Excessive Entanglements in Massachusetts Adoption Law

In Massachusetts, gay and lesbian couples may marry and adopt children. Massachusetts law requires adoption agencies to obtain licences from the state, and, as a condition of being granted a license, to refrain from discriminating against prospective parents because of their sexual orientation.

The Catholic Church views adoptions by gay and lesbian parents to be “gravely immoral”, and now seeks to exempt their adoption agency, Catholic Charities of Boston, from Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination laws.

Along these lines, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the right of religious organizations to discriminate against its own members (and its employees) on the basis of gender, race and sexual orientation. For example, the law allowed the LDS Church to discriminate against blacks – not extending full membership rights to them – and the law currently allows the LDS Church not to hire an employee because he or she does not hold a valid temple recommend.

This right to discriminate is important because it denotes the separation between church and state, and prevents the state from “excessive entanglements” with the administration of a religious organization.

But why should the Catholic Church be exempt from anti-discrimination laws that ensure equal access to adoption for otherwise qualified prospective parents? Why should we grant religious organizations preferential treatment to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in placing children with adoptive parents? Is there a clear line separating church from state here, or is this another example of “excessive entanglements”?


  1. But why should the Catholic Church be exempt from anti-discrimination laws that ensure equal access to adoption for otherwise qualified prospective parents?
    Because the government shouldn’t be able to tell a church how to conduct part of its ministry.

  2. Amen gst. When I think of church/state entanglement, I am more concerned about the effect that the government will have on my religious practice, than I am with the effect that my religion will have on the government. But because I am concerned about possible government interference with my religious beliefs, I support most measures that support clearly separating church and state. (Like bans on prayer in school, ten commandments in courthouses, etc.) I see that as the only clear way to protect my religious beliefs.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    gst and Karen – But the question here is whether adoption is “part of [a church’s] ministry”. I’m not sure  that adoption is an essential function/activity of a religious organization or church. However, it is clear that the state has an interest in regulating adoption. In Massachusetts, part of that regulation allows same-sex couples to adopt. Is this regulation an excessive entanglement?

  4. Good question, Elisabeth. This is a topic about which I wrote in law school. The potential problem is that society wishes to respect legitimate religious beliefs.

    The line as to where religious beliefs begin, and where everyday practices begin, is not always clear.

    There are certainly some end points. Ecclesiastical employ — hiring someone as a priest or minister — is clearly religious in nature. Other decisions, like hiring a janitor or
    security guard, seem non-religious. Some things are in between, such as (potentially) the adoption rules you mention.

    Religious organizations currently enjoy relatively broad freedom from anti-discrimination laws, and I don’t believe that that level of freedom is warranted. Religious discrimination should be permitted only when it links to religious belief.

    However, there are line drawing problems, and I can’t really fault the law for the place that it has settled.

    I ought to dig up my draft note on this issue — all about Amos and Serbian Orthodox.

  5. If you accept the family as the basic unit of society then it follows that the building of families is an essentian function/activity of a religious organization’s ministry. They have no say in who is born to whom but they should have every say in who adopts whom. Presumably the babies are their wards; they are responsible for putting these children in the best homes they can find and only they can define “best home” for their religion. LDS Family Services could be said to discriminate in that they’ll only place children in homes of active temple recommend holders who are sealed to each other.

    Basically, it seems to me to be a basic right for a private organization to determine its criteria and for many religions organizations, homosexual parents don’t meet that criteria. Government force of a secular law would deny them free practice of their religion– it would force them to be hypocrites, believing the unit of mother, father and child to be ordained of God but placing children in homes violate what they believe to be God’s plan.

  6. Very good questions and some tough line drawing.

    It seems like there are three related questions: 1. May the state constitutionally (under the no establishment clause) exempt a religiously affiliated agency from complying with its nondiscrimination rules, 2. Does the Constitution (under the free exercise clause) compel the state to exempt the agency from the rule, and 3. Should the state exempt the agency from the rule?

    The same three questions could be raised about exempting religiously affiliated hospitals from providing nontherapeutic abortions, or even whether those individuals licensed by the state (including officials of religious organizations) to perform civil law marriages can decline to perform a marriage on a basis that violates nondiscrimination rules (i.e., could Massachusetts restrict its authority to perform marriages to those who will perform both opposite sex and same sex marriages).

