“Jesus condemned gays zero times.” - Herndon Graddick

In 2010, the man just elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church lobbied the Argentinean government in Buenos Aires against a bill to establish same-sex marriage and gay adoption. He lost. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and gay rights activists everywhere, won. 

Argentina became the first Latin American country to approve same-sex unions. Brazil has since followed suit and countries all over Latin America, including my native Chile, have similar legislation pending. With 40 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics living in Latin America, the first Latin American Pope has positioned himself squarely on the wrong side of regional history.

And what of God’s law regarding gay love? There is no clear and incontestable place in the Bible that establishes being gay as a sin.

- Pablo Manriquez

In Africa, the Vatican’s anti-gay position is of particular concern. The continent has seen the largest increase of Roman Catholics since 1970. It has also seen the most-severe and hateful state-sanctioned prejudices against same-sex love. In much of Africa, same-sex sexual activity is illegal. Offenders can be subject to imprisonment, corporal punishment, and even the death penalty. By defining the same-sex unions as “gravely unjust” the Vatican is complicit in these horrific human rights violations on the continent. 

So why does the Catholic Church continue to demonize gay relationships as a sin?  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes giving the “status of marriage” to gay unions “because they are inherently nonprocreative.”  But many heterosexual relationships are, for a variety of reasons, also nonprocreative. Is a married man and woman who do not procreate also living in sin?  

During Argentina’s push to legalize same-sex unions and gay adoption, Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Bergoglio expressed concern that children raised by same-sex couples will be “discriminated against in advance”; and that what is at stake “is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”  But by demonizing same-sex love, the church creates the very conditions of discrimination that worry Pope Francis. Moreover, science continues to show that people do not chose to be gay, they are born gay. Indeed, God makes gay people with same-sex attraction engraved in their hearts. 

And what of God’s law regarding gay love? There is no clear and incontestable place in the Bible that establishes being gay as a sin. The Vatican’s current teaching on marriage and sexuality relies on a troubling gender essentialism rooted in the recent insistence that every child needs a father and a mother. This has become the church’s hinge argument against gay marriage. It is theologically unfounded and culturally dangerous. 

Catholicism is better than this. The faith has more to say about love and responsibility than it has to say about sexual difference and gender roles. While Catholics can hardly expect an institution as old and enormous as the Roman Catholic Church to turn on a dime, the Vatican is not immune to change. The Washington Post’s Melinda Henneberger notes that “popes can surprise us; no one expected Pope John XXIII to convene the Second Vatican Council.”  

As Catholics, we should invite our new pope to devote more attention to gay marriage as a theological (not political or cultural) question. Ultimately, the question is not whether the church should accommodate the culture, but about how gay relationships fit into the mystery of God's love for all of humanity.

Pablo Manriquez works in Washington, D.C. He tweets at @vato.

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