Catholic bishops: Let federal housing programs evict gay people for God!

By | September 20, 2019

This January, the Department of Housing and
Urban Development proposed a regulation to prohibit discrimination in HUD programs on
the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Under the new rule, FHA-insured
mortgage lenders would not be allowed to take a borrower’s sexual orientation or gender
identity into account when deciding their eligibility. Eligible families could no longer
be excluded from HUD programs for having LGBT family members or relationships, and owners
of HUD-assisted housing would not be allowed to ask about an applicant’s sexual orientation
or gender identity. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to this proposal
by claiming that it “may force faith-based and other organizations, as a condition of
participating in HUD programs and in contravention of their religious beliefs, to facilitate
shared housing arrangements between persons who are not joined in the legal union of one
man and one woman.” In other words, participating religious groups wouldn’t be allowed to treat
gay people differently. And while this might be contrary to their religious beliefs, it’s
also beside the point. The bishops’ counsel has stated that “faith-based and other organizations
should retain the freedom they have always had to make housing placements in a manner
consistent with their religious beliefs”. But participating organizations are already
subject to nondiscrimination regulations, regardless of their religious beliefs. Discrimination
on the basis of race, sex, color, religion or national origin is already prohibited,
and there is no exception for religious organizations – nor should there be. Holding a particular
religious belief does not exempt someone from following the applicable regulations just
because they think they shouldn’t have to. When they choose to participate in these programs
and accept federal assistance, they’re subject to the same rules as everyone else. Religious
beliefs that are racist or sexist in nature don’t make racial or sexual discrimination
in these programs any more acceptable. So why should this be any different? The bishops
have cited the Defense of Marriage Act as requiring the federal government to treat
only opposite-sex unions as marriages. But nowhere does it limit how HUD regulations
can interpret the meaning of a family, which doesn’t require marriage and can even consist
of single people. As the proposal notes, the composition of families isn’t limited to the
statutory examples. And it doesn’t mandate that these regulations must permit discrimination
on the basis of marital status, or sexual orientation, or gender identity. The bishops
further claim that this proposal would itself constitute “a type of discrimination” against
participating religious organizations that seek to discriminate against gay people. But
a prohibition of discrimination is not discrimination against religion just because someone’s religion
may advocate for discrimination. They would still be subject to these nondiscrimination
provisions whether their religion is the cause of this, or they’re just plain stupid. The
very intention of such regulations is to exclude groups that insist on discriminating, so leaving
them out of these programs is kind of the point. Religion is irrelevant to this, and
refusing to allow special exceptions for religion is not a form of discrimination. But allowing
religious groups not to follow the rules that everyone else does *would* be discrimination.
Finally, the bishops suggest that “Given the very large role that faith-based organizations
play in HUD programs, the regulation, by infringing upon that freedom, may have the ultimate effect
of driving away organizations with a long and successful track record in meeting housing
needs, leaving beneficiaries without the housing that they sought or that the government intended
them to receive.” In essence, they would rather quit these programs entirely and serve nobody
instead of being required to include gay people. They would actually prefer to leave people
out in the cold if they aren’t allowed to keep gay people from getting a mortgage or
renting an apartment. Is that the kind of value system they want their religion to be
known for – closing down all of their services just to make sure that gay people can’t even
have a roof over their heads? If that’s their attitude, why should they have any place in
these programs? If they insist on tipping over the chess board if we don’t let them
have their way, maybe they shouldn’t be a part of this. A group that intends to actively
obstruct federal regulations by holding federal programs hostage should not be supported by
federal funding. As long as discriminatory religious groups are the ones providing these
services, the government will be supporting programs that refuse to treat gay people equally.
And why should anyone be kept out of government housing programs for completely irrelevant
reasons just because someone else’s religion says so? The dictates of private, personal
faith have no place in federal regulations, and it makes no sense for religious groups
to be the ones deciding what kind of discrimination is acceptable. They are not the ones who should
be in charge of this. If they can’t do the job, they can be replaced – and they should
be. But don’t tell me I can’t have access to housing because someone thinks their god
is more important than the people whose needs they serve. If they honestly believe their
faith requires keeping people homeless, they need to take a hard look at themselves and
stop pretending they have any interest in helping people.

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