Lawsuit Filed by Catholic Groups Against Federal Transgender Protections

Three Catholic organizations are suing the U.S. federal government over a regulation that went into effect yesterday which expands anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people further.

Headquarters of US Department of Health and Human ServicesA new Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) regulation interprets existing regulations banning discrimination based on sex as including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The regulation stems from the Affordable Care Act, and is rooted in the non-discrimination protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the HHS regulation “requires group health plans to cover these procedures and services” related to gender transitions and counseling for gender identity questions. The regulation applies to any group health plans, insurers, and hospitals who receive federal funding and does not include a religious exemption.

Three Catholic groups — the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA), the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities North Dakota — are now claiming the regulation violates religious liberty protections found elsewhere in federal law. The CBA offers insurance and employment benefits to church workers in Catholic dioceses, education, healthcare, and religious life.

Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo said that while the church does not discriminate based on a person’s “orientation,” Catholic values “will not permit us to pay for or facilitate actions that are contrary to our faith.” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who is not only the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious liberty but is also chairperson of the CBA, said President Barack Obama’s administration sought to “impose radical new health care mandates . . .creating a moral problem for Catholic employers.”

Two other lawsuits in federal court are challenging the HHS regulation.  They were filed by the Becket Fund, a conservative Catholic legal/political organization. The suits include  Catholic plaintiffs such as the Franciscan Alliance, the Sisters of Mercy in North Dakota, the University of Mary, and SMP Health System. A half dozen states have joined the suits as well.

In a related case, the HHS regulation was invoked in a discrimination lawsuit by a transgender man against the Dignity Health system, which the man alleges denied him gender-confirming surgeries. That lawsuit is ongoing, reported Crux.

But transgender advocates have challenged these claims of religious liberty violations as misguided. Jillian Weiss, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), said the regulation establishes parity in healthcare for trans people. Gay Star News reported:

“‘The only thing a doctor is obliged to do is treat all patients, including trans patients, with dignity and respect and to make treatment decisions free from bias,’ said Ezra Young, staff attorney for the TLDEF, in a statement.

“‘If a doctor has a sound, evidence-based, medical reason to delay transition care for a specific patient, that would be respected under the regulations.'”

Despite contrary claims, the regulation does not force health care providers to deliver services they do not deem medically necessary. It only ensures trans people have equal rights and equal treatment. Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, explained to PinkNews, “‘What the rule says is if you provide a particular service to anybody, you can’t refuse to provide it to anyone.'”

As with many discussions of LGBT legal rights in the United States, religious opponents of equality have set up a false contrast between LGBT communities and religious institutions. These matters are really about balancing the goods of human dignity, conscience, equal rights, and religious liberty, all of which are affirmed in Catholic teaching. At times, legal action is needed to uphold rights; more often, a collaborative approach could advance the common good by bringing together different interest groups and finding a beneficial solution for all involved.

The sadder reality about these present lawsuits is that church officials have buttressed their claims with ideas that do not exist in church teaching. There is no prohibition on gender transitions or mental health counseling for LGBT people, whereas non-discrimination protections and equality of persons are well-established doctrine. Despite the claims of some church leaders and right-wing organizations, Catholics in the United States are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights.

It is worth noting, too, that Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris was among the first instances where healthcare was named as a human right. Outside the United States, where the nation’s bishops have in recent years waged an ideologically driven attack on the Affordable Care Act, the church has championed expanded access to healthcare. Malta, a very Catholic island nation, passed a transgender rights law which is considered the gold standard in Europe. Historically Catholic nations elsewhere have led the way on transgender and intersex legal rights.

Most tragic is that while U.S. church officials expend their time and resources fighting LGBT rights and claiming that religious liberty is under attack, they neglect almost wholesale the discrimination and violence LGBT people face and the very real threats to religious liberty present in our world today.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 2, 2016


16 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    We have a political party that controls the Congress and soon the Executive branch that is calling for the privatization of Medicare and Medicaid, and is calling for the total repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would leave 20-30 million people stripped of healthcare – many of them would die – yet these “Catholic organizations and individuals are attacking coverage for transgender people? How irresonsible could these individuals be to fight this petty and vindictive battle to deprive people of healthcare, when a major battle over healthcare for millions of citizens in the United States risk the loss of healthcare? Their battle should be to preserve and expand healthcare, not to try to deprive people they don’t like (despite claims of respecting and loving LGBT people) of healthcare that they need.

    As an elderly gay man, my focus is on keeping the health benefits i have (which I have paid for all my working life and even in retirement) and in making sure that others have access to health care as well, and I am doing everything I can think of to fight to keep these benefits. These “Catholic” organizations and individuals should be fighting for these things as well. Otherwise they will be proving for all to see that when it comes to real human issues, they are not only irrelevant, but obstacles as well.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    What we seem to have here is a very sticky legal conundrum. On the one hand, I could allow a conservative Catholic physician to refuse to practice medical surgery which incidentally results in non-reversible contraception, even if a patient’s life is directly threatened from failure to have the surgery performed for other reasons, such as advanced ovarian cancer. However, in any such circumstance, it should also be the Catholic physician’s direct and primary responsibility to REFER the patient to another physician who is perfectly fine about performing the necessary surgery. This strikes me as “reasonable accommodation”. As a general rule, “REFER AND DON’T MERELY REFUSE” would probably solve a lot of these theological (or in some cases pseudo-theological) conflicts. All reputable Catholic hospitals should follow the very same sensible policy, by referring patients requesting “theologically controversial medical procedures” to another hospital which has no such religious restrictions in place. There seems to be far too much political grandstanding, and far too little care and concern about the distressed human being involved in the situation, when these conflicts arise. Bottom line: “What Would Jesus Do”? He had the advantage of being able to perform miraculous healings. We do not have any such advantage. We need to do the best we can, with the limited toolkit that is currently available to us.