    My own view is that the Constitution does not forbid an exemption, I do not know whether it compels one, and I do think there should be an exemption in all three cases.

    As I understand the way LDS Family Services (and many other agencies) operates, the birth mother selects the family who adopts the child. Suppose there is no exemption. Would (or should) the Massachusetts law require, by way of affirmative action, that there be a “goal” that a certain portion of the birth mothers select same sex parents to adopt their children? If all the birth mothers selected opposite sex parents to adopt their children, would (or should) this be prima facie evidence that the Massachusetts law had been violated?

  7. Chad too says:

    While considering where to draw lines, let’s also consider what impact the acceptance of state/federal “faith-based charity” money has on the degree to which the exemption should/shouldn’t be watered down. Does it make a difference?

  8. I am no lawyer, but as I see it, if the Church sets up private adoptions between members of its church and does so without government money, then it is strictly within the ministry of the church, no? I don’t know if this is the case with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Boston.

  9. rleonard says:


    This is an example of the coming battles over this issue. We should hope as LDS that this goes to
    federal court and the catholics win. If not then we will be next on the list. I bet LDSSS is considering pulling out of MA at least as far as adoptions are concerned.

    Anybody wondering why MA is losing population, electoral votes, a pathetic birthrate, and families with children to other states?

    People vote with their feet.

    The answer?

    Left wing Anti-Family policies combined with a poor business climate (high taxes, strong unions, over-regulation and expensive housing)

  10. Stapley: “then it is strictly within the ministry of the church, no?”

    No. the problem is that we are not dealing with purely ecclesiastic matters – custodianship, parental rights, legal obligations, welfare support, etc. are all things outside of the church’s purview. Yet if we let a church assign adoptions in any ways it sees fit, then the state is ultimately on the hook for many of the consequences of that decision.

  11. Let’s say that some investigative reporter blew the lid off the way that the sacrament is handled by finding cockroaches in the prep rooms; salmonella on the counters; and deacons, teachers, and priests who don’t wash their hands. What grounds would there be for requiring health inspectors to certify the place as clean in order to serve a few hundred people a small snack between hymns and talks? There is clearly room to regulate religious activity. Both chapels and temples already have to satisfy fire code standards, be built with building permits, and satisfy zoning requirements. Why not health code standards? (Incidentally, does anyone here happen to know how temple cafeterias are handled relative to health inspections?)

    Here we have a statute that grants qualified adopters the right to obtain adoption service at every possible adoption venue. With the exception of gay-rights extremists who tend toward admitting no possibility of discrimination at all, I think most people can agree that a qualified adopter does not have some inherent right to obtain an adoption at every possible adoption service venue. Thus, it seems to me that the issue of granting exceptions to this right is largely a practical matter.

    If, for example, there were a wide diversity of adoption services available (meaning that the Catholics did not have a virtual monopoly on adoption services), granting ad hoc religious exemptions would make little difference in practice. If this were the case, where would the harm be?

    Of course, the state looks at it from the opposite point of view. It’s in the business of determining which potential adoption service venues are qualified to actually offer adoption services. But even from this point of view, the primary aim of certifying adoption services is to ensure that they are on the up-and-up, and given the potential abuses of adoption this is an unusually important role for the state to fulfill. The interests of the potentially adopted child may indeed be compromised when the adoption service denies adoption to a qualified adopter. But again, the question is whether the Catholic church controls enough venues to make their restriction a de facto restriction on adoption in general.

    (Either way, I bet that if it ends up in court, then the church files a friend of the court brief in favor of the exemption.)

  12. Elisabeth says:

    J. – good question. The answer may be whether or not adoption itself is substantively important enough to warrant state intervention in this case -regardless of whether government money is used.

    That said, if the birth mother/parents choose the adoptive couple, then I don’t think her/their choice of that couple is subjected to scrutiny of anti-discrimination laws. I think the issue arises more when the baby is abandoned by its parents and the adoption agency retains the sole responsibility to place the child with an adoptive family.

    With respect to Catholic Charities of Boston, approximately 430 of the 720 adoptions since 1987 involved foster children under the care of the Dept. of Social Services. Of those 430 children, 13 were placed with same-sex couples. The Catholic Church now wants to exempt Catholic Charities from being required to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents at all.

