Here is some news that’s much bigger than people seem to realize:
The Diocese of Peoria has announced that it is abandoning litigation and transferring all of its foster care and adoption operations, including children, case workers, supervisors and clinical services, to a new, separate entity. The new organization will not be bound by the religious tenets asserted by Catholic Charities, and instead will follow the law and DCFS’ mandate requiring that the state’s wards have the opportunity to be cared for by all potential caring and qualified foster and adoptive parents, including gays and lesbians.
Why is this such a big deal? Because marriage equality opponents — especially folks like Maggie Gallagher and Robbie George, but by no means only them — have been wailing since the mid-2000′s that state laws recognizing marriage equality (and even civil unions) will result in the forced closure of agencies, like Catholic Charities, that face an irresolvable conflict between church doctrine and state law. This creative solution proves that there’s an alternative to this either/or, binary approach.
Even before this news, their argument has always contained two errors: First, there’s nothing about laws mandating marriage equality that forces this issue. It’s really anti-discrimination law that should be the trigger, so if they have a beef with those laws (as Gallagher at least did at one time), they should be clear about that. Second, these agencies don’t have to go out of business, but simply have to stop taking state money. As with the clerk who won’t give out marriage licenses to same-sex couples, agencies that operate on the state’s dime shouldn’t complain when the state chooses to take its own antidiscrimination laws seriously.
This latest development should cause those who have made this in terrorem argument to seriously rethink their position (but will they?). Because if a diocese can make the serious and sober decision that it needs to reconfigure itself out from under Catholic orthodoxy in order to best serve children in need, then at least some well-meaning Catholics understand the competing demands of doctrine and reality, and that the reality is this: Kids’ best interest can be served when they’re raised by same-sex parents. I’d expect this new entity to be run and staffed by many of the same folks currently working for the Peoria division of Catholic Charities, and that those of them who are practicing Catholics will continue to be so. As is clear from other issues (perhaps especially capital punishment), American Catholics don’t walk in lockstep behind papal decrees.
The Peoria Solution — why not call it that? — commends itself to all Catholic Charities. If they want to continue serving kids, they can — just under a different name, and with only a slightly altered mission. This is something that Maggie Gallagher, at least, should favor: She’s on record as favoring the rights of same-sex couples to adopt.
I’m eagerly awaiting the Catholic commentators’ responses to this development, which shows that it is, indeed, possible to reconcile religious belief with the demands of a properly secular, and just, society.
Were he born 10,000 years ago, John Culhane would not have survived to adulthood; he has no useful, practical skills. He is a law professor who writes about various and sundry topics, including: disaster compensation; tort law; public health law; literature; science; sports; his own personal life (when he can bear the humanity); and, especially, LGBT rights and issues. He teaches at the Widener University School of Law and is a Senior Fellow at the Thomas Jefferson School of Population Health.
He is also a contributor to Slate Magazine, and writes his own eclectic blog. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter if you’re blessed with lots of time.
John Culhane lives in the Powelton Village area of Philadelphia with his partner David and their twin daughters, Courtnee and Alexa. Each month, he awaits the third Saturday evening for the neighborhood Wine Club gathering.
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