In an appearance on Meet The Press this weekend, Newt Gingrich reiterated a claim he’s made many times before that Massachusetts’s legalization of marriage equality discriminated against the Catholic Church’s ability to provide adoption services. In this particular appearance, he offered his most exaggerated description of what happened when Catholic Charities in Boston closed its adoption services, claiming that the state “outlawed” Catholic doctrine. MSNBC Joy-Ann Reid offered counterpoint:
GINGRICH: What I’m struck with is the one-sidedness of the desire for rights. There are no rights for Catholics to have adoption services in Massachusetts. They’re outlawed. There are no rights in DC for Catholics to have adoption service. They’re outlawed. This passing reference to religion, we sort of respect religion, sure — as long as you don’t practice it. I mean I think it would be good to have a debate over, you know — beyond this question of, “Are you able to be gay in America?”What does it mean?
Does it mean that you have to actually affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept that, and therefore, you’re now going to have a secular state say to a wide range of religious groups — Catholics, Protestants, orthodox Jews, Mormons, frankly, Muslims — “You cannot practice your religion the way you believe it, and we will outlaw your institutions.” … Let’s just start with adoption services. It is impossible for the Catholic Church to have an adoption service in Massachusetts that follows Catholic doctrine.
REID: But didn’t the Catholic Church, particularly Catholic Charities in Boston — they affirmatively decided to withdraw adoption services. No one said they are not allowed to provide adoption services.
GINGRICH: No, they withdrew them because they were told, “You could not follow Catholic doctrine,” which is for marriage between a man and a woman.
Gingrich always leaves out two details when he weaves this tale. First of all, Massachusetts has had a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1989, well before the 2004 decision by the state Supreme Court allowing recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages. As reported by the Boston Globe, over the course of about two decades until 2005, Catholic Charities facilitated 720 adoptions, 13 of which were actually to same-sex couples — without complaint.
Secondly, Catholic Charities accepted state funding to provide its adoption services, requiring it to continue complying with that nondiscrimination law. It was only in 2006 that four bishops decided of their own accord that Catholic Charities should be exempt from that requirement, a proposal for which they received minimal support from state lawmakers. Even though the agency’s 42-member board unanimously agreed to continue facilitating adoptions by same-sex couples, the bishops arbitrarily shut the entire operation down in protest of the law. It had nothing to do with the legality of same-sex marriage, especially because that was decided by the state Supreme Court and thus reflected no change in the laws regulating adoption services. Arguably, it was only the increase in visibility of same-sex families that may have prompted the bishops to respond.
This has been the case in other places where Catholic Charities has claimed to face conflict with marriage equality, including the District of Columbia and Illinois; the organizations only shut down for political purposes, not because any laws required them to do so. Most notably, when Colorado was considering civil unions in 2012, the bill had a specific protection to allow Catholic Charities to continue discriminating against same-sex couples, but the agency still threatened to shut down in protest of the law. The bill that ultimately passed this year did not include those protections, but that didn’t stop the organization from attempting to derail it.
Gingrich’s claim that marriage equality somehow impedes the religious freedom of Catholics is completely unfounded. In all of these states, Catholic Charities could continue to operate, but if it wants to continue receiving state funding, it has to comply with state laws. No chapter has yet attempted to continue functioning without state subsidies.