    Also, the Catholic Church is not looking to change the anti-discrimination laws themselves – it is seeking only to carve out an exception for its own adoption agency. Private adoption agencies, i.e., not affiliated with any religious organization, would still be required by law to extend adoption opportunities to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.

  13. Okay – I posted that last comment during a break in class (giving a quiz), but I actually have thought about these issues in a cogent way.

    I’ve set out some initial thoughts a year ago on a similar topic — whether members of religious organizations ought to combat discrimination within their organization — in a prior blog post addressing the issue. Let me quote that here:

    I’m not convinced that it makes sense to treat religious organizations the same as other entities, such as employers, retailers, or government agencies. And I think that it’s quite disingenuous for liberal academics to act as if there is no difference between religious and other organizations. . .

    The fact is that for many Americans, religious organizations are not simply another type of private actor or organization. Rather, they are a means of interacting with a divine being. They are a link to God.

    This can lead to some important ways in which discrimination by religious organizations is viewed differently by members of those organizations than discrimination by other entities.

    The first major difference is that religious organizations probably have much more captive audiences. Because they often claim unique connections to the divine, religious organizations may not be, for their believers, as susceptible to substitution as other organizations. If I disagree with the social policies of Coca-cola, I can drink Pepsi instead of Coke. If I disagree with the social policies of my employer, I may be able to get another job. But if I’m convinced that the only way to please God is through adherence to a particular religion, I cannot simply replace that religion with a substitute entity. I may have some limited forum-shopping available, such as switching parishes or congregations or synagogues, but if I’m convinced that some particular faith — Mormonism or Episcopalianism or Orthodox Judaism or whatever else — is required for my spiritual well-being, I can’t simply decide to switch faiths.

    A second major difference is that many religious organizations base their stated policies on their interpretation of God’s will. Thus, policies of religious organizations may be much less susceptible to change than similar policies would be in other groups. If Coca-Cola or IBM or General Motors has a policy with which its customers disagree, they can lobby against that policy, confident that it comes from no higher original source than the Board of Directors of the company.

    There may be much less practical ability to change church policies. If a particular policy is viewed as established by a reading of the Bible, or by revelation from God, members may be severely constrained in their ability to say “this policy ought to change.”

    Of course, not every church is based on ecclesiastical principles of this sort. The ability of any church member to suggest change undoubtedly varies from denomination to denomination and from locale to locale. However, the ability of any particular church member or members to seek change on broad social issues like marriage is almost certain to involve complicated questions in areas such as ecclesiology and scriptural hermeneutics and exegesis, that will differ significantly between denominations.

    The combination of these two factors — the relatively low substitutability of religious belief sets and the relative constraints on member action that may be imposed by differing ecclesiastical structures and beliefs — means that the problem of discrimination by religious organizations may be both unusually sensitive and unusually resistant to member pressures.

    Of course, there may still be good reasons to seek social changes from within religious organizations. But any such efforts must start from a point that recognizes . . . the distinctive nature of religious organizations.

  14. The second point is the level of deference that religious organizations ought to receive. And here, we run into an interesting web of conflicting legal goals.

    Antidiscrimination laws themselves protect classes of people based on their religion. Too-strict application of antidiscrimination laws threatens to undermine one of the law’s very purposes. That is, an antidiscrimination law may prohibit discrimination based on categories like religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Protection given to these classes is based on some level of societal recognition that people should not be unduly burdened due to membership in these classes. Yet enforcement of a race or gender or orientation provision, in a way that particularly burdens some religious group, may undercut the law’s protection of that religious group, and actually impose a burden on them based on their membership in that religious class.

    The question then, in my mind, becomes one of core values.

    Suppose that I start a church and call it the Church of Woman Haters. Our creed is that women are categorically evil. And suppose that I hold sincere religious beliefs in that organization.

    At that point, I should be free to make ecclesiatistical hiring decisions based on gender, despite the fact that gender is a protected class under law. That is, I should be able to hire only male priests. (A similar Church of Man Haters should be able to hire only female priests.)

    The case is much less clear for protection from other kinds of discrimination. As the leader of the Church of Woman Haters, I would have a valid theological reason to exclude women from the ministry. However, I have no valid theological reason to exclude Blacks. Should I be held to civil rights laws standards, except where a valid theological carve-out exists? That makes sense, in theory.

