One of my readers sent me an email concerning a dispute in Massachusetts over whether a Catholic adoption agency should be allowed to consider homosexual couples. Governor Romney (R) of Massachusetts is seeking legislation that will allow Catholic adoption agencies to exclude homosexual couples after anti-discrimination legislation made such exclusions a crime. The Catholic Church has said that it would rather end its 103-year adoption services than be forced to place children with homosexual couples.
Of course, I think that refusing to consider homosexuals as potential adopters is bigoted, and bigotry in the name of God is no more justifiable than any act of violence done in the name of God. However, when it comes to granting licenses, I would say that the government should continue to license this agency.
With a slight change, I can make this argument personal. If I allow Catholics to discriminate against homosexuals, then it seems that I should also allow them to discriminate against atheist parents. Against such a standard, such an agency would certainly reject any application that my wife and I may file. Yet, I would still argue that the state should provide a license to such an institution.
I have routinely offered two arguments in defense of this type of liberty.
The first argument is arrogance. It is one thing to say, "I believe X". It is another to claim, "You must act as if you believe X as well." The second assertion requires a much stronger defense. On these issues, we should start with the presumption that others may act on their own beliefs unless we have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that their actions are harmful to others.
We must recognize that discrimination is not always evil. In fact, adoption agencies have a duty to discriminate. They have an obligation to determine if a couple will provide a child with a safe and secure home, whether the adopting couple can cover any medical emergencies that might arise, and the like. The issue here is not whether discrimination itself is good or bad, but whether discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics are good or bad.
The second argument is the same that I used in defense of (name's) decision to built a Catholic village. Society as a whole benefits by allowing people to try out a large range of model communities. If a model community fails, then the rest of the world learns something from their failure. If the model society succeeds, then that success generates a standard that others can try to follow. The knowledge of their successes and failures will help others make an informed decision.
Both of these points argue in favor of allowing a Catholic adoption agency to use its own standards in placing children for adoption. The freedom implied by both humility and a desire for information (data) on which to make future decisions suggest that this institution be allowed to act in accordance with its own beliefs.
Types of Support
There are a number of ways in which the State of Massachusetts may interact with such an agency. For some of them, I would agree that it would be wrong for the State to provide any support.
First, the State must determine if it will give money to such an agency. I would argue that it is not entitled to any state funds. Those state funds are provided, in part, by homosexuals. It would be unfair to demand that homosexuals pay tax money that, in turn, gets used to promote the idea that homosexuals are contemptible embodiments of evil. The State should not fund that message.
Second, the State often takes custody of children and determines that those children be put up for adoption. When it does so, it should not use an agency that inappropriately discriminates against homosexuals. Those children should be placed only with agencies that agree to use the State's standards regarding who may or may not adopt a child.
However, the Massachusetts law does not concern funding or placement. It concerns licensing -- or permitting -- an activity. Clearly, the set of activities that the government should permit is massively larger than the set of activities that it should fund or that it should participate in. The state may have an obligation to permit a KKK rally in downtown Boston, but it has no obligation to either fund or participate in such a rally.
My analogy here, in saying that the state should treat freedom of religion the same way it treats freedom of speech, is no accident. Indeed, the state should license religions that holds values it does not agree with, just as it should license speech that it does not agree with.
We can well imagine a pregnant Catholic teenager wanting to put her child up for adoption, while still insisting that the child be brought up as Catholic. Whereas it is perfectly acceptable for her to raise the child as a Catholic if she keeps the child, I see no reason to object if she should insist that the child be placed with a practicing Catholic couple if she should put it up for adoption. An agency that specializes in placing children with Catholic parents would suit her interests.
Such a right passes the "do unto others" test, because would it not be fair to give the teenage atheist who wants to give her child up for adoption the liberty to insist that the child be placed in a home of reason and enlightenment, if one can be found?
When it comes to licensing, the State's standards should be limited to asking whether the agency places its children in safe and secure homes. If it can meet this criteria, the state's interest in the welfare of the child has been satisfied.
There are some issues that people should be allowed to fight over without dragging the government into their dispute. These issues should not be brought onto the legislative floor or the judge's chambers, but should be confined to the street where advocates on both sides engage in public debate. The state should become involved only when that public debate becomes violent.
As a participant in this public debate, I would yield condemnation and scorn on those who condemn homosexuals and atheists as inherently unfit parents with as much fight as I could muster. Such individuals are instituting bigotry and hatred and deserve the harshest condemnation. Yet, as with the KKK planning a rally, the government should not use its power to license in order to silence them. The criticism has to come from the public, and it has to come on the streets.
The license should be granted. Then, the battle goes on to shaming those who would actually want to use the services of those who market in hatred and bigotry.