Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Catholic Charities of Boston Case

One argument the LDS church used in its last news release regarding it's opposition to marriage for gay couples was that:

The prospect of same-sex marriage has already spawned legal collisions with the rights of free speech and of action based on religious beliefs. For example, advocates and government officials in certain states already are challenging the long-held right of religious adoption agencies to follow their religious beliefs and only place children in homes with both a mother and a father. As a result, Catholic Charities in Boston has stopped offering adoption services.
So I took some time to look into the facts of this case, as, apparently, the author of this press release should have.

Catholic Charities of Boston (CCB) was established over a century ago to take care of "poor Catholic children" and to assure orphaned Catholic children were not placed in protestant homes (1). For about two decades, though, CCB had been placing children with same-sex couples (2, 3), which means they were doing so even before the Ma anti-discrimination law included sexual orientation, and well before there was gay marriage in Massachusetts. Of the minority placed "The children placed with the gay couples [were] among those most difficult to place, either because they have physical or emotional problems or they are older". The Catholic Church claims it was made aware of this decades old fact by a Boston Globe article in 2005, which made this practice public (3).

Without any government official taking action to shut them down, the church leadership decided to halt finalizing all adoptions in Boston. They could have continued their adoption work while attempting to clear up the non-discrimination law in the courts, but they chose to shut themselves down. They did this even though Catholic Charities in a couple other areas of Massachusetts were (and by all accounts I've found are still) operating while refusing to adopt to same-sex couples, and after being told by the state's legal representative "We're going to wait and see how the legislation plays out".

At this decision by the Bishops, 8 board members of CCB resigned in protest of the church's move, not the state's. Furthermore, the board had voted unanimously to continue offering such adoptions "saying many gays and lesbians have proven to be exemplary parents who took in some of the toughest foster children" (4). Now, ironically, many, including the LDS church, are using the Catholic church's actions here to claim they were "forced" to make such a move when it did, and using this sad event as an effective tool of propaganda against marriage equality, as though this whole event was a PR stunt.

Marriage equality opponents tend to make two main claims with this event.

The first is that religious freedom was compromised by gay marriage. In fact, Massachusetts' non-discrimination law was the law in question here and the church doctrine was not even asked by the state to be changed, let alone insisted upon. To say this is a case about gay marriage is misleading, and to say this is a case about religious freedom would be akin to claiming, for example, Scientologists have the right to promote their faith in state funded drug rehab programs.

Simply, where the state is involved it cannot act favoring any particular faith's doctrine over equal treatment and rights of its citizens, both the prospective parents and adoptive children in need of homes in this case. If the Catholic church cannot work with the state because of such state responsibilities, they can always keep their doctrine and others will work with the state. For example, the Lutheran Social Service spokes person in Boston commented on their continued desire to aid in adoptions, saying "We're one social service agency, not one church body. We know our parent bodies have firm positions not to ordain practicing gay persons, but on this issue, that's got nothing to do with the welfare of children" (1) .

The second claim is typically that, even if the Church was wrong, this event still harmed Boston children as a side effect and therefore gay marriage should not be allowed. First and again, this was the result of anti-discrimination law, not marriage. Next, disallowing gay couples to adopt harms children by only allowing them to have one legal parent when being raised by gay couples. Also, CCB did not end all of its adoption services (see here), only those in need of a state contract. CCB still assists in adoptions, all those Catholics interested in adoption may do so through the state, or organizations such as the Lutherans that do not violate non-discrimination laws, against gays or Catholics. There is clearly more harm to children done when adoptions are conducted without their best interest primary in the mind.

Lastly, no harm is seen in the available data. We only have half a year's worth of adoption data after CCB stopped finalizing adoptions, but from 2005 to 2006 the number of adoptions increased from 833 to 858. Furthermore, the average time between termination of parental rights and finalization of an adoption decreased from 15.34 to 15.16 months. There were more adoptions and they were processed more quickly in the year during half of which CCB stopped some of their adoption work (5).

Forgetting marriage and regarding the non-discrimination law and adoption alone, though, the state has a solemn responsibility to children without parents in its care to find the best home available as quickly as possible. As the state cannot rely on, say, a particular Muslim faith that gay parents (or even Jewish parents) are evil, or an Episcopal faith that such parents are fine in the eyes of God, the state must use research and the opinions of professionals. Research on families headed by same-sex couples has shown over and over again that there is no significant deficit found in these children (Related article). Regardless of how anyone feels about them, and given the fact that willing and qualified adoptive parents are always in need, sometimes the objectively best option for a child will be a same-sex couple, over a single person, gay or straight, or even over some heterosexual couples. The state would be ignoring its responsibility to these children to delay their journey to a loving home and to discriminate for a prospective parent's sex.

Besides all that, isn't it clear a church's threat to stop helping children if they cannot keep on discriminating, to be blunt, ethically problematic from the start?

1. Paulson, M.. Church's rift with Beacon Hill grows. (2006).

2. Wen, P.. Bishops to oppose adoption by gays, Exemption bid seen from antibias laws. (2006).

3. Pink News. State allows gay adoption discrimination. (2006).

4. Wen, P.. Bishops' gay ban may cost millions, Private donors wary of adoption policy . (2006).

5. US Federal Goverment. FedStats.


Kengo Biddles said...

This whole issue leaves me so mixed...I mean, I understand the desire to have children placed in good, religious homes, because I'm a religious person, but at the same time, I really, really, really don't like the idea of kids being placed in abusive homes when they could be placed with loving parents like you and Rob...

Dichotomy said...

No mixed feelings here.

Actually, I guess I'm not sure what "issue" you're referring to, Kengo...

If you're referring to adoption, then I think that any kid should go to the best parents available, and that "the best available" could mean a gay couple would get preference over a heterosexual one in some situations. (And being in a same-sex relationship doesn't preclude being religious, either, if religiousness is a valid criteria for placement).

If you're referring to the marriage question in general, I still don't have any mixed feelings. I'm happy in my mixed-orientation marriage, but I still haven't heard any convincing reason why others shouldn't be able to find marital bliss in their same-sex relationships.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

I'd say that anything the church does with regards to homosexuality is "ethically problematic" to say the least.

Scot said...

Ah Kengo; I know you're in a tough spot.

"I mean, I understand the desire to have children placed in good, religious homes, because I'm a religious person"

Trouble is, when it wasn't gays, CCB was of the mindset:

I understand the desire to have children placed in good, non-LDS homes, because I'm a Catholic person.

The best interest of the child has to be the state's concern, not a particular religion's belief.

"If you're referring to the marriage question in general, I still don't have any mixed feelings. I'm happy in my mixed-orientation marriage, but I still haven't heard any convincing reason why others shouldn't be able to find marital bliss in their same-sex relationships."

Thank you Dichotomy.

I wonder if I buried the lead here. The press release offered this CCB case as a reason to not allow marriage, not even anti-discrimination law. But the facts show they were absolutely wrong. Take this and add the research on our children they misrepresented and the misleading Europe reference in the same release and I have to wonder what's going on in that big white church office building in down town SLC. Does such matter to the people they are supposed to be informing?

MoHoHawaii said...

Gosh, this is depressing.

When the Church plays fast and loose with assertions that may be proved or disproved as matters of fact (and in this case, disproved), what confidence do you have when they assert faith propositions that may not be verified? It does not inspire confidence in the integrity of the organization.

Your research into this issue reaffirms my belief that the press release in question is not a set of arguments that the Church actually believes. Instead, it's a set of 'talking points,' those easily repeatable, plausible, memorable lies that have caused so much trouble in politics.