DignityUSA Condemns USCCB Support of Discriminatory HHS rule changes, Calls on Biden for LGBTQI Protections

In the final days of the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a new rule that allows organizations that recieve federal funding to provide social services to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The decision was applauded by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with a joint statment from the Chairs of multiple USCCB Commitees. On January 25th, DignityUSA issued the following letters, condemning the USCCB's support for this discriminatory rule change, and calling on President Biden to reverse the decision.

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Archbishop José Gomez, President, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chair, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Chair, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
Bishop David A. Konderla, Chair, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017

Your Excellencies,

We are writing to express the strong objections of DignityUSA to the joint statement issued following the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recent change to a rule that had been established to give children in foster care the best opportunity of finding a safe, loving foster home or a “Forever Family.” While we are very confident that the Biden-Harris Administration will overturn this change, we still feel the need to speak out against your celebration of an act that further marginalized two vulnerable populations in our country – children in state care and LGBTQ* people seeking to offer these children safety and shelter.

We recognize and value Catholic dioceses and organizations’ long commitment to caring for orphaned, abused, and neglected children who did not have families that could care for them. As in many other social service fields, faith-based organizations responded to a critical need in ways no other groups, including local and state governments, were doing. The care provided often developed models built upon by many throughout the years.

Recognizing the need for standards of care for vulnerable people, over time government agencies have become increasingly involved in regulating practices in foster care and adoption, and in setting the expectations of agencies funded to provide these services in communities across the country. Under constitutional and legal provisions, local, state, and federal governments have rightly insisted that all people participating in these programs be treated equally. It is concerning that you write, “The same core beliefs about the dignity of the human person and the wisdom of God’s design are what motivate both our positions on marriage, life, and sexuality, and our call to serve.” The implication that anyone who does not believe in gender complementarity, agree with the USCCB position on marriage, or insist that gender is always correctly assigned at birth should be eligible for denial of service is very disturbing. Our nation is comprised of people of a wide diversity of beliefs, and all must be able to access publicly funded programs on equal footing.

Your statement also asserts that “state and local government agencies in multiple jurisdictions have already succeeded in shutting down Catholic adoption and foster care providers who operate in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.” This is not accurate and is in fact highly misleading. State and local governments have repeatedly offered extension of contracts with Catholic social service programs if they agree to abide by non-discrimination laws. When such programs are terminated, it is because the agency has refused to comply, and therefore becomes ineligible for public funding. The choice to shut down has been made by the agencies themselves. Other organizations or government agencies have demonstrated the ability to serve children and families and to comply with the law.

The statement continues, “With over 400,000 children in foster care, we need to work together to take steps to increase – not decrease – opportunities for children to be placed with safe and loving families.” Are you aware that same-sex couples are seven times more likely than opposite-sex couples to raise foster and adopted children? (The Williams Institute, UCLA Law School, July 2018) Same-sex couples are also more likely to adopt transracially, an important consideration given that over half of the children in foster care are children of color. How does excluding qualified same-sex couples and other LGBTQ people from becoming foster and adoptive parents increase opportunities for these children? With an already stressed child welfare system, and grossly insufficient number of homes available to children in need, we should be finding ways to expand, rather than contract, the pool.

We also object to the way the word “safe” is used in this context. It is a clear reference to long-disproved claims that LGBTQ people are a threat to children. In one often-cited study, LGBTQ individuals represented only 0.7% of abusers (Jenny, C., Roesler, T.A., & Poyer, K.L. (1994) Áre Children at Risk For Sexual Abuse by Homosexuals?” Pediatrics Vol. 94, No. 1, 41-44). We insist that you immediately stop using this dangerous, demonizing, and fallacious rhetoric in official statements on behalf of our church.

In addition, LGBTQ youth make up a sizable portion of the children in need of foster care or adoption. A 2018 study found that 30.4% of youth in foster care identified as LGBTQ or questioning (American Association of Pediatrics, March 2019). Many of these young people cannot be appropriately served in group homes or by families unfamiliar with the issues faced by LGBTQ people. Allowing same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals to become licensed foster/adoptive parents provides better options for supporting these children and teens.

Among the signers of this letter are a professional who works in the foster care system and a foster and adoptive parent. We know the system from the inside, and over the course of many years. We have also been involved in helping to recruit and evaluate other foster and adoptive parents and can attest that good parents come in all genders and a variety of relational statuses. We know that caring for children who have suffered abuse, neglect, and trauma is intensely demanding, and that faith can often be an important anchor to those who take on this work. We believe that faith-based agencies that welcome LGBTQ people willing and gifted for this work are well-positioned to see excellent outcomes for the children they serve.

In this regard, we represent the beliefs of significant majorities of American Catholics. A Public Religion Research Institute study in October 2020 found that majorities of Catholics are highly opposed to allowing religiously affiliated, taxpayer funded agencies to bar qualified same-sex couples from becoming foster and adoptive parents. Significantly, more than eight in ten white Catholics (82%) and more than six in ten Hispanic Catholics (65%) oppose this policy. (PRRI, Oct. 2020) Clearly, your support for discriminatory policies does not have the support of those you claim to speak for. In this area as in many others, broad and meaningful consultation with the people of our Church would result in a more informed, responsible, and truly Christian position. Perhaps this new moment in our nation could present an opportunity for a new emphasis in USCCB advocacy, with increased focus on antipoverty, racial justice, and climate protection efforts, as Pope Francis has urged repeatedly, all of which are areas in which the leaders and the people of our church agree.

We look forward to the new Biden-Harris Administration restoring the protections for LGBTQ people that were created under the Obama Administration. We also urge you to truly place the needs of children in foster care at the forefront, and to withdraw all objections to banning people from becoming foster or adoptive parents based simply on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In hope,

Christopher Pett, President
Meli Barber, Vice President
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director


President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Biden,

We are writing on behalf of DignityUSA, the organization of Catholics committed to justice, equality, and full inclusion of LGBTQI people in our church and in society.  Our Executive Director, Marianne Duddy-Burke, recalls the great honor and privilege she had of briefly meeting you and Dr. Biden the first White House Forum on LGBT Human Rights in 2014.

We are writing on a matter of urgency with regard to the situation of foster children and potential foster and adoptive parents across the nation.  We request that you consider an Executive Order that explicitly reverses the previous Administration’s changes to Department of Health and Human Services policies that gave LGBTQ+ people protection from discrimination by faith-based organizations in foster care, adoption, and health services. While we fully support your Day One Executive Order directing all departments to uphold the Bostock decision, we believe that religiously affiliated programs may still see themselves as exempted from that Order. We include our letter to US Conference of Catholic Bishops officials who supported the withdrawal of these protections, which outlines the reasons we strongly believe these protections must be restored.

Please know that we pledge the daily prayers of our leadership team and members of our movement for the safety and success of your Administration. We know that prayer binds us to one another and is sustaining during times of both challenge and triumph. You have ours.

Furthermore, we thank you for demonstrating your commitment to justice, equality, and full inclusion during the campaign, the transition, and in the early days of your Administration. The priorities you have established and the appointment of the most diverse and gifted team in history are welcome signals of the America you envision. We will be honored to partner with you in every way possible to achieve the goal of “building back better.”

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to supporting your efforts on behalf of greater equality and inclusion for LGBTQI people in every area.

In hope,

Christopher Pett, President
Meli Barber, Vice President
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director