With the support of Catholic officials, two U.S. Senators introduced legislation to repeal human rights amendments passed by the District of Columbia earlier this year, including one protective of LGBT student rights.
Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) co-sponsored the disapproval resolutions, as these bills are known when they attempt to override local decisions made by D.C. city government. Because Washington, DC is not a state, Congress has the ability to repeal any of the laws passed by the District’s Council.
These senators are seeking to nullify the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 and the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 which both limit religious liberty claims in cases of discrimination. Of the former, The Washington Post explains:
“[T]he Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 repeals a longstanding, congressionally imposed measure exempting religiously affiliated educational institutions from the city’s gay nondiscrimination law.”
This measure, commonly known as the “Armstrong Amendment,” was implemented after Georgetown University lost a 1980s lawsuit and was forced to recognize the campus LGBTQ student group under the D.C. Human Rights Act. It has also legally justified The Catholic University of America in denying such a student group until it was repealed.
Since its repeal, anti-LGBT groups and Catholic organizations, including the Archdiocese of Washington, The Catholic University of America, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have called for congressional intervention.
In response, The Washington Blade reports that 58 LGBT, civil liberties, and pro-choice groups released a joint statement asking Congress to respect D.C. city government’s new laws. They said, in part:
” ‘Unsurprisingly, opponents of these bills have unfairly mischaracterized them as ‘”unprecedented assaults” on religious liberty…Nothing could be further from the truth.’ ”
” ‘Religious liberty is a fundamental American value. It guarantees us the freedom to hold any belief we choose and the right to act on our religious beliefs, but it does not allow us to discriminate against or otherwise harm others.’ “
Commenting in a three part series on these ongoing controversies around LGBT rights and religious liberty, Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter writes on the situations in D.C. and elsewhere. While I disagree with his legal analysis, I think he is right in his criticism of Catholic leaders who so vocally and vociferously strive to enshrine the right to discriminate against LGBT people into law. In part one, he writes:
“As gay groups move from the fight for legalized same sex marriage to the fight for non-discrimination laws, the Catholic bishops need to ask themselves what it means to be an employer in a culture that shuns discrimination of any kind. This almost reflexive opposition to discrimination is especially prominent among our young people and they are not wrong. Discrimination is an ugly thing and, in the case of gay people, it has been all too real. The Church must devise a better response than more litigation, more culture war, more reduction of the Church’s identity to a few hot button sexual issues.”
In part three (links to all three columns are in the ‘Related Articles’ below), Winters adds:
“I also think we cannot overstate the degree to which the Church’s often inflammatory opposition to the efforts of the LGBT community to secure its human rights has harmed the Church too…It is not only that abusing those who are suffering so terribly is rightly considered obscene, it is that something deep in the Christian imagination reminds us that suffering is a mark of God’s special favor: Those who are broken-hearted, He will save. The culture warriors missed this, but the rest of us did not.”
According to The Washington Post, Cruz and Lankford’s disapproval resolutions are pure politics and stand little chance of either passing Congress or being signed by President Obama.
But setting aside the legal and legislative questions, Winters is asking the right questions about the real harm done in many directions when Catholic officials spend so much time, energy, wealth, and social capital in their attempts to deny all people equality and justice before civil society. The bishops lost their battle over LGBT rights. It is time to move on and focus on real, pressing issues like economic justice and immigration reform, which are the actual work of the Gospel.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Michael Sean Winters, The National Catholic Reporter: “Catholic Mission, Religious Freedom & LGBT Rights: Part I”
Michael Sean Winters, The National Catholic Reporter: “Catholic Mission, Religious Freedom & LGBT Rights, Part II”
Michael Sean Winters, The National Catholic Reporter: “Catholic Mission, Religious Freedom & LGBT Rights: Part III