Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a letter opposing the Equality Act, suggesting the federal legislation could “inflict numerous legal and social harms” on religious people and “be construed to include an abortion mandate.”
The letter, signed by the chairs of five USCCB committees, was sent to members of the U.S. Congress ahead of an expected vote on the Equality Act in the House of Representatives. In their letter, the bishops say they are supportive of “nondiscrimination principles,” but then proceed to oppose this Act that would provide such protections for LGBTQ people.
According to the bishops, there are numerous problems with the Equality Act, which they describe as seeking to protect “people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance.” They write:
“. . .the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct. . . Tragically, this Act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience.
“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith. It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”
The bishops continue with a list of alleged harms that could be caused to religious believers. These include: punishing religious charities, forcing people to support transgender people who transition, mandating public funding of abortion care, and forcing religious communities to choose between shuttering their public facilities or abiding by LGBTQ protections. The bishops also raise the myth that transgender people imperil student athletics and locker rooms.
Finally, the bishops write that the Equality Act would “exclude people from the careers and livelihoods that they love, just for maintaining the truth of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality (§ 3)” and “discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs.”
The bishops who signed the letter are Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Committee for Reeligious Liberty; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
This February letter is just the bishops’ latest assault on the Equality Act and federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Most recently, the legislation was mentioned in USCCB communications after President Joe Biden’s victory last November. In 2019, the Act was passed in the House of Representatives with support from key Catholics. But bishops said they were “gravely disappointed” with the vote’s outcome, having argued ahead of the vote that the Act would be “to the detriment of society as a whole.” The USCCB has even objected to the Republican-led “Fairness for All Act” in 2020, which would establish much weaker protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity than the Equality Act and has garnered little support from LGBTQ advocates.
The Equality Act would neither discriminate against religious believers, nor would it mandate public funds for abortion care. When the bishops refer to “people of faith” in their letter who supposedly would be harmed by the Equality Act, they seem to be referring narrowly to people who promote Christian nationalism, rather than the diversity of religious traditions that compose our interfaith, pluralistic democracy. The bishops erase the many religious traditions which support non-discrimination protections (including their own church’s teachings) and the reality that millions of LGBTQ people are faithful believer, including in the Catholic Church. In a moment when truth matters greatly in U.S. civic life, leaders of the U.S. bishops are promoting distorted narratives and falsehoods that legislators would do best to ignore–as many Catholics already do.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2021