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Dismay and disgust at Vatican in S.F.'s Castro

Many hailed recent advances in gay rights

Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, August 1, 2003


"Serious depravity." "A troubling moral and social phenomenon." "A threat to the foundation of the family and the stability of society." The words used to assail homosexuality and same-sex marriage were issued Thursday by the Vatican. The salvos hit the streets of San Francisco, some 6, 000 miles away, like thunder. "Disgust is the first thing that comes to mind," said Tim Oviatt, 53, standing behind the counter of a store called All American Boy in the Castro. "The Roman Catholic Church has been behind in wave after wave of social change. At least, they're consistent -- they stubbornly resist relating to the world as it is." Oviatt was not surprised that the Roman Catholic Church issued a 2,800-word proclamation against gay and lesbian unions. Nor was he shocked the Vatican had labeled such marriages the "legalization of evil." He simply shook his head over the Vatican's warning to Catholic politicians that support of same- sex unions would be "gravely immoral." He was, however, disappointed. "My sense has been that there's more and more acceptance of gays than there ever has been," he said. He and others interviewed Thursday in the Castro, the city's politically active gay and lesbian neighborhood, heralded the significant gay-rights advances of recent months, including the legalization of gay marriage by provincial courts in Canada and the Supreme Court ruling in June decriminalizing gay sex. "If two people want to be together in a marriage, why not let them?" said Forrest Delambert, 68, who lives in Bernal Heights. "Why is that such a threat to the church and to our government? Of course, the pope can have his opinion and our president can have his opinion, but it really is something between two people." On Wednesday, President Bush addressed the issue of same-sex marriage by speaking about the need to be "a welcoming country." At the same time, he denounced gay marriages and said he has "lawyers looking at the best way" to bar such mergers. Canadian resident Eddie Wong, 51, who was strolling around the Castro on a visit to San Francisco, said he watched as his own country went through political convulsions and collective soul-searching over the issue. "I've thought a great deal about this," Wong said. "Personally, I'm against gay marriage because I feel children are shortchanged if they don't have a mother and a father. I listened to President Bush, and I agree with him that everyone should be treated with respect. I also agree that marriage should be between a man and a woman." Robert Sliwoski, 37, who lives four blocks from the Castro and Richard Padilla, 53, who recently moved to San Francisco because of the city's openness, believe the debate over same-sex marriage is just beginning. Padilla said he thinks the debate will get a lot hotter before it cools down, "but I believe we will eventually have the same benefits." Sliwoski said, "I think same-sex marriage would change the dynamics of society. I feel we really are at a cross road." Kathryn Hubbard, 20, drinking coffee as she headed to her job at a piercing- and-tattoo shop, called the Vatican's proclamation against gay and lesbian unions "just stupid." "I was raised Catholic," she said. "What I want to know is why does the Vatican think it can tell everyone what to do? This is an issue that should be decided by individuals. People need to decide for themselves what they think is right." E-mail Julian Guthrie at jguthrie@sfchronicle.com.

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Vatican, president intensify assault on gay marriage

CHURCH'S VIEW: Homosexuality condemned in new proclamation

Don Lattin, Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writers

Friday, August 1, 2003


In an unusually strident proclamation, the Roman Catholic Church condemned government recognition of gay and lesbian unions as the "legalization of evil" and said Catholic politicians have a moral duty to publicly fight gay marriage. The 2,800-word missive was issued Thursday by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's chief doctrinal watchdog. It comes amid the growing legal recognition of gay marriage and other homosexual civil unions across Europe and North America, and as polls show rising acceptance of such partnerships among U.S. Catholics. Titled "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," the document begins by calling homosexuality a troubling moral and social phenomenon threatening the foundation of the family and the stability of society. 'A SERIOUS DEPRAVITY' Homosexual acts, the statement maintains, are a serious depravity and constitute "sins gravely contrary to chastity." "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," the document states. It is the responsibility of the government, Ratzinger says, to "avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage." Recognizing gay marriage "could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law." Ratzinger, the prefect of the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said a "Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it." "To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral, " he said. The Vatican document, which was approved by Pope John Paul II, inspired a quick reaction from the crowded field of candidates in the coming mayoral race in San Francisco, all of whom are at least nominally Catholic. San Francisco City Treasurer Susan Leal, a Catholic who is running for mayor, had a terse comment on the Vatican dictate. "The Catholic Church I was raised in preached of people being Christ-like -- to have tolerance and inclusion of others. I'm disappointed with the pope, and I disagree with him. I support tolerance and equality, and that's why I support gay marriage," said Leal, a lesbian. She, like most of San Francisco's elected politicians -- gay and straight -- participate in officiating at the annual mass domestic partner ceremony at City Hall. San Francisco Supervisor Tony Hall, who is contemplating a run for mayor, opposes gay marriage on religious grounds. However, he would not say whether in his official capacity he would oppose efforts that seek the government sanctioning of gay unions. "As a Catholic, I think the religious sacrament of matrimony is best served by the union of a man and woman," said Hall. "If two non-Catholics or other people want to codify their arrangement with a contract, that's their business. " San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, another gay Catholic running for mayor, said the Vatican document is a "very misguided" directive. "It seems that with the scandals that the Catholic Church has been facing in the recent years and the falloff in congregations, the church should be more welcoming to those it has historically shunned -- gays and lesbians, divorced people -- because these people want to remain Roman Catholic, and these policies make them feel very unwelcome." PRESIDENT KENNEDY INVOKED San Francisco Supervisor Gavin Newsom, another Catholic running for mayor, invoked President John F. Kennedy in his reaction. "As a Catholic, I am respectful of the Vatican, but it is not my role as a legislator to legislate morality as defined by the Vatican,' said Newsom, a straight, married man who supports gay marriage. "If all Catholics were to legislate according to the dictates of the Catholic Church, John F. Kennedy would never have been elected president. "The main criticism aimed at Kennedy in 1960, and all Catholics that ran for high office before Kennedy," Newsom said, "was that Catholic politicians couldn't be trusted to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights because they would have a higher loyalty to the Church." Vatican observers say the strongly worded document is partly inspired by concerns that the Catholic Church is losing political influence in Europe and Canada. Both Holland and Belgium have extended marriage rights to all couples, as have the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. France, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland have civil union laws giving gay and lesbian partners the rights and responsibilities of traditional married couples. In the United States, Vermont has extended homosexual couples many of the same rights as married heterosexuals, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court is now considering the legality of same-sex unions. Marianne Duddy, the executive director of Dignity USA, an organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, called the statement "an absolute perversion of the Catholic social justice tradition." "The Vatican has poured out increasingly harsh rhetoric against equal civil protections for committed gay and lesbian couples and our families in recent years. This new document is intended to intimidate public officials across the globe into doing what the Vatican has not been able to do on its own -- stem the growing tide for justice." Tom Fry, a former Catholic priest who founded the Dignity chapter in San Francisco in 1973, said he was shocked by these "hell-bent, increasingly homophobic Vatican attacks on our civil rights." "It's time for all fair-minded Catholics to distance ourselves from the hysterical anti-gay bigotry from the Vatican," Fry said. Gay rights groups argue that recognition of gay unions allows homosexuals to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples have to obtain health insurance, inherit property, participate in medical decisions and adopt children. But according to the new Vatican statement, allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children inflicts "violence on these children" by placing them "in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development." Marriage was created by God, Ratzinger argues, and "no ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman."