Lobbying for Gay Marriage on Catholic Campuses
By: Anne Hendershott
As the courts continue to be confronted with demands from gay men and lesbian women for access to marriage, and activist lawmakers continue to try and pass same sex marriage laws, the Church remains steadfast in her teachings that same sex marriage is impossible. Well, except on Catholic college campuses—where the concept of gay marriage is open for debate—and there are often faculty members who are ready, willing, and able to provide Catholic cover to politicians looking for help in passing same sex marriage laws.
The latest controversy involves Professor W. King Mott, a gay professor of political science at Seton Hall University. Mott is scheduled to teach a course in gay marriage in the Fall. And, although he claims that the course is “not about advocacy, but about studying the issue from an academic perspective,” Mott has a history of advocacy for homosexual rights and open criticism of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.
In 2005, Mott wrote a letter to the editor of the New Jersey Star Ledger arguing that the Catholic Church “attacks gay men as a scapegoat instead of addressing problems of pedophilia within the priesthood.” As a result of the letter, Mott, who was then associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall, was asked to step down and resume his former tenured faculty position.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the reason for Mott’s demotion was because he signed his letter to the editor as a university official. According to Thomas White, a university spokesman, the issue was not that Mott was critical of the Church, but that “he was critical of the Church while representing Seton Hall.”
While Mott was quoted in a 2005 issue of The Chronicle as planning to “leave Seton Hall once he finds a new job,” it appears that he has not yet found that job. He continues at Seton Hall as a tenured professor of political science, Chair of the Faculty Senate, and as one of 12 members of the Presidential Search Committee—the committee charged with hiring the highest ranking person on the Seton Hall campus. He is hardly a marginalized man.
Still, Mott will most likely assume “vulnerable victim status” now that Archbishop of Newark, John J. Myers, has indicated that Mott’s course will conflict with Church teachings. Academia loves a victim—and all rallied to his side in 2005 with faculty protests, letter writing campaigns, and angry pleas to the administration when he was returned to his tenured faculty position. In the strange drama that takes place on Catholic college campuses throughout the country, there is nothing that gives a faculty member higher status than when a bishop even questions something that a faculty member does.
Still, the Star Ledger reminds us that at Seton Hall, “The archbishop serves as chairman of Seton Hall’s Board of Trustees and is president of its Board of Regents, the governing body that oversees academic issues. Archbishop Myers is just doing his job. But, because so few bishops are willing to take the courageous stand the Newark Archbishop has taken, it is shocking for most of us to see a bishop actually confront a faculty member.
The bishops should know that professors like Mott have tremendous influence both on and off campus. A recently released Georgetown study shows that Catholic students enrolled in Catholic institutions were less likely to move toward Catholic Church teachings on abortion and gay marriage than those enrolled in non-Catholic institutions. The study indicated that in addition to moving toward increased support for abortion, Catholic students enrolled on Catholic campuses showed dramatic increases in support for gay marriage.
Thirty-nine percent of Catholic students enrolled in Catholic colleges and universities claim to have moved further away from the Church’s definition of marriage as a union of one woman and one man. This movement away from the Church has repercussions far beyond the campus as both faculty and alumni have become activists in favor of same-sex marriage.
A few years ago, Boston College graduate Kara Suffredini, a legislative attorney for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told an alumni gathering of the Lambda Law Students, “I want to begin by saying that everything I know about queer activism, I learned at Boston College….put that in your admissions brochure.”
The Jesuit University of San Francisco recently announced that their Public Interest Law Foundation is honoring California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno for his support for gay marriage in his dissent in the Proposition 8 decision. Moreno’s award follows a similar award in 2008 when USF honored Therese Stewart and Shannon Minter for their “courageous” work in gaining rights to same sex marriage for gay men and lesbian women. USF Professor Julie Nice was recently interviewed on KCBS radio where she denigrated the “whim of the voters” who voted against same sex marriage and claimed confidence that the voters’ will would be overturned by the California courts.
Providing platforms and awards to gay marriage supporters on Catholic campuses creates confusion—not just for students, but for lawmakers and voters—far beyond the campus. Professors like Mott can capitalize on that confusion by continuing to convince others that social justice demands that gay men and lesbian women have access to marriage.