    However, that approach runs into its own problems — namely, courts interpreting religious theology. The Serbian Diocese case essentially bars courts from entering into theological disputes. Which means that as a practical matter, religious organizations may necessarily have broader exemption from antidiscrimination law than might be theologically necessary — precisely because courts are barred from examining the question of what level of exemption from antidiscrimination law is theologically necessary.

  15. I agree with David H. If my daughter were pregnant, and we went to LDS Social Services, we would expect that the adoptive parent be active LDS.

    If we were Catholic, I would expect devout Catholics.

    In this case, I would expect the adoptive parents’ right to be uh, subject to the adoptee’s family’s wishes.

    So it is a freedom of religion issue, based on the wishes of the pregnant person. The mom gets to pick

  16. Elisabeth says:

    Kaimi –

    I like your “captive audience” argument, and I think it makes a lot of sense. To what extent does my “right” as a lesbian to adopt a child impinge on your “right” as a Catholic to deny such an adoption because of your belief that the adoption is “gravely immoral”? Clearly, if I were a black, straight woman looking to adopt a child, we would not accept this reasoning (i.e., gravely immoral), religious or no. The question is whether religious beliefs regarding sexual orientation should be subjected to the same practical limitations as religious beliefs regarding race.

    However, I’m pushing back a little on your argument that we should give religious organizations deference because their members are part of a captive audience. People freely choose to associate with religious groups – no one is holding a gun to your head and making you go to church every Sunday. Church members DO have a choice if they disagree with a particular Church policy or practice. Leave, and join another church, or work to change the policy (but this, of course, is predicated on whether the member of the religious group agrees with the stated social policy and disagrees with the Church’s).

    As we see in the LDS Church, policies and practices, once staunchly defended as immutable doctrine, change radically from one generation to the next. And at times, it’s difficult to know the genesis of this impetus for change. Churches could hide behind the “it’s God’s will” argument to justify all kinds of anti-social, dangerous behavior. At the end of the day, the U.S. Supreme Court retains jurisdiction to define the practical limitations of following God’s will.  :)

  17. Mark B. says:

    Setting aside the issue of adoption of wards of the state, the process of placing children for adoption through agencies is an odd hybrid of state and private action.

    In New York, there are, broadly speaking, two kinds of adoptions: agency adoptions and private adoptions.

    In private adoptions, birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) agree between themselves the terms of the adoption (subject to the law) and the state undertakes a study to determine the fitness of the adoptive parents. If the study finds that they are fit to be parents, the family court will grant the adoption.

    In agency adoptions, “authorized agencies” undertake the receiving of babies, the examination of prospective adoptive parents for fitness, the placing of those children for adoption, and home visits after the placement (and prior to the judicial grant of the adoption). I have (in my admittedly limited experience in representing adoptive parents, never seen the court question an authorized agency’s determination that the adoptive parents are fit to be parents.

    So, what you have is a system where the state “farms out” one of its responsibilities–the determination whether prospective adoptive parents are indeed fit to be parents, and the placing of babies with those families. A significant advantage of this is that babies end up being placed with families who have the faith that the birth parent(s) want the child to be raised in [I know that’s an inelegant construction, but I don’t have time to rewrite it right]. It does, however, look a bit like farming out a state function to religious organizations, which usually runs the establishment clause red flag up the flagpole.

    I’m with annegb, though: the wishes of the birth parent(s) should trump any legislative or judicial rule about non-discrimination in these cases.

  18. Elisabeth says:

    Mark B – thanks for your informative comment. Do you know whether a couple in NY has a cause of action against the state if they can prove they were not chosen because of their religion (or, in Massachusetts, sexual orientation)? What recourse do prospective adoptive parents have, if any, in this case?

    Sounds like the “fitness” requirement is pretty squishy in favor of granting the birth parent(s) fairly wide latitude to give their child to whomever they wish, so I wonder if these anti-discrimination laws can even be practically applied to adoption, in cases where the child is not a ward of the state.

  19. Thanks Elisabeth. While private placement by birth parents is one thing, placing foster children under the gaurdianship of the state is something else. If that is the specific case at issue, then this is indeed very challenging.

