I Deplore Homophobia, But…


While few people could have predicted Channel Seven’s story last week outing NSW MP David Campbell, probably even fewer would have guessed it would be so comprehensively condemned. This week has been a sweet season for piety and self-righteousness as we all tut-tut at the persecution of someone else’s not-so-private life.

Sure, the usual suspects have declared Minister Campbell fair game, but the backlash against the media outing a public figure has been vociferous.

What rolls my eyes — and the thing that substantially undermines all of these worthy-sounding sentiments — is that some of those making them don’t see the contradiction they reveal in their own positions. That contradiction, in a nutshell, is that while they say they support Campbell, they also explicitly support the Catholic Church, an organisation which goes out of its way to demonise gay people.

The NSW Premier is one example. She has made powerful statements supporting David Campbell, and even though his resignation has caused further problems for the LOLigarchy that is NSW Labor, Kristina Keneally delivered a heartfelt message highlighting her sympathy for someone "living a double life". Campbell’s resignation was accepted on compassionate grounds but the Premier added that it was "a matter for debate whether a person’s sexuality is relevant". Keneally felt that it was "appalling that we live in a society where he had to keep [his sexuality]a secret. […] Human beings are complex individuals, there is never a straight black and white." Despite her poor choice of adjective, I couldn’t agree with her more.

Miranda Devine is another. She showed enormous respect for Campbell in an article on 22 May which maps the troubled life that has emerged in the wake of the Channel Seven story. Married at 19, kids soon after… According to Devine, David Campbell certainly picked the wrong place to live — "the blokey blue-collar Wollongong suburb of Corrimal, where even in the swinging ’70s a gay lifestyle was not an easy option for a man who liked to fit in". Let’s not forget many lived the closeted life across NSW in the 1970s — not least of all because homosexuality was illegal — but it’s touching that Devine showed so much empathy.

Devine sensibly adds that "in the end, while it’s often forgotten in our sex-saturated culture, there is more to a person than sex."

These statements by two public figures are fascinating in that they both express genuine respect for David Campbell and the personal choices he made in the past few days. I don’t doubt their sincerity but I do feel a sense of disbelief that either individual could piously and publicly wonder, "why is society so unkind?" when both Kristina Keneally and Miranda Devine are notable Catholics.

As is well known, the NSW Premier met her husband, Ben Keneally in 1991 at World Youth Day in Poland and later migrated to Australia. And in her professional life, she was the State Government’s Special Minister for World Youth Day in 2008 — a huge event organised around the presence of Pope Benedict XVI.

For her part, Miranda Devine does not make a habit of waving the Catholic flag or seeking to convert the godless masses, but her opinion columns do maintain a moral imperative and more often than not express a Catholic view.

My issue here is with Catholics in general who pronounce it a disappointment that "people" can be so intolerant of homosexuality, so vindictive and so hurtful that community figures like Campbell are forced to live a "double life". Catholics have always apologised for certain aspects of their faith. Widespread abuse by Catholic priests? That has been very unfortunate. Church banning the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of HIV? Maybe that wasn’t in everyone’s best interest. Women’s rights within the Church? Could be better. Catholics spend a great deal of time separating out the positives from those regrettable negatives.

But the hypocrisy of being Catholic and a part of this institution makes the feigned outrage directed at Adam Walters and Channel Seven executives laughable.

Frankly, the Catholic Church is a world leader in suppressing, confusing and denying individuals’ sexuality — of all persuasions. The Catholic Church continues to oppose homosexuality — just as it has for more than 40 years. In every facet of its fight for human rights, the LGBT lobby has had to battle strong opposition from the Catholic Church.

While the contradiction between what they seem to think and what their Church actually insists they think is there for every Catholic, it understandably sharpened for those Catholics in the public eye — especially for those whose public persona makes use of their Catholicism in any way, as both Keneally’s and Devine’s do.

