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Catholic Bishop known for LGBT advocacy comes out in support of the Equality Act

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Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry at the Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, 2015. The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the ruling, gay marriage will become legal in all 50 states. |

A Catholic bishop has joined a growing list of Christians who've come out in support of the Equality Act, a sweeping legislative initiative recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bishop John Stowe of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, long criticized by conservative Catholics for his stance on LGBT issues, sent a letter to the top senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was obtained by the Jesuit publication America magazine.

Addressing his letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Stowe proclaimed that, “As a Catholic bishop, I hate to see any form of hateful discrimination protected by law and it is consistent with our teaching to ensure that LGBTQ people have the protection they need.”

In the letter, Stowe asserted, “LGBTQ people reflect the image and likeness of God, just as anyone else, and so it is our duty to love and defend them.” He also expressed gratitude for the “many LGBTQ Catholics who serve and lead their communities with distinction,” adding, “Their perseverance, their grace, and devotion to the common good has made Catholic communities holier and has edified our nation.”

Stowe’s view of the Equality Act is widely divergent from the opinion held by the majority of U.S. Catholic bishops, who believe that the bill represents a grave threat to religious liberty and religious Americans in general.

On Feb. 23, just before the House voted to approve the Equality Act on a largely party-line vote, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter to members of the House and Senate outlining their concerns.

“The Equality Act purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct,” they wrote.

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” they warned. “It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

The bishops listed provisions of the Equality Act they took issue with, expressing concern that it would “punish faith-based charities such as shelters and foster care agencies, and in turn their thousands of beneficiaries, simply because of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality” and “force both people and organizations in many everyday life and work settings to speak or act in support of ‘gender transitions,’ including healthcare workers and licensed counselors, even when it’s against their professional judgment.”

Additionally, they predicted that the Equality Act would “exclude people from the careers and livelihoods they love, just for maintaining the truth of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality” and “discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs by partially repealing the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an unprecedented departure from law and one of America’s founding principles.”

The bishops also worried that the Equality Act would “force girls and women to compete against boys and men for limited opportunities in school sports, and to share locker rooms and shower spaces with biological males who claim to identify as women.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the five bishops who signed the letter, along with the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, expanded on the implications of the Equality Act in a March 16 op-ed for The Public Discourse.

According to Dolan, the Equality Act “expands the meaning of public accommodations,” meaning that if a church “has a banquet hall that it rents out for events” and refuses to host a reception for a same-sex wedding ceremony, it would be engaging in “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

“The Equality Act also sneaks in an abortion mandate by defining ‘sex’ to include ‘pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition’ – a phrase that courts have interpreted to include abortion,” he continued. “With this trick, the Act can effectively say that refusing to perform an abortion constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex.”

The Catholic Church teaches that while LGBT people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” like all human beings, “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

The Vatican recently doubled down on this teaching by releasing a statement of its own affirming that “God cannot bless sin,” and therefore, the Catholic Church cannot endorse same-sex marriages.

Stowe is not the only religious leader to buck the national trend and express support for The Equality Act.

As the progressive think-tank the Center for American Progress reported, “more than 100 faith groups have endorsed the Equality Act.” Sister Simone Campbell, an outspoken progressive Catholic nun, Maine-based Rabbi Jared Saks, Muslim Advocates’ Public Advocacy Director Scott Simpson and Yvette Flunder, the presiding bishop at the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries were listed among the legislation’s supporters.

According to the Center for American Progress, “more than 17,000 religious leaders and people of faith” have endorsed the Equality Act. Following its passage by the House, Campbell and other members of the Faith for Equality Coalition presented Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., with a compilation of statements supporting the legislation.

A vote on the Equality Act has yet to take place in the Senate, where it has encountered unanimous opposition from the chamber’s 50 Republican senators as well as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., leaving it short of the required support for passage.

A group of congressional Republicans and faith leaders have rallied behind The Fairness For All Act, billed as an alternative to the Equality Act that would enshrine protections for the LGBT community into law while enabling religious organizations to abide by their traditional beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee spearheaded by the AND Campaign, a progressive civic engagement organization that highlights the voices of urban Christians, along with a group of black pastors, faith leaders and other prominent Christians, echoed many of the concerns shared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The signatories proclaimed that the Equality Act would “remove many of the basic rights that allow religious institutions to operate according to the tenets of their faith” and “allow LGBT rights to be used as a sword against faith institutions rather than a shield to protect the vulnerable.”

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