Despite the failure of many “license to discriminate” bills in state legislatures earlier this year — most notably in Arizona — a few Congressional Republicans are advancing another bill that would enable agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) are introducing the “Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014,” legislation to protect religious organizations that provide child welfare services, including adoption and foster care.
The bill would force the government to continue to contracting with any organization that provides services to children, regardless of how their religious tenets affect the way they provide those services. Though the text doesn’t mention “same-sex” anywhere, it specifically references “some States, including Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and the District of Columbia,” four places where recognition of same-sex unions conflicted with Catholic Charities, which refused to provide adoption services to those couples.
The bill asserts that “many individual child welfare services providers maintain sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions that relate to their work and should not be forced to choose between their livelihood and adherence to those beliefs or convictions.” It would thus “prohibit governmental entities from discriminating or taking an adverse action against a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider declines to provide a child welfare service that conflicts, or under circumstances that conflict, with the sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions of the provider.”
Any state that declines to fund discriminating religious organizations would lose 15 percent of its federal funding for child welfare services.
In a statement accompanying the introduction of the bill, Rep. Kelly claimed, “This bill is about fairness and inclusion. It is about ensuring that everyone who wants to help provide foster or adoptive care to children is able to have a seat at the table.” The Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group, similarly praised the legislation Wednesday, calling it “a common-sense bill that excludes no one and seeks to maximize the number of providers serving our nation’s most vulnerable children.”
In all of the cases Enzi and Kelly cite, Catholic Charities was faced with three choices: serve all couples equally, continue discriminating and operate without state funding, or shut down entirely. Catholic Charities always voluntarily chose to shut down. In Massachusetts, the first state where this conflict arose, Catholic Charities was already providing adoption services to same-sex couples and its 42-member board had unanimously agreed to continue doing so. It was four bishops who in 2006 arbitrarily shut the operation down in protest of the state’s nondiscrimination law protecting same-sex couples.
Since then, the Catholic Church has used the threat of ending adoption services as a political tool to oppose marriage equality or civil unions for same-sex couples. In Illinois, for example, the organization fought for the privilege to continue receiving state funding while discriminating after civil unions passed there in 2011, but a state judge ruled in favor of the state’s right to cancel the contracts (the very action Enzi and Kelly’s bill would prohibit).
The Church’s use of children welfare services as a weapon against LGBT equality was most notable in Colorado. When Colorado was considering civil unions in 2012, the proposed bill actually contained an exemption for religious organizations, meaning Catholic Charities would have been allowed to continue refusing service to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the Church threatened it would shut down the agency anyway if the bill passed. It didn’t pass that year, but when Colorado considered civil unions again in 2013, Catholic Charities attempted the same stunt. That time around, the civil unions bill did pass — without an exemption for religious organizations to discriminate.
The new bill is unlikely to advance in Congress anytime soon, but it does represent the latest attempt to frame LGBT rights as an infringement on “religious liberty.”
represents conservatives’ ongoing attempts to justify discrimination against LGBT people using “religious liberty” arguments.
(HT: Alvin McEwen.)