Catholics are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday that federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But many of the faithful have also sharply criticized the U.S. bishops’ reaction that condemns the 6-3 ruling in favor of LGBTQ rights.
In a statement, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said he was “deeply concerned” with a ruling that is “an injustice that will have implications in many areas of life.” He continued:
“By erasing the beautiful differences and complementary relationship between man and woman, we ignore the glory of God’s creation and harm the human family, the first building block of society. Our sex, whether we are male or female, is part of God’s plan for creation and for our lives. As Pope Francis has taught with such sensitivity, to live in the truth with God’s intended gifts in our lives requires that we receive our bodily and sexual identity with gratitude from our Creator. No one can find true happiness by pursuing a path that is contrary to God’s plan.”
Gomez further claimed that stopping “unjust discrimination does not require redefining human nature.”
New Ways Ministry criticized the archbishop’s statement as one more instance of “the error that the bishops conference has continually made by viewing all LGBTQ issues through the lens of sexuality instead of through the more basic and correct lens of human rights and dignity.” For New Ways Ministry’s full statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling and why it is an occasion for all Catholics to celebrate, click here.
Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter whose record on LGBTQ issues has been mixed, criticized the USCCB’s response as “unsurprisingly, shrill and hysterical.” He added:
“But I worry that the U.S. bishops’ conference will decide to support another round of litigation, based on the premise that they are not firing this person or that because he or she is gay, but because that person entered into a gay marriage. I hope they resist that temptation. I fear they won’t. The conference is still so removed from the concerns of the average person in the pew, they do not see that for every loud, obnoxious anti-gay letter from a culture warrior Catholic they fret over, five other Catholics are walking out the door because they are tired of the culture wars being preached from the pulpit.”
Other Catholics highlighted the difference between the USCCB’s responses to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and to the Supreme Court ruling. Olga Marina Segura, who is writing a book on Catholics and Black Lives Matter, tweeted:
“Haven’t forgotten that Gomez: -was also on that Trump call; -released a statement on Floyd’s death six days late, which said that ‘riots are the language of the unheard’ but ‘nothing is gained by violence”; -is pres of USCCB, which has not released #BlackLivesMatter statement.”
Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a theology professor at Manhattan College, elliptically tweeted about the speed with which the bishops responded, compared with their responses on other topics:
“The speed at which they respond to this. The languid response on racism, discrimination, and hate. [Emoji of someone throwing trash away]”
Agreeing with Imperatori-Lee was Michael Bayer, a pastoral minister in Chicago, who tweeted:
“It took the @USCCB President, Archbishop Gomez, a week to respond to the murder of George Floyd. . .It took them about 4 hours to get a statement on today’s LGBTQ+ rights Supreme Court case. Priorities.”
Finally, Pam Karlan, a law professor at Stanford who argued one of the Title VII cases, pointed out on National Public Radio what an outlier the U.S. bishops really are when it comes to employment discrimination:
“We didn’t see really anybody other than the Conference of Catholic Bishops come in and make an argument that there are large numbers of employers who refuse as a blanket matter to hire people who are lesbian, who are gay or bisexual or who are transgender.”
But other Catholics reacted positively to the court’s ruling, welcoming the ban on anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination as consistent with their faith.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, commented in a statement:
“As Catholics, we also hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling will extend to faith-based employers, particularly those that receive public funding for their non-religious activities. Schools, health care organizations, and social service providers affiliated with a number of faith groups have been among the most discriminatory employers for decades, causing tremendous suffering for thousands of individuals, families, and communities. We hope they will be held to the same standards of justice as other employers.”
Fr. James Martin, SJ, posted on social media that Catholics could “rejoice” over the decision, writing:
“What kind of Catholic would want their brother or sister, or friend or neighbor, who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, to be denied an interview, turned down for a job, passed over for a promotion, or fired from their current position, simply because they were LGBTQ? . . .
“And arguments about the Court ‘redefining sex’ are beside the point. These are real-life protections against the real-life dangers that real-life plaintiffs faced because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In other words, they encountered what the Catechism called ‘unjust discrimination.'”
J.R. Zerkowski, executive director of Fortunate Families, posted on Facebook, “[w]e rejoice and thank God for this ruling” even while the group works to end the firing of LGBTQ church workers.
The Supreme Court’s decision to make anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination illegal is indeed a cause for Catholics to celebrate. What the majority opinion explicitly noted was that how the ruling will impact religious employers given complicating factors like the ministerial exception will be determined in future cases. This reality means that Catholics, even while celebrating, must continue advocating our bishops to adopt less confrontational, LGBTQ-negative stances and instead embrace non-discrimination as a Catholic value.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 18, 2020