Getting right with God and government

It was only four years ago that Catholic Charities of Boston announced that it was getting out of the adoption business in order to comply with new state laws dealing with sexual orientation discrimination and same-sex marriage. Last month the District of Columbia, where I live, voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Let me be clear: Our notorious City Council decided to change the law on this matter and efforts to allow the actual residents of the city to vote were successfully fought. That means DC Catholic Charities had to choose between obeying church teaching on the sanctity of life and continuing to have contracts with the city government to assist with adoptions and foster care.

And that's not the only unintended consequence of the new ruling. Here's the Washington Post's William Wan reporting on the latest:

Starting Tuesday, Catholic Charities will not offer benefits to spouses of new employees or to spouses of current employees who are not already enrolled in the plan. A letter describing the change in health benefits was e-mailed to employees Monday, two days before same-sex marriage will become legal in the District.

"We looked at all the options and implications," said the charity's president, Edward J. Orzechowski. "This allows us to continue providing services, comply with the city's new requirements and remain faithful to the church's teaching."

It's been years since the warnings and concerns about how introducing same-sex marriage would affect religious freedom ceased being theoretical. This Post story is good. It's a very straightforward account that focuses almost exclusively on the news and doesn't include much analysis from folks on various sides of the religious and political issues. But before you do analysis, you need the news and this is a good piece packed with information.

But I don't think we've seen anything close to the amount or type of coverage that this issue warrants. When I think of mainstream coverage of the tension between gay rights and religious freedom, I can think of one piece that ran in NPR two years ago. Consider this quote from the article I linked to earlier in the week by traditional marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher:

I PUT THE QUESTION to Anthony Picarello, president and general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund is widely recognized as one of the best religious liberty law firms and the only one that defends the religious liberty of all faith groups, "from Anglicans to Zoroastrians," as its founder Kevin J. Hasson likes to say (referring to actual clients the Becket Fund has defended).

Just how serious are the coming conflicts over religious liberty stemming from gay marriage?

"The impact will be severe and pervasive," Picarello says flatly. "This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations." Recent years, he predicts, will be looked back on as a time of relative peace between church and state, one where people had the luxury of litigating cases about things like the Ten Commandments in courthouses. In times of relative peace, says Picarello, people don't even notice that "the church is surrounded on all sides by the state; that church and state butt up against each other. The boundaries are usually peaceful, so it's easy sometimes to forget they are there. But because marriage affects just about every area of the law, gay marriage is going to create a point of conflict at every point around the perimeter."

So we'll have points of conflict everywhere, great uncertainty about how to resolve these issues, and have the media really treated the issue with the seriousness that it deserves?

Take this USA Today blog treatment of the most recent news. Here's how a recent post looking at how Catholic organizations follow Catholic teaching begins:

If the sign says "Catholic," then, by golly, it had better be by-the-book Catholic. That's what U.S. bishops and agency heads are saying as they make moves across the country to ensure the Church's directives, particularly on marriage and sexuality are followed to the letter by everyone who flies the brand flag.

As opposed to what, by golly? I'm not Catholic but I would hope that any church leadership worth their salt would encourage everyone in the church to follow both the letter and the spirit of God's law. Some of us even think that what the church has to say is just as or possibly even more important as what my city council thinks at a given moment. Maybe some people think that "everyone who flies the Catholic brand flag" should just bend their practices to whatever winds blow their way, but that's not really the way the traditional church has operated over the years.

And while some people think that the most important civil rights issue in the world right now involves allowing two people of the same sex to marry each other, others actually think that this is a pernicious idea on several fronts (none of which ever seem to be explored by the media). And no matter what people think about the issue of changing marriage law, few scholars will disagree that this will have affect religious freedom. There is major tension. It's happening wherever legislators and judges impose same-sex marriage. Let's start seeing some more substantive mainstream coverage.

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