During a Bloggingheads discussion between Maggie Gallagher and E.J. Graff, Maggie attempted to make the case that same-sex marriage turns some religious Americans into second-class citizens, or at least has given them good reason to fear they will become second-class citizens. The main example Maggie used to illustrate this was the closing of Catholic Charities in Illinois.
So what happened in Illinois? From The New York Times:
The controversy in Illinois began when the state legislature voted in November 2010 to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, which the state’s Catholic bishops lobbied against.[...]
Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).
In Illinois, Catholic Charities in five of the six state dioceses had grown dependent on foster care contracts, receiving 60 percent to 92 percent of their revenues from the state, according to affidavits by the charities’ directors. [...]
When the contracts came up for renewal in June, the state attorney general, along with the legal staff in the governor’s office and the Department of Children and Family Services, decided that the religious providers on state contracts would no longer be able to reject same-sex couples[...].
After losing a lawsuit against the state, the Church decided to get out of the foster care business rather than place foster children with same-sex parents. “The Dioceses of Peoria and Belleville are spinning off their state-financed social services, with the caseworkers, top executives and foster children all moving to new nonprofits that will no longer be affiliated with either diocese.” In the other areas, Illinois will contract with other private agencies to take over.
Six thoughts on this:
1) This is exactly like the case of City Clerks who refuse to help same-sex couples.
In their private lives, religious Catholics are free to snub gay and lesbian people all they want (although most Catholics would do no such thing! But my point is, they’re free to). They can refuse to go to dinner with a lesbian couple, refuse to drink Starbucks coffee, refuse to see the touring company of “Chicago,” and write blogs arguing that Ellen and Portia aren’t really married – whatever.
But Catholic Charities, in its dealings with foster children, is a paid agent acting on behalf of the state. Just as a city clerk is not free to refuse services to lgbt taxpayers, Catholic Charities, when acting for the government, cannot refuse services to same-sex couples. Just as the government isn’t allowed to discriminate, the government’s paid agents aren’t allowed to discriminate.
If a government agent, be it a city clerk or Catholic Charities, refuses to perform their job duties, then they can’t reasonably expect to hold on to their position. As the judge in Illinois told Catholic Charities, “No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.”
But – contra Maggie – just because state and local governments (and their agents) are not allowed to discriminate, it doesn’t follow that private citizens need to fear being fired en mass if they don’t like SSM. That’s just fearmongering.
2) Foster children have a legal right to have their best interests put first.
The question should always be, “who are the best parents available to take care of this foster child?” Catholic Charities was instead asking “who are the best heterosexuals available to take care of this foster child?”
Unless there is never an instance in which a particular same-sex couple would be the best available match for a particular foster child, then it’s irresponsible and harmful to children to ask the former question, rather than the latter question.
3) Anti-gay policies harm lgbt foster children.
Quoting Lambda Legal (written before the judge’s decision):
The dioceses’ refusal to license gay and lesbian prospective foster parents sends a message of exclusion, not only to the couples themselves, but to lesbian and gay youth in state care, who are particularly vulnerable. Gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender-nonconforming adolescents are disproportionately represented in foster care populations because they often experience rejection by their own families. If the dioceses’ lawsuit succeeds, these children would be told by the authorities caring for them and by their government that they are morally unworthy ever of forming families of their own, and that their future relationships in adulthood—no matter how loving, how committed, or how responsible—will be inferior to those in other families.
4) There was no bait-and-switch.
Both Maggie, in the Bloggingheads dialog, and Bishop Paprocki in the Times article, imply that they were “given the impression” that civil unions would have no effect on Catholic Charities in Illinois.
Yet two months before the civil unions bill
was passed took effect, Catholic Charities lobbied hard for SB 1123, which would have amended the Illinois civil unions bill to exempt Catholic Charities and other religious child-care organizations from Illinois’ non-discrimination law. (The amendment died in committee). Clearly, Catholic Charities understood well ahead of time that the civil unions bill would put them in conflict with anti-discrimination law.
5) What about religious freedom for those who favor marriage equality?
The self-appointed spokespeople for religious freedom rarely, if ever, acknowledge the many religious people and leaders who favor marriage equality. The real threat to religious liberty is when more powerful religions force their religion’s rules on all of society, as happens when same-sex marriage is banned. Religious freedom is increased by legal recognition of SSM.
6) Does religious freedom require ending legal protections for LGBT people?
In their grasping at straws to argue that marriage equality is a threat to religious freedom, SSM opponents constantly invoke examples from states – like Illinois – that don’t even have marriage equality. What’s being discussed in Illinois, at heart, is a conflict between a religious group and anti-discrimination law. SSM opponents frequently cite similar cases from other states that don’t currently recognize same-sex marriage.
These arguments from SSM opponents logically amount to a claim that when lgbt people have rights – when anti-discrimination laws exist, when domestic partnership exist – that’s incompatible with religious freedom.
If we take arguments like Maggie’s seriously, SSM opponents don’t just require same-sex marriages to be banned in order to be free. For SSM opponents, freedom requires that lgbt people have no legal protections. For SSM opponents, freedom means government agents actively discriminating against lgbt people.
And if (as I suspect) that’s not what Maggie and other SSM opponents really intend to say, then they should change their arguments.
SSM opponents paint a vision of marriage equality and religious freedom as hopelessly opposed, like fire and water. Either lgbt people accept permanent second-class citizenship, or religious people do. I reject that narrow vision.
Compromise is not only possible, it’s commonplace. We can see that in marriage equality states like Massachusetts, millions of SSM opponents live in freedom; their churches have not been forced to shut down (or host gay weddings), their jobs haven’t been lost, etc.. Once the law treats people equally, mutual tolerance becomes much easier.
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- Who will defend the Illinois ban on marraige equality?
- I Have No Idea If Ken Howell Should Have Been Fired Or Not
- A Case Where Christians Should Be Allowed To Practice Anti-Gay Discrimination
- ACLU: Catholic Hospitals Have Been Refusing To Provide Reproductive Health Care