Those Catholics who admit this contradiction, but argue that the Church’s line on homosexuality is a remote curiosity of no real importance, need to face the fact that it is not actually remote at all

The Church’s local head, Cardinal George Pell, embodies its anti-gay stance. When Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell refused Holy Communion to homosexual activists on at least 10 occasions. When appointed Archbishop of Sydney, he did the same at St Mary’s Cathedral. His words to the Sydney congregation left little room for uncertainty about his opinion: "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve and important consequences follow from this."

Let’s not pretend that these refusals don’t send a clear message of intolerance from the "tolerant and benevolent" Catholic Church. With the example of homophobic bullying taking place in Catholic schools in NSW, under Cardinal Pell the suggested strategy is "hate the sin, love the sinner". Even outside of politics and in the playground, such a view is totally at odds with the desire to accept an individual’s personal autonomy.

Pell is an opponent of same sex marriage and he’s no fan of anti-discrimination laws which protect gay people either. He told the ABC in 2007 "Same sex marriage and adoption, changes the meaning of marriage, family, parenting and childhood for everyone." A strident opponent of liberal secularism (and a human rights act), Pell accuses Catholics who support departures from orthodox teachings on the basis of their own moral conscience of being proponents of what he refers to as a "Donald Duck heresy":

"Too many Donald Ducks produce the feel-good society which works to remove personal guilt, anything that would make people feel uncomfortable so that complacent self-satisfaction becomes a virtue; confession is replaced by therapy and self-reproach by self-discovery."

If you follow your conscience you’re a heretic. Where does this leave Keneally and Devine, I wonder?

Then of course we have the current Pope, Benedict XVI. Recently his Holiness visited Portugal. The trip was heavily publicised after months of revelations that priests across Europe had been molesting children — and months of condemnation of the Vatican’s inadequate response.

During the tour in Fatima, the Pontiff named abortion and same-sex marriage as two of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today. The concept of gay marriage precipitating the collapse of society is intolerably stupid (and so, for that matter is depicting abortion as another tipping point). Let’s be honest, the heterosexual marriage success rate of 51 per cent isn’t exactly grounds for us to be marching down Sydney’s Oxford Street wearing "Straights Do It Better" t-shirts anytime soon.

Kids who live in a cohesive, loving family environment with two mums or two dads are lucky enough to experience a stable happy reality which many other children miss out on. The violence, abuse, and turmoil with which too many children live has got nothing to do with the sexual orientation of their parents.

Think closely about the Pope’s message and what it means for those families with same-sex parents. The head of this institution is condemning these families solely because of their sexual orientation. Let’s be clear about this: this is homophobia, and it is a crucial part of an organisation that Keneally and Devine are also part of.

To repeat, I don’t believe for a moment that either Kristina Keneally or Miranda Devine hold any ill will towards gay people. I’m well aware of many in the Catholic Church who do not share the views of our Cardinal or our Pope. But we cannot pretend that somehow the views of the leaders of the Church — views that are the official position of the Church — are isolated and have no influence on the perception of homosexuality in the broader community.

In addition, the Catholic Church is not alone in promoting an anti-gay agenda. Indeed, the virulence of Catholics in talking down homosexuality looks mild and inept compared to the public statements made by some other religious leaders. Just take a look at what Pastor Jeff Owens from Shenandoah Baptist Church in West Virginia has to say. In a sermon recently Owens declared "We need hunt-a-homo week".

There’s also Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church. If you’re fortunate enough to have never heard of him, his ministry — which is not aligned with the Baptist Church (or indeed anyone else) — is synonymous with anti-gay protests and the declaration, "God Hates Fags". Phelps’s notoriety has only grown since his followers protested at the funeral of a gay US Marine, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.

While the official Catholic doctrine is not as extreme as these, people who associate publicly with any religion that promotes homophobia must not blind themselves to their own contradictions. Despite expressing sympathy for David Campbell’s position, and his decision to lead a double life, such people are propping up one of the institutions that makes life for people like Campbell so cruelly difficult.

If public figures like Kristina Keneally and Miranda Devine really do feel the injustice in David Campbell’s situation, maybe they need to look a bit closer to home and consider how those unjust perceptions of homosexuality are generated.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.