Religious liberty is among the most disputed topics when it comes to LGBT equality in the United States today. LGBT-negative forces have attempted use religious liberty to legally discriminate against LGBT people, while advocates for equality have pushed back.
Often, these disputes end up in the courts. But thus far, the courts have been unable to produce a clear jurisprudence on such matters despite the need for it, wrote the chair of Fordham University’s Theology Department, Patrick Hornbeck, in Religion Dispatches.
Citing a case where a Catholic Charities affiliate in Texas refused foster care services to a lesbian couple, Hornbeck predicts such cases will proliferate. Courts need to make clear how far “people’s belief that same-sex marriage (or even LGBT identities) are sinful can serve as a legitimate reason to treat same-sex couples differently.” He explained:
“True, religious freedom may lose its meaning if government can tell religious organizations how to govern their own affairs. But when should religious freedom be allowed to justify behaviors that in other contexts would be illegal, not to mention simply offensive? Perhaps out of this next phase of our contentious national conversation about the equality of LGBTQ citizens, we may find ways of better living with a tension that is built into both the structure of our Constitution and the sharp divisions that remain among Americans when it comes to the subject of sexual diversity.”
Catholics are well-suited to participate constructively in adjudicating competing rights claims which can be quite complex at times. Church teaching upholds both the right to religious liberty and the right to not be discriminated against, but Catholic theology also contributes its long history of finding a third-way or “both/and” solutions to complex problems. It has been said that for every problem there is a simple solution, and it is always wrong. Let us hope U.S. courts will heed Hornbeck’s advice and find the right way forward, with Catholic help.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 17, 2018