Catholic Charities and Discrimination
March 6th, 2010
[I’m proud to have Jason Cianciotto as a friend and now, perhaps, an occasional contributor to BTB. Jason was previously the Director of the Policy Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and later the Executive Director of the Wingspan Community Center in Tucson. He is now free as a bird, traveling around the country with his husband, Courter. — Jim B.]
Now that marriage equality has reached Washington, DC, faith-based social service providers that receive city funding are no longer able to discriminate against married gay and lesbian clients and employees. As a result, in mid-February DC Catholic charities transferred its foster-care and adoption program to the National Center for Children and Families in order to avoid having to offer services to married same-sex couples. On March 1st the organization also announced that it would stop offering health insurance to the spouses of all new employees, gay or straight, a move enabling them to “remain faithful to the church’s teachings” by not having to provide insurance to the same-sex spouses of employees.
DC Catholic charities would rather you not see this as an issue of discrimination. Instead they cast themselves as “victims,” losing freedom of religion every time a same-sex couple slips on a pair of wedding rings. Additionally, coverage in the Washington Post characterized these changes as “fallout,” as if same-sex marriage was akin to a nuclear explosion. However, this is a distraction from the real issue at hand: While faith-based organizations should be able to provide services consistent with their beliefs and traditions, when those services are funded by tax dollars, discrimination based on any characteristic should not be allowed. Period.
This scenario already played out in Massachusetts. In 2006 the Archdiocese there also suspended foster care and adoption support services provided through Catholic charities rather than comply with that state’s anti-discrimination laws. As was the case in DC, these services were picked up by other secular agencies. This is a positive outcome for children in need of care based on scientifically supported best practices, rather than on any particular religious tradition.
The distribution of tax dollars to organizations that act in the best interest of children who need a good home, regardless of the sexual orientation of prospective parents, is scientifically supported. For example, in January the Journal of Marriage and Family published a comprehensive analysis of 81 studies of one- and two-parent families, including gay and lesbian couples and individuals. On established measures of self-esteem, social adjustment, and other key indicators, children raised by same-sex parents were indistinguishable from those raised by married men and women. This further strengthens the position of every major medical and mental health professional association in support of the estimated 65,500 adopted children in the U.S. living with a gay or lesbian parent.
As more states legalize same-sex marriage, Catholic charities and other faith-based social service providers will be forced to change discriminatory policies or lose public funding. As was the case in Massachusetts and DC, it is likely that a shift in service provision to secular agencies will continue. This is a positive outcome for all children and families in need, who should not be caught in the cross-fire of the religious rights’ culture war against equality for all Americans.