The Joy of (LGBT) Family

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation is called “Amoris Laetitia” – The Joy of Love. Written in response to the 2014/15 Bishops Synods’ Assemblies,  it’s not really about love specifically, but about the wider issue of marriage and family, their joys, difficulties and challenges they face – which had been the theme of the assemblies. This is why, to the surprise and disappointment of many LGBT Catholics, there was little attention, in either the assemblies or in Amoris, to the subject of homosexuality – except with reference to families having LGBT people within them.

Seen at Newcastle Pride. (By Ardfern – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

At one level, this is reasonable.  To a great degree, the joys and difficulties described apply to all families, including queer families.  A few years earlier, when speaking to a conference of Italian local government officials,   Pope Benedict XVI spoke about not the joy of family, but their value to society. Again, the specific values he pointed out, apply to all families – including LGBT families.

There is however, one pressing reason why LGBT families do indeed need special attention, one area where our families experience difficulties not affecting others. Very often, young LGBT children, and the children of LGBT parents, and parents who are LGBT, experience bullying, discrimination, or even direct violence. This is not merely contrary to the direct command of the Catechism – all too often, this abuse is even perpetrated in the name of religion.

This matters.  Rates of suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm are disturbingly high for young people – and several times higher for LGBT young people. They are higher still for those from non- accepting religious households. Much of this is attributable to the bullying they receive, or to rejection by families, or by their own perception that they cannot be welcomed in their faith communities.
In Australia, the political struggle over the equal marriage referendum has raised emotions on both sides – and with it, some appalling, hurtful and simply false claims by those urging a “no” vote.  Once again, much of this dangerous rhetoric is coming from those claiming to speak from religious conviction, in the mistaken belief that they are protecting the children. They are not. It is simply not true that children “need” both a mother and a father, or that they will somehow be harmed with two same-sex parents. All the available evidence from rigorous research, shows that same-sex couples are at least as effective at raising well-adjusted children as opposite-sex couples. (Some research even shows that in certain circumstances, same-sex couples can be better). What can damage children, is persecution. Recent research from Australia, reported in The Guardian,  is just one example, among many:

As the marriage equality vote draws toward its close, a comprehensive study published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows children raised in same-sex-parented families do as well as children raised by heterosexual couple parents.

The review of three decades of peer-reviewed research by Melbourne Children’s found children raised in same-sex-parented families did as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers.

But here’s the problem:

However, the study did find that young people who expressed diversity in their sexual orientation or gender identity experienced some of the highest rates of psychological distress in Australia, said the study’s senior author, Prof Frank Oberklaid.

“Young LGBTIQ+ people are much more likely to experience poor mental health, self-harm and suicide than other young people, “ he said.

“Sadly, this is largely attributed to the harassment, stigma and discrimination they and other LGBTIQ+ individuals and communities face in our society,” Oberklaid said.

It’s not only academics who have found that same-sex couples are as good as heterosexuals in parenting: courts and professional adoption agencies have reached the same conclusion. When a Michigan judge ruled in favour of same-sex marriage, it was for the sake of the children.

It’s important that LGBT Catholics should do whatever we can to counter this dangerous narrative. Those of us in queer families have an even greater responsibility. Organisers of the Dublin World Meeting of Families (August 2019) have made it clear that LGBT families will be welcome, along with all others. We must make it our business to be there, to tell our stories, to provide witness – and to present the hard, empirical evidence to counter the lies.

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