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As promised, some deep thoughts on the situation in Illinois.

In case you missed it, Illinois recently set up civil unions for non-heterosexuals. (Three cheers on that, btw!) It's called civil unions rather than marriages but I think I read somewhere the bill actually says civil unions get all the privileges of marriage? So it's a fairly strong statement that, if you offer some service to heterosexual married couples it also gets extended to these new civil unions. Trouble is, Illinois farms out a lot of their foster-care services to private non-profits, including the group Catholic Charities.

That group has decided to give up its state contracts in a few of the Illinois dioceses. According to the AP article I linked, Catholic Charities wants to refer gay couples to other foster care agencies that can service them while Catholic Charities continues to work with married, heterosexual couples. They're not trying to discourage homosexuals from adopting, as far as I can tell – they're just saying they can't help them. The question is, is that enough? I've heard several bloggers and pundits (sorry, can't find links) say no. Catholic Charities has a contract with the state to place foster-children in foster-homes. Maybe they have a right to be prejudiced (free speech, freedom of religion, etc.) but not on the public dime. Otherwise, so the argument goes, you're subsidizing homophobia, and you're throwing away a lot of rights just won in the civil unions law.

My first instinct was to agree with that line of thought. I am against so-called conscience laws where a health professional refuses to provide legal health services. Or where government registrars can refuse to sign off on gay marriages, like happened in the U.K. And I have a special hatred in my heart for the "crisis pregnancy centers" that don't make it clear they don't do abortions and try to delay the woman so she can't get an abortion until it's too late. But the Catholic Charities isn't being deceptive, and they're not operating in a time-sensitive situation where sending someone to another agency is out of line. So those superficial similarities to those other situations doesn't really hold up, I don't think.

It's a long-held Catholic belief that children should be raised by both a man and a woman who are committed to raising the kid. in a family – i.e. are married. To tell the Catholic Charities that they have to start certifying homosexuals requires them to give up their contracts. It's not just about money, I don't think. I've worked with the Catholic Charities group here as part of a DV shelter where I sometimes volunteer, and the people I've met – not just the grunts but the administration – seem genuinely interested in helping people. Giving up the contract means a lost opportunity to do that, and it doesn't just hurt the kids. I sincerely believe that in a society you help those around you; you hurt yourself when you give up on those relationships. Which means that Catholic Charities is doing just what you should be doing in a community. I don't want to ask them to give up the opportunity to get involved or give up their sincerely-held religious belief, without a really good reason.

A couple of problems with that, though. It assumes that people can afford to pay for both the charitable work and the taxes for the government. Maybe they can afford that now, but I'd love to see government do more, not less. Charities are great for the unexpected, but when we're talking institutional problems like this, we shouldn't be leaving that to charity if we can help it. Foster care is more about social justice than charity, anyway. I'd like more big-picture direction of what needs work with room for charities to carry it out in their own specialized way. And in our society that seems to mean governments and charities working together.

The bigger issue, though, is what kind of message this says to the religious. Are they welcome as part of the larger society or not? That makes all the difference, because if we're taking the radically secular way and say if you want to enter into the public square you have to set your religion aside. There are models for that. (France jumps to mind.) The problem is, secularism is an ideology – not a religion, but a viewpoint with its own assumptions. Carried to the extreme this would mean you would have a culture where a certain religious interpretation is allowed, and a culture where it doesn't, and no common place for the two to come together. That ain't cool.

Actually, this whole thing made me think of a sort of alternative scenario. Suppose there was a charity for African-Americans that wanted to place them into homes with other African-American foster parents so they didn't lose the connection with their culture. That meant they could only serve a certain segment of the population – A-A parents + A-A kids. If I, as a Caucasian, came to them they would point me in the right direction but refused to help me myself. In this particular case I would probably be okay with that. If there was no market for their services they'd work themselves out of contracts, but if there was, I'd have no problem with having a specialty group like that. Here it's religious priorities rather than racial ones, but I'm not sure that changes anything, really.

In case it needs to be said: Of course I disagree with the RCC's position. I actually disagree with it pretty strongly. But the philosopher in me insists that in itself isn't enough to kick them out of the club. Not unless they're doing real harm to children or prospective parents – and as long as they're really referring the gay parents to someone suitable, I'm not seeing that they are...


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
Not unless they're doing real harm to children

I would argue that they are in fact doing real harm to children. The children who need to be placed in foster care via Catholic Charities are there because they don't have anyone to take care of them, and they need that right now (so I would argue as well that they are operating in a time-sensitive situation). There are not enough homes made up of straight married couples to take in all the kids who need foster care. By eliminating eager gay foster parents, Catholic Charities is screwing over the kids for whom there aren't enough "approved" families to go around. The alternative to gay foster parents isn't necessarily straight foster parents. Often, it's an abusive household, a homeless shelter, or the streets. Taking any of those options over a stable foster household that happens to have adults of the same sex is doing harm to a child.

Suppose there was a charity for African-Americans that wanted to place them into homes with other African-American foster parents so they didn't lose the connection with their culture. That meant they could only serve a certain segment of the population – A-A parents + A-A kids.

But that's not what Catholic Charities was doing. Catholic Charities didn't take only Catholic kids and place them in only Catholic homes so that Catholic culture would be preserved. They took all kids, regardless of culture, and as far as I know, they placed kids in non-Catholic homes as well.

This isn't about the RCC's views on homosexuality. No one is denying Catholic Charities the right to place kids in only straight married households. They just can't use taxpayer money to do so. My money, for instance, since I live in Chicago and pay Illinois state income tax. I am not Catholic, I don't support the RCC's position, and I don't want my money to pay for their discrimination. If they're going to get my money, the least they can do is follow state non-discrimination laws. If they don't want to follow the law, fine. They don't have to take the state's money. They can use Church funding only, which is provided by Catholics to Catholic Charities presumably under the assumption that everyone involved in that particular transaction supports Catholic Charities in their discrimination. That's great. But not with my money.
Jun. 10th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, but what if it was the other way around in your African-American example? If there were an adoption agency that only served white couples and placed children only with white foster parents because they honestly believe that growing up with non-white parents would be bad for kids? Would you support them with the taxpayers' money as well? Or would you expose that stance for what it is - i.e. racist prejudice? I'd very much think it would be the latter.

(Actually, that's what did happen to lots of kids from various ethnic minority communities in a number of countries, often against the birth parents' will, but that's another can of worms.)
Jun. 10th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Many adoption agencies refuse to allow qualified parents to adopt children of another race or ethnicity. Those agencies have reasons, I assume, but to my mind they're pretty short-sighted.
Jun. 14th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, in my analogy, I completely forgot that cross-racial adoption is indeed a complicated issue of its own. Not the best point to make, I suppose.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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