Acts of Courage

By Susan Ryan-Vollmar
Bay Windows [New York]
February 17, 2006


Has Tom Finneran met his match? The arrogant former Speaker of the State House of Representatives who is now the president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council isn't used to being called out on his missteps. But as Bay Windows reports this week, Fintan Steele, a board member of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation, the educational arm of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, is doing just that. Steele, a scientist, journalist and ethicist in the field of biotechnology, has resigned his board position to protest Finneran's having signed the ballot petition that would amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

As a politician, Finneran made few attempts to hide his beliefs that LGBT people do not merit the rights and responsibilities given to the general population. While in office, he routinely blocked passage of legislation that would have extended the same legal protections to LGBT people given to heterosexual people. He also lead the fight in the State House to get an amendment to the state constitution passed that would ban same-sex couples from marrying.

As a leader in an industry that has blazed the trail in creating workplace policies to attract and keep LGBT researchers, scientists, academics and thinkers, Finneran's decision to put his name on the anti-gay marriage ballot petition seems ill thought out at best.

"I felt like I could not in good conscience lend my expertise and abilities to the MassBiotech and MassBioEd as long as … the public front man takes a stand like this," Steele, who lives in Medford with his husband, told Bay Windows. Although he concedes that he is personally offended by Finneran's stance, Steele makes clear that he is resigning over his concern that Finneran's advocacy against the rights of same-sex couples could be confused by the public as a position held by the biotechnology council.

"He can say, 'I signed the petition as a private citizen' but he knows that this is going to be a public record. He's the face of the biotechnology council and I think MassBiotech shouldn't be represented this way," Steele said.

Kudos to Steele for having the courage of his convictions.

• • •

Speaking of courage, a New York priest has sued Cardinal Edward Egan and nine other Catholic officials alleging that they retaliated against him after he started speaking out about clergy sexual abuse and the Church's failure to deal with it. But that's not all. The Rev. Bob Hoatson also alleges in his suit that Egan, Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard and Newark Archbishop John Myers are "actively homosexual" and have failed to deal with pedophile priests out of fear that their sexuality would be exposed.

The allegations are laid out in a report in the Village Voice by Kristen Lombardi. Lombardi is the former Boston Phoenix reporter who broke the story about Cardinal Bernard Law's knowledge of pedophile priest John Geoghan's abuse of children and Law's strategy for dealing with Geoghan's criminal activities: Transfer him to new parishes when complaints started coming in about Geoghan's behavior.

Lombardi's account of Hoatson's lawsuit offers a truly disturbing theory: Gay priests protected pedophiles in order to buy silence about their own sexual activities. The story will likely be seized upon by those who want to blame gay priests for the clergy sex abuse scandal. If the allegations turn out to be true, such priests deserve every measure of scorn heaped upon them.

That said, it must never be forgotten that those to blame for the sexual abuse are the pedophiles who abused children.

• • •

The Marriage Protection Amendment is back — just in time for the mid-term Congressional elections. This week, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering for socially conservative activists, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist promised that the Senate would bring the measure up for a vote in June. The Senate last voted on the odious legislation, which seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to prevent same-sex couples from legally marrying, in July, 2004. It was killed on a procedural vote by a comfortable 12-vote margin.

There's little reason to believe that 13 senators have changed their minds about the legislation since then. So this is clearly a political move to revive the marriage debate just months before voters elect a new Congress. The entire exercise should erase any remaining doubt about whether or not Republicans see the marriage debate as a moral question or a political weapon.

The equality fight will not be won until people like Frist (and Finneran, for that matter) are made to account for their divisive, discriminatory acts.


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