Key bishops in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have released a statement commenting on three cases which involve LGBTQ civil rights that the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for last week.
Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, and Bishop James D. Conley, who are respectively the chairs of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, issued the statement urging the Supreme Court to maintain a limited definition of “sex” in the context of federal law:
“Words matter; and ‘sex’ should not be redefined to include sexual inclinations or conduct, nor to promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact. The Supreme Court affirmed that sex is an ‘immutable characteristic’ in the course of establishing constitutional protections for women against sex discrimination in the 1970s . . . Redefining ‘sex’ in law would not only be an interpretive leap away from the language and intent of Title VII, it would attempt to redefine a fundamental element of humanity that is the basis of the family, and would threaten religious liberty.”
The crux of these cases is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the law which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the USCCB previously filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief about these cases. In the brief, the Bishops expand upon their decision to exclude sexual orientation from the legal definition of sex:
“Construing the term ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ will create conflicts with many religious believers and with their institutions. Such an interpretation will affect the ability of churches and faith-based schools and charities to hire and retain employees who, by word and conduct, accept or at least do not contradict the organization’s religious message.”
The three cases being argued now, Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, would decide whether the word “sex” in Title VII includes sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Bondings 2.0 previously reviewed the significance of these three cases in greater detail, but here is a short refresher.
The first two cases deal with individuals allegedly fired for being gay. In the third, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission sued on behalf of a fired employee for allegedly being terminated for being transgender. The second case, Altitude Express v. Zarda, was thrown out in trial court, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Zarda, stating that Title VII applies in this case as discrimination based off sexual orientation is “a subset of sex discrimination.”
By resisting that Title VII includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its consideration of workplace discrimination, the bishops are not preventing harm within Catholic institutions. Instead, they are hurting LGBTQ employees within Catholic schools, universities, charities, and hospitals, not to mention LGBTQ Catholics employed everywhere. Though the bishops cite that as Catholics they want to ensure “the dignified treatment of all persons,” working against the protection of LGBTQ people under the law will achieve no such goal.
—Melissa Feito, October 15, 2019