California’s SB 1146 Raises Tough Questions for Catholic Education

Ricardo Lara
Senator Ricardo Lara

Because of opposition from church leaders and others, a Catholic legislator in California withdrew portions of an education bill that would have eliminated religious exemptions from state non-discrimination laws.

Democratic State Senator Ricardo Lara will introduce SB 1146 this week without a clause eliminating non-discrimination exemptions for religious schools, reported Crux. Exemptions are currently in place, but if the bill had passed in its original form, all institutional recipients of Cal Grant funding, state education aid which helps low-income students, would have been required to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of LGBT people.

In its current form, the bill will still mandate reporting on whether institutions have received exemptions from federal Title IX protections and whether students had been expelled for violating morality codes.

Several religious leaders, including Catholic Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, had opposed the earlier version of SB 1146. Gomez authored a Crux op-ed with Pentecostal leader, Bishop Charles Blake,  suggesting the bill would violate religious liberty. A handful of Christian schools organized under the newly-formed Association of Faith-Based Institutions. These schools were primarily concerned with the Cal Grant funding provision. Conservative groups nationally have weighed in against the bill, too, fearful this type of legislation would spread nationally.

But opponents do not speak for all religious people in the state. Senator Lara, the bill’s sponsor, is himself an openly gay Catholic. He posted an explanation of his actions on Facebook:

“As a gay Catholic man, nobody has the right to dictate how I worship or observe my religion. And no university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds. That’s why I will update my bill to ensure that Title [IX] universities disclose their exempt status publicly and require that universities notify the California Student Aid Commission if a student has been expelled due to their moral conduct clauses. These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.

SB 1146 raises challenging questions about how to adjudicate the non-discrimination of LGBT people and the protection of religious liberty.  In The Atlantic, Alan Noble warned against absolutizing either of these values.  He called for a solution which allows a “thick diversity” in the United States so that all can flourish:

“No response to these scenarios [of LGBT students at religious schools] can erase all the conflicts and heartbreak between students, families, and academic communities, but through a model of communication, mutual respect, and dignity, schools can create a healthier environment for everyone.

“Both conservatives and liberals tend to approach the issue in absolute and uncompromising terms, but there ways to resolve this conflict that will allow for both religious freedom and protections for LGTB students while minimizing further litigation. By increasing transparency about Title IX exemptions and codes of conduct, easing the transfer process for students who cannot abide by the codes of conduct, and taking a strict stance on bullying and abuse, religious schools can retain their distinctive mission while protecting students.”

Noble made a point that cannot be forgotten in these debates. He noted that “[m]ost students voluntarily select . . . colleges because they want to be educated in a community that shares their values. . .they tend to be motivated by the centrality of their faith to their identity.”

Instead of legal battles, which may ensue anyway, religious institutions could reform themselves so they might better protect LGBT students. Noble said schools should clearly advertise what kind of community they uphold. He also wants the government to provide equal funding to students who choose religious schools which may have religious and exceptions.  His final hope was::

“. . . [R]eligious schools should help students who enroll and later decide they can no longer attend in good conscience. These students should be able to transfer to another school with the administrative, emotional, and practical support of the religious school. In addition, religious schools must be vigilant about dealing with bullying and abuse and create an environment in which students who have suffered feel safe to report these incidents without fear of expulsion or retribution. Many religious schools are working toward these kinds of practices; the challenge for all of them is to go beyond policies and rhetoric to ensure the safety of all students.”

This type of work has already been undertaken by many Catholic schools, particularly in higher education and particularly in California. Reading through the “Campus Chronicles” series on this blog, one sees the many efforts that students, staff, and administrators are making to not only welcome LGBT community members, but to support hem too. Though religious exemptions are available to them, many Catholic institutions have chosen freely to implement non-discrimination policies protective of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or marital status. More religious institutions should follow this model, appealing to faith values of inclusion and justice, rather than waiting for the State to impose inclusion.

SB 1146 may be voted on by the end of August. Whatever the outcome, the questions surrounding it are sure to continue in California and elsewhere.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



Students, Alumni, and Commentators Support Fired Catholic H.S. Teacher

Student and alums protest outside the school.
Student and alums protest outside the school.

Los Angeles’ Daily News reported:

“Several hundred students, alumnae and supporters of Ken Bencomo rallied in Glendora on Thursday morning, protesting Bencomo’s firing from St. Lucy’s Priory High School after he married his longtime same-sex partner in July.”

According to Los Angeles.CBSLocal.comBrittany Littleton, an alumna who organized the protest said:

“I believe very strongly in equal rights and in justice, but aside from that, Mr. Bencomo is an amazing teacher.”

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune carried a story

about the protest, which included a comment from an alumna’s mother who jointed the demonstration:

 Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest's the teacher's dismissal.
Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest’s the teacher’s dismissal.

“The school has an obligation to make good choices and to stand up and be courageous, and I don’t think they’re being courageous in this decision,” Terry Monday said. “I think they’re hiding behind Catholic doctrine and not demonstrating the values that they try to teach the girls.”

