Three leading U.S. bishops have announced their opposition to the Equality Act recently introduced in Congress, saying passage would be “to the detriment of society as a whole.”
The bishops, all heads of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops committees, raised their objections in a letter to Congress, reported the National Catholic Reporter. The Equality Act would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing federal civil rights laws. But the bishops warned:
“‘[R]ather than offering meaningful protections for individuals,’ the Equality Act ‘would impose sweeping regulations to the detriment of society as a whole,’ they explained.
“‘The act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence,’ the prelates said. ‘Furthermore, the act also fails to recognize the difference between the person — who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it — and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications.'”
The letter’s signatories are Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Venice’s Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Lincoln’s Bishop James Conley, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
The bishops further expressed their belief that the Equality Act would put First Amendment protections at risk, in particular religious liberty, and would hinder quality healthcare by allegedly forcing providers to assist with gender transitions. It would also threaten social service agencies that do not work with LGBTQ clients. The bishops suggested:
“The measure ‘would force a multitude of charitable services to either violate their principles or shut down,’ they said in the letter. ‘With the lack of gender criteria, shelters would be required to house vulnerable, sometimes traumatized, women with biological men.’ Foster care and adoption agencies also ‘would be expected to place children with same-sex partners, regardless of some birth mothers’ wishes and children’s best interests,’ they added.”
Finally, the bishops raised the myth that allowing transgender individuals to use restrooms and locker rooms appropriate to their gender could cause emotional and physical harm to people.
It is unsurprising that these leaders, on behalf of their brother bishops nationwide, are opposing basic non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. But what is notable in 2019 is the moving target of their opposition. For years, marriage equality was the U.S. bishops’ focus, a campaign into which they invested millions of dollars. But with its nationwide legalization in 2015, political opposition to equal marriage equality is moot. Religious liberty has become the rallying cry, one with which they continue. Beyond discriminating against LGB people and same-gender couples, however, the bishops have strongly expanded their opposition into questions of gender identity. Their intensified targeting of transgender people should be deeply concerning to anyone concerned with equality and justice.
Polling repeatedly finds that majorities of Catholics reject legal discrimination against LGBT people and have generally supported LGBT rights. Unfortunately, passage of the Equality Act is unlikely as long as Republicans control the Senate and the White House. But Catholics should still raise our voices when bishops, who claim to speak for our faith, spout discrimination against LGBTQ people. Next time you call your legislator in support of nondiscrimination protections, call your bishop, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 26, 2019