Banning Anti-Gay Housing Discrimination Could Impact our Rights Say Catholic Bishops
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has said planned regulation changes that would make it an offense to discriminate against housing applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity are “at odds” with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and would put religious freedom at risk.
In January the HUD went public with a proposed rule to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for those receiving its assistance programs, a change that could impact over 4.4 million housing units throughout the United States.
However, in a letter sent last Friday to the HUD, bishops say they object as they fear it will mean they must choose between their beliefs and HUD funds.
The regulations, being considered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are” at odds” with the Defense of Marriage Act and could force faith-based programs receiving HUD funds to violate their religious beliefs by providing housing to gay couples or unmarried straight couples, lawyers for the Catholic group said in comments filed with HUD last Friday.
HUD released the regulations for public comment in January, with Secretary Shaun Donovan calling the nondiscrimination provisions “a fundamental issue of fairness.” They do not require congressional approval, but HUD officials can adopt them as they see fit after considering public input. They would apply to both rental housing and homeownership programs that receive HUD assistance.
The bishops’ group does not want to see any individual denied housing, but shared housing is another matter, wrote general counsel Anthony Picarello and associate general counsel Michael Moses. They said they fear that faith-based groups will be forced, “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.”
To reiterate, the change to HUD regulations would only impact those receiving HUD assistance and therefore would not alter how private institutions are regulated.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops cites that no Act of Congress has ever protected LGBTs in this way, and that the change might be seen to conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
However, the HUD can change its regulations independent of Congress so the lack of specific protections is rather moot, and while the HUD must honor DOMA like any federal agency, it may be argued that the regulation change in no way recognizes same-sex marriages but only allows for consenting adults to choose who they cohabit with free from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.
Over the past few years religious institutions have decided to close affiliated adoption and fostering agencies due to their unwillingness to comply with local gay-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.
In the case of the Archdiocese of Washington, for instance, the diocese refused to comply with the import of the District of Columbia’s legalization of same-sex marriage which meant that married same-sex couples wanting to adopt had to be treated the same as their straight counterparts. The agency cited its right to religious freedom of conscience and expression being infringed and therefore closed its doors rather than cater to all. Gay rights supporters cited that such agencies enjoy public funds and therein should comply with local nondiscrimination protections.
This reticence to accommodate gay rights in the wider public sphere would again highlight a seeming disparity in the conduct of church officials and how the general consensus of American Catholics feel. A recent survey of American Catholics found that a majority support marriage rights for same-sex couples and that 73% of Catholics said they favor gay-inclusive employment nondiscrimination laws. When asked how they would rate the Church’s handling of homosexuality few were totally satisfied. You can read more about the survey here.