Catholics React to Obama Signing LGBT Executive Order

President Obama signing the executive order on Monday

President Barack Obama signed an executive order yesterday prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by companies and organizations which contract with the federal government.

Most notably, Obama stood up to pressure from some religious leaders and did not include expanded religious exemptions in the order, the possibility of which had caused renewed fears in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision earlier this month.

Catholic LGBT advocates generally applauded the president, while the US bishops decried the order as “unprecedented and extreme.”

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers several commentaries on the executive order. We will cover religious exemptions, and specifically the future of LGBT rights in light of such exemptions, tomorrow.

Shortly after the executive order was signed, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth called on Catholics to oppose it, claiming that it “implements discrimination” by using the government’s economic power to enforce a “deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality.” Because the executive order omitted religious exemptions they claim the directive “is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter wants the US bishops to move on and set the LGBT non-discrimination issue aside altogether:

“Too many bishops are still crouched in a defensive posture, too willing to let the faith be reduced to ethics (and that, only sexual ethics), then reduced to a legal strategy, convinced that the forces of secularization are hostile, organized and winning. This worldview, I would submit, is not the approach that has permitted Pope Francis to capture the imagination of the world…there is nothing in the Church’s teaching that demands gay people be systematically discriminated against in hiring at our Catholic institutions. This is a fight we should decline.”

However, many Catholics not only accept the order but have welcomed it without broader religious exemptions. Francis DeBernardo, executive director, of New Ways Ministry wrote in The Advocate about why Catholics and people of faith do not want broad religious exemptions in a post-Hobby Lobby nation. He begins:

“It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance…

“Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless…Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.”

DeBernardo points out that though Hobby Lobby referred to the debate over insurance coverage for birth control, the connections to LGBT rights is an easy leap. Corporations are now granted religious beliefs, and could conceivably be able to seek religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBT people. He writes:

“Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, ‘If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can’t have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.’ And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: ‘This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.’ “

He closes by speaking about his own Catholic faith, and the importance of understanding a few key points: that conscience is supreme for Catholics, that religions are not homogenous, that the bishops do not speak for lay Catholics, and that LGBT justice is something Catholics and other people of faith seek because of, not in spite of, their faith. DeBernardo concludes:

“As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held. Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion…

“My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included.”

You can read the full piece on The Advocate‘s website by clicking here.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which consists of four national Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people, applauded President Obama’s action, noting:

“As Catholics, we know firsthand why these protections are so important. On a near weekly basis, a Catholic teacher, parish employee or hospital worker is fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the last few months, news headlines have been filled with stories about Catholic employees who lost their jobs after marrying their same-sex partners, coming out as transgender, or for simply standing in support of their LGBT children.

“The President’s executive order will be an important step toward protecting these LGBT Catholic employees who serve our church and wider society so faithfully and who have been particularly vulnerable to discrimination. We applaud President Obama’s decision to not include a broad religious exemption in his executive order, which would have left our Catholic teachers, health care workers and administrators open to continued discrimination.”

Finally, David Gibson of Religion News Service reports that even  a religious leader who had sought broad exemptions are pleased with Obama because the executive order  maintains the Bush-era policy which allows preferential hiring of co-religionists.  For example, Stephen Schneck of The Catholic University of America and former co-chair of Catholics for Obama, who had lobbied for broader religious exemptions, said he was pleased with the executive order as it was signed because it  “has left open a path that religious groups can work with.”

In the coming week, Bondings 2.0 will consider the failure of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA, and where Catholic advocates for LGBT justice are moving next when it comes to protecting employment rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

New York Times: “Obama Urges Congress to Ban Job Bias Against Gays”

New York Times: “Obama to Issue Order Barring Anti-Gay Bias by Contractors

7 thoughts on “Catholics React to Obama Signing LGBT Executive Order

  1. Sal James July 22, 2014 / 2:42 pm

    If we as the American People let the government, any of their agencies, groups, or otherwise start to dictate these types of things and our rights, in any area of our society, regardless of how much we disagree with it, and even hate it, then we are opening the door to this type of regulation in all areas of our society and it is Pandora’s Box. Once opened, it cannot be closed. If we let the Government decide on these things while giving some of us rights, but not observing those of others that are American citizens, born and raised in this country, then we open the door for the government to do it to any and all of us. If you give them an inch, then they take a mile, and will use any foothold they get to erode the Constitution for all of us. And that is very dangerous. That is why it is important for us to observe the Constitution and equal Justice for everyone. We don’t have to agree with each other about everything, but we have to think about what kind of precedence gets set when we decide to apply only the parts of the Constitution that we want, and disregard the rest. If we allow the government to do the same thing, then we are in for big trouble.

    Well said from a conservative. Source: Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (The best source for relevant News Articles and Commentary by Constitutional Conservatives) http://misguidedchildren.com/domestic-affairs/2013/06/the-constitution-the-bill-of-rights-and-the-declaration-of-independence-1776-1791/1140

    • Friends July 23, 2014 / 10:01 pm

      Excellent post, Sal! Some of us who are Pro-Gay-Equality under the rule of civil law are also Left-Alligned-Libertarians. And I venture to say that all of us as Libertarians largely agree that: “Government should exert the least possible impact or restraint upon individual liberties, when the exercise of those personal liberties does not in any way impact or impinge the liberties of others”. Tell that to those [expletive deleted] idiots like Bishops Cordileone and Paproki, who believe that they have a sovereign religious right to impose their extremely reactionary views about civil marriage upon an entire ideologically-diverse American citizenry. I don’t know what planet these guys came from, but whatever or wherever it is, I wish they’d go back there and leave the rest of us liberty-loving Americans alone!

  2. Sue Keller July 22, 2014 / 9:24 pm

    This isn’t solely about LGBT rights for churches. It’s about the money. The churches don’t want to divest themselves of federal contracts, period. They stand to lose a lot of money. Had churches and their charities had to survive solely on funds donated by their members, how would that have affected our economy? I believe all churches would have seen that a healthy economy is necessary to their continued good health. I believe they would have stood with the middle class and working people and supported job growth. Instead, as federal contractors, they contributed to the growth of the welfare state.

  3. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM August 17, 2014 / 12:04 pm

    “He closes by speaking about his own Catholic faith, and the importance of understanding a few key points: that conscience is supreme for Catholics, that religions are not homogenous, that the bishops do not speak for lay Catholics, and that LGBT justice is something Catholics and other people of faith seek because of, not in spite of, their faith.” The Primacy of Conscience and the true voice of lay Catholics as critical components of the foundation of Catholicism need to be presented to the public constantly. The press is so enamored of the stereotypical portrayal of the RCC as a Bells of St. Mary’s fantasy that the public doesn’t know the voice of authority for Catholics is not the voice of the hierarchy….many Catholics don’t know this either. And this childish ignorance has been exploited for much too long. It’s time the public was enlightened. I love playing the nostalgic, trivial pre-Vatican RCC memories game, too, but it is a game, not our reality.

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