The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently wrote to Congress to express concerns over the Fairness for All Act (FAA) which aims to simultaneously protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and religious institutions’ freedom from government interference.
Chairmen of various USCCB committees wrote to Congressman Chris Stewart (Republican-Utah) who sponsored the Fairness for All Act in December to voice their objection to this legislation that seeks a middle ground between LGBTQ rights and church protections.
The bishop signatories are Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; Bishop George Murry, SJ, of Youngstown, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
In enumerating their specific concerns over the FAA legislation, the bishops ultimately admit that even if these concerns were addressed, their opposition to the bill would not change. At the core of their opposition is the claim that the ends of “securing the included religious freedom protections” do not justify the means of “establishing gender ideology as a basis for a national policy, further undermining the anthropological basis of the family.”
The letter argues that the bishops are not discriminating against the LGBTQ community, but rather are affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman and that gender is immutable. The bishops affirm that this “in no way compromises the Church’s opposition to unjust discrimination against persons who experience gender incongruence, or those with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ who ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.'”
The USCCB letter also argues that the bishops “are—and always have been—for fairness and dignity for all people” immediately before arguing against “gender’ ideologies” that contradict “fundamental truths about biology and marriage.”
The FAA seeks to mitigate the fallout for churches and religious organizations if sexual orientation and gender identity were to become federally protected classes. Religious institutions fear that they would no longer be able to hire employees who comport with their religious beliefs and moral doctrines. Additionally, they fear that they could lose federal funding or tax-exempt status should they not adjust their organizations’ practices to protect LGBTQ folks.
A number of LGBTQ-positive groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign have come out in opposition to the FAA because they believe the legislation permanently and legally relegates LGBTQ people to second-class status. Instead of elevating LGBTQ folks to full federally legal equality, it distinguishes LGBTQ people from all other people, allowing discrimination by religious groups based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Whereas religious groups could not oppose interracial marriage on religious grounds under current civil rights protection, they still would be able to discriminate on the basis of someone’s same-gender marriage.
The FAA was written in response to the Equality Act that passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority in May of 2019, a move about which the U.S. bishops said they were “gravely disappointed.” The Equality Act adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under current civil rights legislation, equating these two categories with other protected classes including race, ethnicity, and religion. LGBTQ-positive groups overwhelmingly support the Equality Act as the only piece of legislation that would effectively establish LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in federal law.
The USCCB has spent considerable money and energy on their religious liberty campaign in the public debate over LGBTQ equality. This most recent opposition to anti-discrimination legislation blurs the distinction between church and state by offering theological arguments against federal legislation.
By denying the lived experience of the LGBTQ community, and transgender folks in particular, the bishops fail to show respect, compassion, or sensitivity in this letter. That lived experience tells us that “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is a nonsensical phrase, gender is a social construct, and LGBTQ people find terms such as “homosexual” and “gender-incongruence” offensive.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented, “The more the bishops object to non-discrimination policies, the less credible their stated opposition to unjust discrimination becomes. If the bishops lived by their own principle of the preferential option for the poor and marginalized, they would realize that aiding LGBTQ people’s civil equality is an imperative.”
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, January 27, 2020