Rev. Thomas Reese: Equality Act Vote Pits Catholic Nuns Against Catholic Bishops

Transgender rights activist Mara Keisling joins advocates for LGBTQ rights as they rally before a vote in the House on the “Equality Act of 2019,” sweeping anti-discrimination legislation that would extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, at the Capitol in Washington, on May 17, 2019. She is flanked by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., left, and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., right, the chief sponsors of the bill to protect LGBTQ rights. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Last week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, known as the Equality Act, which would strengthen bans on discrimination against LGBTQ persons by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the definition of “sex” in federal civil rights laws. The measure got the support of NETWORK, a social justice lobby led by Catholic nuns, but was opposed by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

If it feels as if you’ve seen this movie, you have. In 2010, the same two groups took opposing positions on the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with the sisters supporting the ACA, while the bishops opposed it.

Back then, the bishops feared that Obamacare would make abortions easier. The nuns argued that there were adequate protections in the bill. The nuns proved to be right. When Republicans later attempted to repeal the ACA, the bishops switched sides and opposed repeal.

So far, the debate within the church over the Equality Act appears to be a sequel to the ACA fight.

The nuns argue that the Equality Act, which passed the House on May 16 by a vote of 236-172, is simply a matter of social justice, while the bishops fear it will force Catholic institutions to violate their moral principles.

Sister Simone Campbell in Rome on March 7, 2017.
RNS photo by Josephine McKenna

“Justice demands that every member of our human family is protected from hate and discrimination,” said NETWORK Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, who is also a leader of the “Nuns on a Bus” campaign.

“It is the role of government to protect all of their people,” Campbell said. “Therefore, the Equality Act is a necessity. Our Christian faith must not be used to deny the inherent dignity of every person. The efforts of some people of faith to do so denies the sacredness of LGBTQ+ people and is an attack on the common good. Congress must pass the Equality Act and enshrine LGBTQ+ civil rights into law.”

The dangers the bishops see in the proposed law, according to a statement, include “wide-reaching impacts on health care, women and girls’ legal protections, charitable services to needful populations, schools, personal privacy, athletics, free speech, religious liberties, and potentially parental rights.”

Others raised questions about how the bill would apply to transgender athletes and bathrooms.

Who is to be believed in this controversy, the nuns or the bishops?

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Source: Religion News Service