Catholics urged to fight measures dealing with sexual orientation, gender identity
March 17, 2021
Catholics have been urged to oppose several measures introduced before the Nebraska Legislature that deal with same-sex attraction and gender identity.
The proposals might seem harmless at first glance, but they pose a number of problems for individuals, families and society as a whole, the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) points out.
Proponents of the measures try to pass them off as though they’re no big deal, but in reality they’re an attempt at a “major paradigm shift,” said Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC, which advocates for public policy priorities of the Catholic Church.
STRIKING THE STATE’S DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE
One proposal to be debated before the full Legislature either this session or next year is a resolution that seeks to strike language from Nebraska’s Constitution that defines marriage as a union of a man and woman, LR20CA.
If passed, the resolution would put the issue before voters, on a state ballot.
Nebraskans voted on the language and amended the state constitution 21 years ago, approving the ballot initiative with about 70% of the vote.
But in 2015 a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, made the amendment moot by forcing states to recognize same-sex marriages.
Although the language in the constitution can no longer be enforced, it shouldn’t necessarily be repealed, said Marion Miner, associate director for pro-life and family policy at the NCC.
“There’s no compelling need to strike it,” Miner said of article 1, section 29 of the state constitution, which does not recognize same sex marriage or other same sex unions.
Keeping the definition in the constitution would position the state well if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reversed its ruling, said Miner and Jim Cunningham, who was the NCC’s executive director when Nebraskans voted for the wording in 2000.
The constitution’s definition of marriage represents the truth, Miner said, and the NCC opposes the resolution, introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln.
According to Cunningham, the wording in the constitution “stands for the principle of what marriage is, what marriage has traditionally, historically been. It also represents what a large majority of Nebraskans at the time felt was important to do as a matter of public policy.”
On March 15 the Vatican’s doctrinal office gave more clarity on the issue of homosexual unions, answering a question about whether the Church has the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.
The answer: “negative.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith quoted Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, saying “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
According to the document: “The Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit.’”
“But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”
According to Miner: “These attempts to undermine the truth, to redefine marriage really do a disservice to everybody because we lose the capacity to understand what marriage really is and what it’s for. They undermine the marriage culture and the family, which has effects on everyone. The family is the basic building block of society.”
“When people get that wrong,” he said, “the consequences just don’t stop. They continue to pile up.”
On the other hand, the benefits of traditional marriage abound.
“There’s a reason that the state has always had a role in this and in incentivizing marriage and protecting it and encouraging it,” Miner said. “It’s because it’s such a great social good, when you have a man and a woman who are united to each other with an expectation of permanency … and their children have the stability of their mother and father raising them into adulthood. There isn’t a greater social service than that, that can be provided anywhere. It’s the most valuable thing that people can do for the community, so the government really does have an interest in protecting and encouraging it.”
Miner said it’s time for Catholics and others “to start retaking the initiative on this issue of marriage and family.”
“We need to be presenting a vision of what marriage is and why it matters. … We need to give people something to fight for, not just something to fight against.”
LB120 and LB230, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, attempt to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, at local and statewide levels, in areas of public accommodation, housing and employment.
The problem with the bills – which offer no religious exemptions – would be their use against people who hold a traditional view of marriage and human sexuality, as seen in other areas of the country, Venzor said.
Similar legislation has imposed penalties on people who hold those more traditional views, including Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who has spent nine years in court battles because of his refusal to make homosexual- and transgender-themed cakes.
Bills like LB120 and LB230 have been introduced in the Legislature for years.
Fighting those measures has been important, Venzor said, because they “attempt to enshrine a flawed understanding of the human person into law.”
“I think the fundamental question we always have to be asking,” he said, “especially on moral social issues, is, does this reflect who the human person is? Does this law reflect who the human person was created to be?”
“All people need to be treated with dignity and respect and with love. … However these types of bills aren’t really about prohibiting unjust discrimination. They’re going after something deeper, which is to dismantle a Christian, traditional worldview on human sexuality and marriage. That’s really what’s at play here at the end of the day, and I think why this is so fundamentally important. And the practical implications are far-reaching,” including “silencing and punishing those who hold to that traditional worldview.”
Expressing beliefs at work could lead to harassment claims. Bathrooms, including those at church facilities that are rented out, could be considered places of public accommodation and required to be gender neutral.
A judiciary committee hearing on that bill, and several others related to sexual orientation and gender identity, was held Feb. 26. They are awaiting possible further action and are likely to be advanced by the committee, Venzor said.
CONVERSION THERAPY BAN FOR MINORS
The scope of the ban proposed in LB231, which would prohibit conversion therapy for youths, troubles Venzor and others, who argue that it would be clearly unconstitutional, limiting free speech and religious freedom.
Conversion therapy is defined in the bill as “a practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”
The City of Lincoln recently enacted such a ban for minors.
Conversion therapy might bring to mind practices that have been widely frowned upon and that ultimately don’t work, such as shaming or other manipulative or coercive measures.
“These techniques we would roundly reject,” Venzor said. “We also recognize that these types of techniques are already recognized as unethical under the professional licensing of mental health professionals or others. … So in other words, you don’t need a law to ban that type of behavior.”
A ban that would limit what counselors and their clients discuss is “a clear violation of free speech,” said Michael McHale, one of three full-time attorneys at the Omaha office of the Thomas More Society, which describes itself as “a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.”
Youths and their therapists “have a right to free conversation,” including those about same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, McHale said.
Court cases from other parts of the country on the issue of conversion therapy have sided with free-speech proponents, he said.
A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving pro-life pregnancy centers, which said professional speech is protected under the First Amendment, would also indicate that governments can’t limit conversations between therapists and their clients.
Such a ban would undermine “the patient or the client’s ability to self-direct their treatment,” Venzor said, and help shape the goals of the treatment.
A person might want help dealing with an unwanted same sex attraction. But under the proposed state ban, a therapist could face professional discipline, including losing a license to practice.
“It doesn’t allow clients to seek out counselors who agree and understand their worldview and their desire to live in a certain way,” Venzor said.
In that sense, a conversion therapy ban restricts the free speech of patients more than health providers, McHale said.
Sometimes people “have a deeper identity in their faith and they want to pursue that identity,” he said. “But they can’t pursue that goal.”
The ban also violates freedom of religion and therapists’ professional judgements, he said.
“There’s plenty of research out there calling into question some of these techniques that only affirm gender dysphoria … how these techniques actually are not helpful for young people who are wrestling with their sexual identity.”
STEPS TO TAKE
The NCC is urging people to contact their state senators, asking them to oppose these measures. The organization offers legislative updates through its action network. Sign-ups are available at necatholic.org.
The NCC also is asking for prayers.
“When we ask for people’s prayers, we really need those prayers,” Miner said.
“The state senators who are standing strong on these things really need prayers, and they asked for our prayers. So that’s a real request.”