  3. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    I wish the US had a national health service, as we have in the UK. It’s not perfect, heaven knows, but it does not discriminate against any UK subject, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Leaving health-care insurance and provision in the hands of religious groups is simply asking for trouble: law suits all the way.

    Is there no way the US can change its system of health-care provision to end, once for all, the power to discriminate unjustly that these religious groups have?

  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    This isn’t about detail of health care, it is recognizing that leaders in the Church are often men who get perverse joy tut-tuting on anything they can find to abuse not part of the straight norm. Lori of Baltimore was Cardinal Hickey of DC’s hit man on sexuality issues years ago and now can cast shade on those who need gentle care. Would Christ help actualize those who have challenges or is His calling to darken the lives of those who need assistance? Is Lori’s path the one we should follow? I don’t think so.

  5. Fr Anthony
    Fr Anthony says:

    Isn’t it wonderful that the Church can support discrimination? NOT. What an indictment this is. Christ must be hopful but very, very sad.

  6. Patricia Martens Balke
    Patricia Martens Balke says:

    This makes me furious! Instead of educating themselves in the area of human sexuality, a topic most of them are deathly afraid of, and leading our faith forward toward love and understanding, many of our bishops seem determined to undermine the Pope, the gospel message, and the love which Jesus taught should bind us together. Each time I think it can’t get worse, it does. My heart aches for our church leadership, but it’s hard to say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

  7. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    In his last sentence, author Robert Shine misses the key point, and mistakenly substitutes this extreme understatement: “. . . church officials . . . neglect the discrimination and violence to LGBT people.”

    Church officials don’t just “neglect” anti-LGBT violence and discrimination. They do far, far worse.

    In their relentless, global lobbying of lawmakers, agencies, and the courts to disenfranchise and criminalize LGBT people, church officials do, in fact, justify, excuse, and encourage continued discrimination and violence worldwide.

    Perpetrators in courtrooms continue to cite religious teaching as the basis for their anti-LGBT crimes, and the Vatican reaction to such defenses is always silence.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      I completely agree with you, Ned. You’ve got your finger on a core problem: the internalized personal sexual repression and homophobia of many members of the Catholic clergy — which they further convert into a personal condemnation of any and all same-sex loving relationships. They seem to feel emotionally threatened by other people’s loving intimacies, and thus they feel compelled to condemn those loving intimacies as “inherently and intrinsically disordered and immoral”. But Jesus Himself said NOTHING about such relationships. So it’s not hard to figure out the hidden root of these priestly condemnations.

    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:

      And, Ned, some of the strongest court rulings in favor of marriage equality have pinpointed the real opposition to legal equality – biased religious beliefs. And they have declared that such beliefs are not a rational basis for ruling against marriage equality.

      Although Catholic bishops could well have presented themselves as “expert” witnesses in the two cases in which witnesses were heard and examined, they did not. I would love to have seen Archbishop (then Bishop) Cordileone examined and cross examined in the Federal trial over California’s Proposition 8. His arguments would have been shredded and revealed as biased, irrational and baseless for all to see.

  8. Neil V. Christensen
    Neil V. Christensen says:

    Were I, ( and I am Not), a person who need to make a transition of My sexuality, I would never enter a Catholic Hospital or even consider a Catholic Dr. Neither are capable, have the quality, nor the christ like compassion to assist me in that need. I want access to quality treatment given in my best interest, not persecution.

    In a life treating emergency, I might consider either, but they would never know what my sexual orientation might be. It is irrelevant. If I needed Surgery, Cancer treatment, specialized care I would NEVER Use a R.Catholic Dr. or Hospital. I would search out the Best avalible.

    I have vetted my hospital, and my Drs. and, when I travel, I carry recommendations.
    All are GLBT Friendly and I know this from experience. And, I can’t see any other thinking person that believes in the Civil rights of the GLBTQ Community, doing anything other.

  9. Diane Eliese D'Angelo
    Diane Eliese D'Angelo says:

    And yet as a queer provider of healthcare, I do not refuse to treat bigots. See how that works? I’s not that hard.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] of religious liberty to curtail LGBT rights. Indeed, Catholic groups were lead plaintiffs in a 2016 lawsuit against LGBT healthcare protections implemented by former President Barack Obama. These […]

  2. […] right wing Catholic groups have sued former President Obama’s administration over healthcare regulations aimed at protecting LGBT […]

  3. […] Elsewhere, Catholic groups sued the Department of Health and Human Services last year to prevent implementation healthcare nondiscrimination protections similar to the education […]

  4. […] groups had filed lawsuits against the federal government over the HHS regulations which, congruent with the Affordable Care […]

  5. […] and their civil rights. Catholic dioceses and insurance plans have opposed transgender rights. The recent lawsuit against healthcare non-discrimination protections or the resistance to President Barack […]

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