Catholic organisations and individuals continue to wrestle with gay rights and anti-discrimination laws, as seen in two cases in different states this month.
In Maryland, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. arm of Caritas International, which had been sued by a gay data analyst because CRS denied health care benefits to his same-sex husband.
In the U.S. health insurance is usually obtained through an employer and the employee argued that denying insurance coverage to his husband constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is against the law in Maryland.
The court held in a 4-3 ruling that CRS was exempt from the anti-discrimination statutes because the statute contains an exemption for religious organisations, reflecting the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.
That exemption “bars claims (of) religious, sexual orientation, and gender identity discrimination against religious organisations by employees who perform duties that directly further the core mission(s) of the religious entity” the court ruled. The decision overturned a lower court decision in favor the employee’s claim that his husband was entitled to the health benefits under the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (Mfepa).
The Maryland Supreme Court also ruled that the Mfepa’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex “does not itself also prohibit” on the basis of “sexual orientation”. A later statute does bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but it contains the exemption for religious organisations.
In Massachusetts, a Roman Catholic couple is suing that state’s Department of Children of Families. The couple alleges they were told they could not serve as foster parents and eventually adopt children because their Catholic faith prevents them from being supportive of such a child if the child identified as LGBTQIA. Mike and Kitty Burke said they would love such a child, but that their faith would compel them to say, according to Kitty, “There’s nothing wrong with it, I’m going to love you the same, but I believe you would need to live a chaste life.”
The Burke are active Catholics, with Mike serving as church organist and Kitty serving as cantor. The couple married in 2018, and after pursued private adoption when they discovered they were infertile. Private adoptions can cost tens of thousands of dollars and so they turned to the state agency. They said they were “troubled” that so many questions in the multiple interviews focused on their Catholic faith.