Story to Watch: US Conference of Catholic Bishops Addresses "Religious Liberty"

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting this week, November 14-16 in Baltimore, Maryland. This annual meeting for all US Roman Catholic bishops addresses a variety of concerns, both inside the Roman Catholic Church and in formulating a Roman Catholic response to trends in the United States.

We can expect the Conference to claim that the Roman Catholic Church is “suffering persecution” due to marriage equality being the law in various states, which church leadership opposes. In recent months, Roman Catholic social service agencies have chosen to shut down services for adoption to avoid placing orphans with otherwise qualified gay and lesbian couples. Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the Chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to President Obama, claiming that marriage equality harms the separation of church and state. As the Associated Press has reported, the Conference is forming a “committee for religious liberty” to address these and other issues. And today, the Conference unveiled a new web site entitled, “Marriage Unique for a Reason”, which combines Roman Catholic historic opposition to marriage equality with new claims of “religious persecution.”

However, the messages coming from the Conference are only a fraction of the story. GLAAD calls on the media to remember that Roman Catholic leadership is out of step with the vast majority of Catholics across the United States. Recent polls have demonstrated that Roman Catholics overwhelmingly support marriage equality. According to a report entitled, “Catholics in America: Persistence and change in the Catholic landscape,” Roman Catholics place little importance on opposition to marriage equality as a tenet of Catholicism.

For a fuller representation of the Catholic response to LGBT people, GLAAD encourages the media to contact Equally Blessed, a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed representatives will be delivering thousands of signatures on a petition calling for an end to anti-LGBT bullying to the Bishops Conference meeting.

The other problematic message concerning this “religious liberty” claim is their goals would not ensure religious liberty for religious groups that DO support marriage equality. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, for example, has been performing weddings for gay and lesbian couples for several decades, without any legal recognition for the marriages. To accommodate the perceived “religious liberty” for the Roman Catholic leadership would mean curtailing the religious liberty of Unitarian Universalists. The Unitarian Universalists are not the only religious group that supports marriage equality. Indeed, the Metropolitan Community Church, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Unity Fellowship, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) all recognize relationships of gay and lesbian couples.

GLAAD calls on media to explore other messages about marriage equality, both within the Catholic Church, as well as with other religious groups who support marriage equality. If you see problematic coverage about the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, please report it to GLAAD.