Bondings 2.0 reported on the firing when news broke last week.  You can read the report here.

In addition to the protest, the firing has sparked a bit of commentary all over the country.  In a Washington Post “On Faith” essay, Sharon Groves, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, put the firing in the context of Pope Francis’ recent gay-positive comments, and wonders how the school can defend their action in terms of their Catholic faith:

“To be clear, it was an act that contradicted their mission statement’s call to respond compassionately to the needs of the community. Ken’s officials hid behind their “Catholic faith” to justify their position. But there isn’t one way to be Catholic.”

Groves points out the variety of ways that Catholics strongly support LGBT people:

Sharon Groves
Sharon Groves

“Ask the faithful Catholics — who organized as Catholics — in every state where marriage equality had a possibility of passing. Ask my friend Rosa Manriquez, who proudly raised two lesbian daughters and two grandchildren according to the core tenets of Catholic social teaching — to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask the countless Catholics living with the pain of exile but holding a deep longing for the church, as the Catholic hierarchy routinely denies their humanity.”

And, she points out, this support doesn’t stop at the level of the pews:

“And while the true intent of his Pope Francis’ words this week remains unclear, we were offered a morsel of hope. We were offered the possibility of a world where claims of a singular ‘Catholic faith’ aren’t used as an excuse for judgment, shaming and injustice.

“ ‘Do not judge’ is a mantra for us all to embrace, regardless of our faiths. But especially for my Catholic friends who hold St. Francis and Pope Francis so dear, now is the time for a real commitment to these words. We must all do better.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Michael McGough, a columnist questions the church-state issues that this firing raises.  Should churches be allowed to discriminate in employment, he asks.   He explicates the issue this way:

“This would make a good case study for law students. Does the teacher’s right to be free from discrimination trump the school’s right to safeguard its theological convictions about marriage by dismissing a teacher whose life is at odds with that teaching?

“California has a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which may or may not cover a situation in which an employee is dismissed because he has entered a same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the law doesn’t apply to “a religious association or corporation not organized for private profit.”

“Then there’s the 1st Amendment. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran church could fire a ‘called teacher’– one who had received a commission as a ‘minister of religion’ – without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. But it’s not clear whether a lay teacher at a Catholic school would be in the same category.”

Ken Bencomo
Ken Bencomo

McGough concludes:

“With the spread of same-sex marriage,  courts are going to be drawing lots of lines in this area. Maybe they will say that a Catholic school can dismiss a teacher who is in a same-sex marriage because teachers are role models,  but it can’t discriminate against a bus driver or a bookkeeper. Or perhaps a Catholic college that serves adult students from a variety of religious backgrounds belongs in a different category from a parish elementary or high school.”

For Eduardo Moises Peñalver, a blogger at  Commonweal magazine, a Catholic lay journal of opinion, the legal question is not as important as the moral question in this case:

“I want to separate the question whether Catholic institutions have the right to do this sort of thing from the question whether they should, on either moral or prudential grounds.  I am not aware of divorced and remarried teachers getting fired.  The axe always seems to fall on those who are somewhat more easily marginalized:  unmarried pregnant teachers, gay teachers, etc. “

For a related post on the problem that Catholic institutions are encouraging by firing their LGBT employees, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Video Series on Catholics and LGBT People Debuts on YouTube

Pope Francis was not the only Jesuit this week who made news about positive statements on LGBT issues.  The folks at Ignatian News Network, a California-based Jesuit production company, have released a video on which is the first of a series on gay and lesbian people and the Catholic church entitled, “Who Are We To Judge?”

The first episode contains interviews with Jesuit Father James Martin, noted spirituality author, and Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor-in-chief of America  magazine.    The episode also contains an interview with Arthur Fitzmaurice, a gay Catholic who is resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.  All speak positively about the outreach efforts that many in the Catholic church are doing with LGBT people.

You can watch the video here:

I would guess that there was a wise, last-minute title change for the series, after Pope Francis’ statement about gay priests earlier this week:  “Who am I to judge?”

We look forward to the future installments in the series.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

The euphoria over yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality is continuing unabated by Catholics and LGBT advocates.

Justice Anthony Kennedy
Justice Anthony Kennedy

Perhaps the most amazingly Catholic quotation from the decisions was the phrase written by Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, released the following statement yesterday:


Equally Blessed Logo“As members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the United States, we are elated that the U. S. Supreme Court has both struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for marriage equality in the state of California. We are especially pleased to see that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the opinion striking down DOMA, and that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is also a Catholic, concurred in this historic decision.

“While we would have preferred the Court to find the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be clearly unconstitutional, in dismissing the case, the Court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state.

“Catholics around the country have worked hard to pass legislation that permits same-sex couples to marry, and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. They have done so not in spite of their faith, but because of it, knowing that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God’s children must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

“The court today has removed two obstacles blocking the path to justice for same-sex couples, but that path must still be walked. So today we celebrate and offer prayers of thanksgiving, and tomorrow we invite our fellow Catholics to join us in working to bring marriage equality to the states in which it has not yet been written into law.”

