") or run adoption agencies or charities where they will be forced to repeat the lie that it is bigoted and hateful to claim that marriage is one man and one woman or that children need a mother and a father...
...and pointing any of this out at all is "uncivil," or so I'm told.
Gay activists like to talk about acts of violence and murder committed against homosexual people in their discussions of these issues. I have never condoned any such acts, and never will; no matter how greatly I disagree with the lifestyles and values of those who engage in same-sex acts, I could not ever turn a blind eye to attacks or murders. How could I, when my own Catholic people knew what it was like to be targeted, attacked, and even killed for their religious beliefs?
But it is undoubtedly true that hatred for Catholics has never been eradicated in America. The most fundamentalist evangelical and the most rabid atheist share this in common: they both hate Catholics. And open hatred of Catholics is becoming ever more visible in society; I have, myself, seen apparently sane Internet commenters go off the deep end and say that Catholics deserved to be murdered for our beliefs, especially on marriage and human sexuality--I've even read outright calls for such killings, and shockingly graphic language employed as to the best way to carry this sort of thing out.
Does that, alone, mean that Catholics are about to face open religious persecution again in America? Of course not--but the climate for widespread social approval of marginalizing Catholics who won't water down their Church's teachings or their own expression and belief in those teachings is growing, and may soon come to fruition. To shrug and accept all of this with a blase and lackadaisical attitude would be, for me, a betrayal of the blood of my ancestors which now runs in my veins. The things they did, the things they suffered, the things they tried to escape and that they had to endure to reach these shores in the hopes of living openly as Catholics rise up in my imagination as a reproach, should I back away from this fight before it is over.
That's where I'm coming from, and why I see this fight about forcing religious people to abandon a more than 2,000 year old understanding of the nature and purpose of marriage as the opening salvo in what may be the kind of war that leaves my descendents homeless, and hoping for some other distant shore to welcome them when they can no longer live both as Catholics and as Americans.