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

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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