A Catholic case for same-sex marriage took center stage in Baltimore during the weekend at a national conference where a church theologian advocated marriage equality from a faith-based perspective and a bishop called for a ''new study of everything to do with sexuality,'' which he suggested, ''would have a profound influence of church teaching concerning sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual."
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) also addressed the gathering, sponsored by the Mount Rainier, Md.-based New Ways Ministry, a gay-affirming advocacy organization.
''If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever going to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,'' retired Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia told the gathering of nearly 400 Catholics at the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, held March 15 to 17 at the Renaissance Inner Harbor Hotel.
O'Malley, who weeks earlier signed a same-sex marriage bill into law, also briefly addressed the faithful — but without ever saying ''gay'' or ''lesbian.''
''I am not here as a Catholic, I'm here as the governor of all Maryland,'' he said.
''At the end of the day, all of us want the same thing for our kids. We want our children to grow up in caring, committed, and loving homes, protected equally under the law,'' said O'Malley, adding success in the state Legislature rested on a ''belief in the dignity of every individual.''
O'Malley has framed marriage equality as a balancing of protections for religious liberties and provisions for equal rights.
Meanwhile, Patricia Beattie Jung, a professor of Christian Ethics at the Kansas City, Mo., St. Paul School of Theology, presented a theological argument for same-sex civil marriage.
''Sexuality is ambiguous,'' she said. ''It can be dangerous and a grace. So we channel it in marriage. Monogamy entails promises to be steadfast and sexually exclusive.''
"I'm pretty conservative,'' explained Jung, who said her main reason for promoting sexual fidelity is its service to ''love'' and to ''life.''
''Great sex is wholehearted,'' she said. ''This is what makes it graceful and us vulnerable and vicious. These promises give us the time and focus to learn how to love.''
''Can fidelity serve same-sex lovers the same way?'' asked Beattie Jung. ''Yes!"
Jung's talk generated a variety of responses during a question-and-answer session following her presentation.
Kenneth Dowling asked about emotional fidelity or steadfastness in same-sex marriages, though not necessarily sexual exclusivity.
''I asked the question because there is an acceptance, at least among my young gay male community, mostly secular, of open relationships that are emotionally committed but sexually open,'' with ''a variety of rules about threesomes or whatever,'' said Dowling, a member of Dignity/Washington, a local LGBT Catholic group.
''Open relationships, with lots of rules – it's playing with fire,'' Dowling said. ''I just wanted her to know that some people, including Catholics, do not rule out sexual openness and emotional fidelity, and are exploring it.''
In response, Jung said sexual exclusivity is ''not just an issue in the gay community.''
''I truly believe because of human finitude and limits, we really don't have the time and energy to give people what they deserve,'' she said.
''I understand the appeal and attraction to other people and know that would energize my life,'' she said, adding, ''I don't think I can be fair to my spouse in terms of loving.''
''It's an important question,'' she continued. ''Why would anyone promise to be exclusive? Steadfast maybe, but exclusive — that's a question for gay and straight alike.''
Nonetheless, ''I am caught in the middle and don't know what is actually right, and I am still figuring this out,'' said Dowling. "While I appreciate Catholic moral teaching, I also know it has been wrong, especially on the gay issue.''
© 2012 by Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.