Catholic Charities and Discrimination

Jason Cianciotto

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.


March 6th, 2010

As a Christian, I believe the Church should get out of government as it limits what she can do, making her submit to the government’s morality. As pro-gay, I agree with the government’s morality over the Catholic Church’s, but more often not. As a supporter of America’s First Amendment, I believe that hiring religious institutions to contract the government’s work violates the government’s promise not to respect or encourage any religion.

Timothy Kincaid

March 6th, 2010

Alternately, the Catholic Charities could do what the Mormon adoption agencies did in Massachusetts. They could fund themselves and continue to place children only in families that fit their criteria.

I don’t object to parents deciding that they want their child to be adopted only by someone who has the Catholic faith or by someone who only is heterosexual. Just don’t do it with my gay Protestant tax money.


March 6th, 2010

Tim, just out of curiosity, where do the Mormon’s in MA “get” those children? Does the state funnel needy children to them, or would a parent looking to give up a child / infant have to approach the Mormon organization?

Timothy Kincaid

March 6th, 2010


Good question and I’m not absolutely sure of the answer. My assumption is that these are children of Mormons.


March 6th, 2010

New bumper sticker —

Discrimination is a privilege, not a right.

Every once in a while I get a call from Catholic Charities, although I’ve asked them a couple times to remove me from their list. I politely tell them that there are other charities that do the same good works CC does without discriminating against anyone, and that these are the only ones I’m inclined to support.


March 7th, 2010

More power to the secular adoption agencies for stepping up to the plate and providing services previously offered by the homophobic Catholic Church. I hope that this issue gets a lot of press as it will embarrass the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church seems to following the proverbial cutting off of one’s nose to spite the face.


March 8th, 2010

Mr. Kincaid,

LDS Family Services primarily help LDS Couples in finding children. And you are right, the Mormons would rather not have any tax money if it comes with conditions.

I know a few LDS people were pursing their lips a bit when they heard lesbian Utah Legislator Christine Johnson is the surrogate mother for two gay men in Salt Lake City. That’s one way to get around the adoption restrictions.


March 8th, 2010

My understanding was that the Church created Catholic Charities explicitly to avoid church/state issues. CC was supposed to be a secular, purely charitable arm of the Church, financed by Catholics but not run by the Church. Mr. O’Malley in Boston proved that understanding completely wrong.

And I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but let’s never forget that neither the MA nor the DC equal marriage laws in any way changed CC’s obligations to act without discrimination towards gays and lesbians. Both MA and DC had anti-discrimination ordinances govering LGBT people for years before these decisions.


March 8th, 2010

If the Catholic Charities wished to promote their agends in agreement with teachings of their “One true faith” then they’d need to expel all Catholics who are divorced without a proper anullment, who use –gasp– contraception, and who support abortion rights, gay/lesbian rights, or who marry outside the faith. Kick out the adulterers too….

Pretty obvioous isn’t it?

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