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Both the National Catholic Reporter and Whispers In the Loggia reported on reactions from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other marriage equality opponents.

Bryan Cones, on U.S. Catholic’s blog wondered if the Supreme Court decisions will persuade the bishops to tone down their campaign against marriage equality and instead engage in dialogue with LGBT people:

Bryan Cones
Bryan Cones

“I for one would hope for a kind of pause on the bishops’ approach to this question: It should be obvious now that, on the civil side of things, same-sex couples have convinced Americans that they deserve access to the civil benefits of marriage. We in the church need to be having our own conversations about the religious institution of marriage and the religious meaning of human sexuality–long a monologue from the hierarchy that has not included the voices of lay people, married, single, gay, bisexual, or straight. Our own deliberations may lead us to new conclusions, or it may lead to a reaffirmation of old ones. But the signs of the times, today’s rulings included, demand our common discernment. “

Catholics United’s blog, Our Daily Threadcarried a post by Daniel Byrne in which he challenged the USCCB’s characterization of the decisions as “tragic”:

“It further upsets me that you call these decisions “tragic.” What’s tragic is that 23% of children live in poverty. What’s tragic are the natural disasters occurring because of climate change. What’s tragic is that Guantanamo Bay is still open (thanks to Bishop Pates for hisstatement, by the way). Providing equal rights for same-sex spouses is not tragic.

“Let’s be clear, this is a civil rights issue. No longer will same-sex spouses be turned away from seeing their partner in a hospital. No longer will binational couples be separated because their marriage isn’t recognized in the US. No longer will another 1,100 rights be denied same-sex spouses.”

Jamie Manson, writing on, tells the story of a group of Catholic LGBT advocates from Dignity/New York, who helped bring the DOMA case to court by supporting the plaintiff, Edith Windsor:

Edith Windsor
Edith Windsor

“As millions celebrate today the Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many will be giving thanks to Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the case, and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.

“What most people will not know, however, is the instrumental role that a few members of the New York City chapter of DignityUSA played in this historic moment.”

You can read the inspiring story here.  Or you can see a synopsis and link to an earlier version of this story from The National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Manson concludes her essay with some hopeful words, which reflect the mood of yesterday’s and today’s exuberance:

“To paraphrase Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted aphorism, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Catholics can change the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



QUOTE TO NOTE: Proud Latino and Catholic for Marriage Equality

Representative Xavier Becerra
Representative Xavier Becerra

computer_key_Quotation_MarksU.S. Representative Xavier Becerra (D-California) was one of 67 congresspeople who in 1996 voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which is now being challenged in the Supreme Court.  He, along with 212 other lawmakers, signed an amicus brief asking the Court to overturn DOMA, according to

At a rally at the Supreme Court on the day oral arguments were heard in the case, Becerra told the amassed demonstrators:

“It is time for us to have equality. I say this as a proud Latino and Catholic. It is proud to have equality for all and we will have it because time marches forward and so does justice.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Who Does Your Marriage Influence?


Kevin Fisher-Paulson

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has instituted a series of radio advertisements promoting marriage.  Part of the advertisements’ message asked married couples how many people are influenced by their marriages.

In a commentary on KQED radio, Kevin Fisher-Paulson, who is a captain with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, felt that this is exactly the type of question that needs to be asked:

“You know what? They got this right. Lots of people are affected by my marriage.

“I’m not talking about Catholic marriage, where 40 percent end in divorce. I’m talking about my own gay marriage.”

Kevin, who married his partner, Brian, in California in 2008 during the short period of time when marriage equality existed in the state, provided an interesting answer to the question:

“Brian and I got married, without blessing of either church or law, 25 years ago this month. And in those years, we have fostered medically at risk triplets, nursed friends dying of AIDS, helped friends detox from heroin, taken in rescue dogs and adopted drug-exposed, multi-racial foster children. None of my or Brian’s brothers is still with his first wife, but Brian and I have stood together, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. And that has affected the way that our friends look at gay men and their ability to commit.”

Kevin, like many Catholics, hopes for the day when both state and church recognize the commitments of lesbian and gay couples.  He states:

“In the meantime, my husband and I attend Most Holy Redeemer, that gay-friendly church in the Castro, so the rest of the Church can see how many people are affected by our marriage.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: February 21, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) More evidence that lay Catholics and their bishops differ strongly on support for marriage equality comes from a new poll reported by The New York Times in an article “Support Is Found for Birth Control Coverage and Gay Unions.”  Though the poll surveyed the general electorate, they report findings for different sub-groups, such as Catholics:  “More than two-thirds of Catholic voters supported some sort of legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships: 44 percent favored marriage, and 25 percent preferred civil unions. ”

2) In “Spectrum continues quest to abolish stereotypes on campus,” Loyola University Maryland’s student newspaper, The Greyhound, reports on upcoming semester plans for activities by their LGBTA organization.

3) If California’s Proposition 8 case makes it to the nation’s highest court, the “Gay marriage fight may hinge on Supreme Court’s Anthony Kennedy,” a Catholic, reports The Charlotte Observer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry