Catholics have been expressing their support for the Equality Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, defying U.S. bishops’ opposition by demonstrating a pro-LGBTQ faith witness.
The Equality Act, passed by House Democrats on Friday, adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in federal law which would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination nationwide.
Several prominent Catholics and Catholic organizations supported the bill, starting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, who supported the bill, as did other Catholics in the House. More than one-third of House Democrats are Catholic.
Other Catholics include those who signed a petition from 5,000-plus faith leaders who held a prayer service earlier this week. America reported that the petition included the names of at least two dozen Catholic sisters, potentially some priests, and one significant deacon:
“The Rev. Mr. Ray Dever, a deacon in Florida, said he signed the petition because he believes the church’s social justice teachings compel Catholics to support measures that protect an individual’s rights to housing, work and a life free from discrimination.
‘We’ve kind of lost sight sometimes of the fundamental beliefs of social justice,’ Mr. Dever told America.
“Mr. Dever said he approaches the issue personally as the parent of a transgender daughter. He said that if church leaders contributed to the conversation about L.G.B.T. nondiscrimination laws from a place of seeking to protect people from discrimination, their concerns about religious liberty, which he shares, might be taken more seriously. Some leaders, he said, find themselves ‘part of the polarization that’s going on. We should be part of the cooperation in making these things work.'”
Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, also signed the petition. She expressed her organization’s support for the bill, which she said “is really just about providing protections for people who are discriminated against on a regular basis.” She added, per the National Catholic Reporter, “It’s not my intention to cause trouble. . .It’s a call to love. It’s a no-brainer in my book.”
But top leaders at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have made their sharp opposition to the Equality Act known repeatedly. In March, the chairs of the Conference’s committees on religious liberty, domestic justice and human development, and defense of marriage released a letter saying the act “would impose sweeping regulations to the detriment of society as a whole” and imperil First Amendment protections.
Those three bishops, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, plus Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education also signed onto a letter from Christian leaders to “express grave concern over the devastating consequences to religious freedom that will occur if the Equality Act as currently drafted becomes law.”
Joining the bishops’ opposition was Sr. Carol Keehan, SC, president of the Catholic Health Association, who sent House members her own letter of concern, reported America. She wrote:
“‘[F]ederal law has long recognized that certain services can present a potential conflict for some faith-based health care providers with religious or moral objections to providing those services, and protected them from having to do so. We are concerned that the Equality Act omits and could erode or reverse those protections. . .
“‘We share with the Act’s authors a desire to end unjust discrimination against any person. We urge Congress to craft a bill that would respect the dignity and protect the rights of all who could be affected by the legislation. For the above reasons, however, we are unable to support the Equality Act as written.'”
While it is unlikely the Equality Act will become law under the Trump administration, Catholics’ role in its House passage is still important to note. It is a reminder that Catholics in great numbers act for equality not in spite of their faith, but because of it, and it is a call to further action until every LGBTQ person is legally protected from discrimination.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 18, 2019