On the eve of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Pope Francis led a crowd of…
Recent Democratic forum shows concerning disrespect for diversity in religious freedom
Gay marriage is a settled legal matter in the United States that — for now, at least — does not compel churches to bless same-sex unions.
And while there is some common ground that practicing Catholics and LGBT advocates could agree on — such as preventing hate crimes against those with same-sex attraction — tensions remain between religious freedom concerns and anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.
Some of those stress points were on stark display recently when CNN and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group for LGBT causes, co-hosted a series of town hall forums with the leading Democratic presidential candidates, each of whom was asked to explain how they would advance equality for gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans.
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights or the full civil rights of every single one of us,” Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat, said in what was arguably the most controversial statement of the Oct. 10 event.
O’Rourke, whose campaign has been polling in the single digits for months, received applause from the audience, but his position that religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage angered many conservatives, moderates and people of faith.
“The Bill of Rights are supposed to be a source of American unity. But Beto O’Rourke is finally saying out loud what so many left-wing progressives believe in their hearts,” said Joshua Mercer of the politically conservative CatholicVote.org.
Mercer told Our Sunday Visitor that O’Rourke in essence “is calling for the abolition of Catholic schools,” and that “not a single other Democratic presidential candidate has stepped forward to push back against this radical increase in federal power.”
Stephen Schneck, the former director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, told OSV that “some Democratic éminence grise should sit the politically tone-deaf young man [O’Rourke] in a corner and admonish him.”
“Alienating religious voters is a sure-fire way to give [President Donald] Trump four more years,” said Schneck, who was appointed to the White House Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships by President Barack Obama in 2015.
Apart from O’Rourke’s attempts to endear himself to his party’s liberal primary voters — he previously vowed to seize all AR-15s and AK-47s if elected president — the CNN town halls highlighted issues and cultural forces that the nation’s Catholic bishops, institutions, business owners and individuals will likely be dealing with in the coming years, regardless of who is elected president next fall.
For example, Catholics need to be aware of the hostility in some corners of society toward traditional Christian beliefs on marriage. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had the town hall audience laughing at how she responded to a question about what she would say to someone who told her they believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” Warren said, “and I’m gonna say, ‘Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.'”
Warren then added, “If you can find one.”
Concerns about Equality Act
Also, every Democrat on stage vowed to support the Equality Act, a bill that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in federal law. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the bill, but the Senate has not taken it up.
The question of Civil Rights protections for LGBT employees is already before the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Oct. 8 heard oral arguments in three cases concerning people who were reportedly fired for being either gay or transgender.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined other religious groups in filing amicus briefs in favor of the employers. The bishops conference warned that the added employee protections would impact institutions that operate by “religious and moral convictions.”
Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia who writes on religious liberty issues, told National Review in May that the Equality Act “goes very far to stamp out religious exemptions” to the point that it would effectively nullify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“This is not a good-faith attempt to reconcile competing interests,” Laycock said. “It is an attempt by one side to grab all the disputed territory and to crush the other side.”
The nation’s Catholic bishops also have voiced concerns. In March, three committee chairmen from the USCCB wrote in public opposition to the Equality Act, which they said would “impose sweeping regulations to the detriment of society as a whole.”
The bishops warned that the Equality Act would “regulate thought, belief and speech,” explicitly retract religious freedom from conscientious objectors to same-sex unions, force health care professionals to perform treatments and procedures associated with gender transitions, threaten charitable agencies such as foster care and adoption services, and exclude people from certain career paths and livelihoods.
“Furthermore, the Act also fails to recognize the difference between the person — who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it — and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications. Conflating the two will introduce a plethora of further legal complications,” the bishops wrote.
Those “legal complications” may also affect government funding that religious organizations receive to provide a variety of services, from adoptions to caring for victims of human trafficking. Some of the Democratic candidates told the town hall audience that they would not approve of government funding for religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.
However, religious liberty for Catholics “is not a matter limited to our personal prayers or even the services we attend in our churches,” said Scheck, who added that the Catholic faith calls on its adherents to perform works in public life such as aiding the poor, tending the sick, visiting the imprisoned and caring for creation.
“The solution to my mind is to develop policies that respect diversity in religious belief, much as we respect diversity generally,” said Schneck, who added that public policies that genuinely respect religious diversity “would allow Catholic institutions accommodation even when matters of their faith may not be shared by majority public opinion.”
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.