Leading U.S. bishops voiced strong criticism of an “unprecedented and extreme” new executive order, saying that it adds to discrimination problems rather than finding real solutions to them. “In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination,” warned Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo. “With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent,” they said in a July 21 statement. “As a result, the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs.” Archbishop Lori is the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Malone chairs the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. The bishops responded to President Barack Obama signing a July 21 executive order prohibiting what was described as discrimination based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The president signed the order after efforts to pass a similar bill — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — in Congress had repeatedly failed. Despite petitions from a wide variety of religious figures, the executive order did not include any religious exemption. Concerns had been voiced by vague terms included in the proposed legislation, which did not define the phrases “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” As a result, religious groups are worried that they may be disqualified from federal contracts unless they affirm same-sex partnerships as marriages against the teachings of their faith and pay for employees’ transgender “transitions.” The U.S. bishops are among those who have opposed the executive order, particularly due to its lack of a religious exemption. They have emphasized the important role of religious freedom in allowing faith communities to contribute to the good of society. In their July 21 statement, Archbishop Lori and Bishop Malone emphasized that “the Church strongly opposes…unjust discrimination against those who experience a homosexual inclination.” However, they continued, the Church distinguishes between attraction and behavior. Catholic teaching opposes “sexual conduct outside of marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman.” The bishops cautioned that the “executive order, as it regards federal government contractors, ignores the inclination/conduct distinction in the undefined term ‘sexual orientation.’” This could result in exclusion from federal contracts for those employers whose policies include “moral objections to extramarital sexual conduct.” Furthermore, the federally unprecedented “gender identity” clause is based upon a false idea that “gender” is merely a social or psychological construct totally separated from notions of biological sex, they said. In practice, this could result in problems of privacy and association, they added. “For example, a biological male employee may be allowed to use the women’s restroom or locker room provided by the employer because the male employee identifies as a female.” Archbishop Lori and Bishop Malone pointed out that most states which have passed their own “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” statutes have included protections for religious employers, as did the U.S. Senate in its version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “Indeed, all prior versions of ENDA had at least some religious liberty protections,” they said. “But the executive order is an anomaly in this regard, containing no religious liberty protections.” “In this way, the order, which is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation,” they lamented.
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