Though same-sex marriage has been legal for nearly five years and LGBTQ rights have become part of the mainstream public discourse in ways that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago, discrimination against sexual minorities is hardly a thing of the past. In most states, you can still lose your job or get kicked out of your apartment because of who you are or who you love. A patchwork of state laws and conflicting legal rulings leave too many people at risk, and while there are openly gay governors, members of Congress, and big-city mayors, there is still no federal nondiscrimination law protecting all LGBTQ Americans.
Last month, when congressional Democrats introduced The Equality Act, legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to protected status under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops quickly opposed the measure. In a letter to Congress, the chairmen of three USCCB committees denounced the proposed bill, claiming that “rather than offering meaningful protections for individuals,” it “would impose sweeping regulations to the detriment of society as a whole.” The letter was signed by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, KY, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. They argued that the act will regulate “thought, belief, and speech” and require “uniform assent to new beliefs about human dignity that are contrary to those held by many—believers of diverse faiths and nonbelievers alike.” They also warned that it “would force a multitude of charitable services to either violate their principles or shut down,” citing foster care and adoption agencies that “would be expected to place children with same-sex partners, regardless of some birth mothers’ wishes and children’s best interests.”
The bishops’ letter fails to adequately take into account the real and specific ways in which LGBTQ people face unjust discrimination. One bishop, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, expressed concern that opposition to the Equality Act is framed in dire terms that might not reflect a more nuanced reality. “I worry this is a narrow interpretation of worst-case scenarios, and a whole case is built around it,” the bishop said, noting how a similar approach guided the USCCB’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act. More broadly, he said, church leaders need to think more about the lived reality of LGBTQ people, especially those who are transgender: “We need to take seriously their experiences. To say that gender dysphoria is all about an ideology is very dismissive.”