Catholic Charities need to decide if they’re a religions group or an agent of the state

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This morning, I read an article by Michael Gormley about the status of New York legislation that could bring about marriage equality here in the Empire State.  I’ve been following this story pretty closely in my private time and am excited that my state may soon allow me to marry my (hypothetical) partner rather than requiring me to elope to Massachusetts[1].  I practically cheered to learn that they only need one more state senator to sign on to guarantee passage.

Gormley reports that the current hold-up is discussions over religious protections:

Democrats and Republicans emerged from meetings with Democratic Gov.
Andrew Cuomo and said there is progress toward proposed additional
religious protections that could bring a gay marriage bill to the Senate
floor for a vote as early as Wednesday night.

By the sounds of it, Cuomo and supporters are trying to take the teeth out of the old arguments currently be raised by the National Organization for Marriage of Moralists.  I’m a bit troubled by that, as the arguments about religious freedoms are all based on lies.  Truth be told, churches and religious organizations already have plenty of protections.  A minister or church cannot be compelled to host or perform any marriage — even any opposite sex marriage — they do not approve of.  Any stories about such nonsense (such as the Ocean Grove pavilion controversy) are usually misrepresented, and a careful examination of the facts demonstrate that the situation is not about religious freedom at all.  To be frank, the Religious Right crowd is fond of spreading misinformation to make themselves look like martyrs and to drive fear-based political action and decisions.

My pragmatic side almost wants to just shrug and give a thumbs up to the unnecessary “religious protections” that may get put into the new legislation.  After all, if such legislation forces NOM and company to shut up (or at least makes it easier for people to see their lies for what they are), then it’s not all bad.  But then, I read this part of the article (emphasis mine):

More protection for religious organizations such as adoption agencies
and marriage counselors is sought by undecided Republican senators who
are key to the vote.

You see, the mention of adoption agencies tells me that someone is thinking about situations like what’s going on with Catholic Charities in Illinois[2].  And this is the exact kind of lying that I’m talking about.  You see, NOM would have you believe that Catholic Charities in Illinois is being forced to close their adoption services if they continue discriminate against same sex couples.  However, that’s not true, unless you assume that the rich and powerful Catholic church needs government assistance to do its charity work.

You see, that’s the part that NOM and company fail to mention:  Catholic Charities operates their adoption services in Illinois (and elsewhere) under a government contract and with state funding.  And the state regulations require that any organization or business who uses taxpayer money to provide a service must not discriminate against anyone who seeks out that service.  This isn’t a case of Catholic Charities losing their religious freedom.  When it comes to their adoption services, they gave up that freedom[3] when they became a contracted agent of the state funded by that same state.

If the religious protections in this new legislation goes on to say that religious groups can offer state-funded and state-contracted services and still discriminate, then those clauses are no longer about religious protections.  They are about state endorsements of religious privilege.  They are about using taxpayer money — including gay taxpayers — to support an agent of the state who is allowed to engage in discrimination while acting as an agent of the state.

And that’s just not cool.  It’s also why even my pragmatic side cannot get behind these so-called “religious protections,” even if they do bring marriage equality to my state.  Because marriage equality that still allows religiously motivated agents of the state to discriminate against me isn’t actually marriage equality.  It’s still a form of second-class citizenship.

[1]  Seriously.  New York would consider me married right now if I went and had the ceremony in a state that already performs same-sex marriages, but will not currently allow me to have the ceremony here among my loved ones.  That’s just a strange state of affairs.

[2] This also took place with Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and looks like it will be a common theme across the country.

[3]  In fairness, they only gave up that right in terms of how they conduct their state-contracted and state-funded services.  They’re still free to give homily’s about how gay people are inherently disordered to their heart’s content.

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