Catholics throw cold water on fun party

NPR provides a couple of warm fuzzies in a report on Illinois' new civil unions law.

The first warm fuzzy is up high:

The day after civil unions went into effect in Illinois in June, Chicago's lush, flower-filled Millennium Park was full of music, families, friends and reporters. Circuit court judges conducted civil unions for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called it a historic day for Illinois.

"There are all kinds of different families in Illinois, and we understand and love one another. We understand that it is very, very important to have civil rights and civil unions," Quinn says.

The second warm fuzzy is near the end of the report:

In their living room, college professors Nancy Matthews and Lisa Frohman are watching their 10-year-old son, Eli, as he downloads Iron Man 2 to their flat-screen TV.

Sorry, Catholic Charities. No warm fuzzies for you or the 2,300 foster children served by Catholic dioceses in Illinois. Instead, the piece focuses on Catholic Charities' desire to keep discriminating against gay couples despite the law:

But the law allowing civil unions has put the state and some faith-based organizations at odds. Catholic Charities agencies in five Illinois dioceses, which had received state funds to provide foster care and adoption services, only placed children with straight married couples or straight single people who lived alone.

As the civil union law went into effect, Catholic Charities in Rockford, Ill., ended its adoption service over concerns that it would have to place children with same-sex couples or face discrimination lawsuits. Catholic Charities in three other Illinois dioceses put licensing any new prospective parents on hold and sued the state.

To its credit, the report allows a Catholic spokesman to defend the charities' position. But the rest of the story is heavily weighted on the other side -- presumably, the right side.

Even the lesbian couple with the adopted child gets to question the Catholic position:

The couple traveled out of state to adopt Eli. They say the Illinois civil union law will make it easier for gay and lesbian couples who don't want to hide their sexuality as they try to adopt. Frohman calls the Catholic Charities lawsuit frustrating.

"If this is about the care of children, then that should be the focus. Being a qualified, loving person is not about your sexuality," she says.

Is the couple Catholic? Would they have attempted to adopt a child through Catholic Charities if given the choice? Why exactly did NPR choose this couple around whom to frame this particular debate? This report gives no clue on any of those questions.

Despite the Catholic legal action, the story does manage to solve the entire debate in four paragraphs:

Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for DCFS, says separate but equal just isn't good enough and the state's anti-discrimination position is clear.

"All agencies working for the Department of Children and Family Services must obey Illinois law," he says.

At the heart of the matter is whether this law allows a religious exemption. Breen argues that adoption is part of the church's mission. Yale University law professor William Eskridge says the court is likely to reject that reasoning.

"I don't know of any court decision that holds that ancillary services — including adoption services or, say, educational services — are part of the core religious mission," Eskridge says.

Here's a minor little question: What exactly does the Illinois law that agencies must obey say? Also: Is there any disagreement among legal scholars on whether the law grants leeway to Catholic Charities and related organizations? What is the Yale professor's expertise on this subject -- and what do other constitutional law professors say? Is there a chance that a different professor of a different political persuasion might say something different?

A question that might be newsworthy (in a less cut-and-dried story): What happens to the thousands of children served by Catholic Charities and other faith-based organizations if the state puts them out of business?

I did a piece for Christianity Today early last year on adoption stepping to the front lines of the culture wars. Last week, I did a related story tied to conscience questions gaining more emphasis as an increasing number of states pass same-sex marriage and civil-union laws. Also, check out this June 30 opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal or this perspective from last month from a First Amendment Center senior scholar, who suggests:

Ensuring that Catholic Charities (and other faith-based groups) can participate in state-funded programs and continue their work on behalf of children in need not only would serve the common good, but it also would reaffirm our commitment to liberty of conscience as a fundamental human right.

Equality and liberty are core American principles, but neither should trump the other. Let’s uphold both by moving from gay rights vs. religious freedom to gay rights and religious freedom.

Might religious freedom be worthy of a warm fuzzy?

Apparently not in an NPR story.

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