Catholics for Equality: Committed to equality across the board, focuses on online effort

November 4, 2010
Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter

The voice of church hierarchy from Maine to California – and now in Minnesota – is shrill but clear: Oppose all LGBT equality, especially gay marriage.

And yet support for full LGBT equality among the Roman Catholic laity has risen dramatically. A recent Gallup poll, for example, revealed a solid 62 percent thought gay and lesbian relationships were “morally acceptable,” a view diametrically opposite to church doctrine.  Four years earlier, support for those relationships stood at just 46 percent.

So what’s a pro-equality Catholic supposed to do?

Become active in a new national organization that seeks to mobilize “the more than 62 percent of Catholics who support freedoms for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” thereby funneling “that support into action for legislative, political and cultural change.”

Based in Washington, D. C, the name of the group is Catholics for Equality, which formally launched on Sept. 14.

The newly incorporated not-for-profit group is a 501(c)(4), an IRS designation that allows it to direct up to half of its activities to political causes including participation in state ballot measures, lobbying and endorsing candidates in partisan elections. Donations to it are not tax deductible.

Catholics for Equality also established a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit entity to which donations are tax deductible. It will engage in public education and advocacy and have limited participation in ballot measure campaigns. Both entities are subject to state laws of incorporation and well as the IRS rules.

Charles Martel, a Boston-based psychotherapist, serves on the board of directors for the organization and is a founder.

During the same-sex marriage battle in the Commonwealth, “a declaration in support of civil marriage equality, that Catholics signed here in Massachusetts, gave public visibility to the reality that support very much existed in our faith community,” said Martel, referring to an effort initiated by the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. “Catholics for Equality is committed to this same goal, and this effort will be critical in states like Rhode Island, which has a significant Catholic population.”

During a recent teleconference, new group organizers acknowledged, it won’t be easy. “We don’t have the capacity to use the church halls” or parish bulletins to organize, said founding board member Father Joseph Palacios, a sociologist, adjunct professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Palacios, who is Latino, also identifies as a celibate gay man. He was active in marriage equality work in Washington, D.C. last year through Catholics United for Marriage Equality, which he organized.

Instead, Catholics for Equality is relying on “a state of the art website and a strategic use of social media” – including a soon-to-be-rolled-out smartphone app – to provide as board member Aniello Alioto said, “American Catholics with role models, facts, and tips on how to have a family discussion, how to challenge misinformation in our parishes, and how to ensure as Catholics their voices are heard.”

Initially, Catholics for Equality plans to rely on the power of social media.

“We’ve built our website so that every page a supporter views, every time a user takes action, he can share that with friends on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Gmail, and other popular social networks and services,” explained Alioto. “Our main goal from now until the end of the year focuses on encouraging and providing support for Catholic families, parishes, and communities to have honest and rational discussions about LGBT equality.”

Catholics for Equality has received assistance from several national LGBT organizations, including Dignity, a group for LGBT Catholics, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, and the Human Rights Campaign.

HRC spokesman Fred Sainz said that the organization lent Catholics for Equality meeting space and “supported some of their start-up costs at less than $10,000.”

A former HRC staffer, Phil Attey is presently the unpaid acting executive director for Catholics for Equality.

Catholics for Equality is not focused on church ministry or pastoral support programs. Rather, its aim is to facilitate netroots and grassroots political activism in pro-equality state legislative and ballot measure campaigns.

“We [also] are not a church reform group,” said Father Palacios. “We are not going to handle doctrine. We can’t change that. That is the church’s thing. We don’t even have the illusion that we as Catholics can do that.”

Accordingly, he added, “What we are doing is public action and public education on public issues. We are helping the Catholic movable middle rethink their positions. They are a fair-minded people. They want to do the right thing from their American core values and the heritage of Catholic social justice values.”

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