  20. rleonard: Anybody wondering why MA is losing population, electoral votes, a pathetic birthrate, and families with children to other states?

    I’m not. I have to live in the s**thole. Just kidding, of course. You’d be surprised, actually. In spite of all the people getting gay-married, and in spite of all the gay-married people adopting children, and in spite of all the pot holes, and in spite of the utterly inadequate level of signage on the roads, and in spite of the high taxes, it’s actually a great place to live. Seriously, every place has it’s downsides. The reason people are leaving Massachusetts is just because property values are too high to sustain long term. It doesn’t have anything to do with gays, politics, or taxes.

    But here’s my opinion about why the divorce rate is lower in Massachusetts than elsewhere: People who live here just learn to tolerate more misery than people elsewhere. (Again, just kidding.)

  21. Mark B. says:

    Elisabeth: Interesting question.

    It seems unlikely that a couple seeking to adopt would go to an agency operated by a church whose teachings or practices they have serious objection to. I wouldn’t expect an evangelical protestant to go to LDS Family Services, for example, or a member of the Order of the Orange to look for a prospective adoptive child through Catholic Charities. So, I doubt that there have been any cases on the question you raise.

    As J Stapley points out, matters are much more complicated when the state uses a private agency, such as Catholic Charities, to place children who are wards of the state. For example, should the state attempt in such cases to have children placed in homes with the same religion as the birth parents? What if they had different religions? What if they were adherents to some disfavored sect, such as Jim Jones’s, or some white supremacist church?

  22. Mark N. says:

    Does this mean that everyone here trumpeting the so-called wall dividing church and state is ready to bring back polygamy? Seems to me a serious breach of that wall occurred over 100 years ago, but most saints today are more than happy to leave that one alone.

  23. When I lived in MA running on the Anti-Family platform was as good as running as a Republican in Utah.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    The “Anti-Family platform” ?? Isn’t that a bit inflammatory? Just because the people up there see things quite differently, doesn’t mean they’re intentionally anti-family. If we want a dis-the-gay-marryin’-Massachusetts-liberals string, then let’s start one. I would rather continue discussing the interesting church/state issue raised at the outset, however.

  25. Rleonard says:

    Anybody wondering why MA is losing population, electoral votes, a pathetic birthrate, and families with children to other states?

    Hey – I wouldn’t say that the impact of LdsElect has been _that_ great on the poor, beleaguered MA . . .

  26. Uh, oh. Now you’ve gone and done it, Kaimi. Rusty should be by any minute to flip out.

  27. Elisabeth says:

    DKL: I’m not so sure you can so easily dismiss the request for exemptions from anti-discrimination laws as merely a “practical matter”.

    Of course it matters whether or not a particular couple can adopt with a particular adoption agency. All adoption agencies are not created equal. And a child available through one agency, will not necessarily be available through another.

    Adoption is an intensely personal decision making process. Therefore, the anti-discrimination laws are in place to ensure that one’s sexual orientation (or race) should not categorically prevent a couple from finding the best possible match with their adoptive child.

    Mark B.- those are all interesting questions. I wonder if there are presumptions that agencies are allowed to use to fit children with families of similar backgrounds or heritage (sort of like in the post Bollinger admissions process).

  28. Elisabeth says:

    DKL, Kaimi, and other potential troublemakers (but not you, Mathew) – listen to MikeInWeHo. He speaks true wisdom.

  29. Elisabeth, I’m pretty sure that it remains primarily a practical matter. One of my points is that the primary purpose of licensing and regulating adoption agencies through the state is to protect the rights of the children. Turning adoption into a contest over the rights of potential parents flips the entire adoption equation on its head. Adoption isn’t there to allow parents the opportunity to shop for kids, and adoption agencies shouldn’t be required to provide equal service (when they are required to do so) based on the same principles that a department store has to provide equal service. Any argument from gay activists that they have some extra-legal entitlement to adopt must be rejected out of hand. In fact, I’m at a loss to think of a gay adoption advocate that I’ve heard emphasizing any right to adopt. For example, Rosie O’Donnell’s argument is that kids get passed by for adoption when same sex couples are ineligible to adopt. If gay parents are considered potentially qualified to adopt, then the issue becomes one of whether the lack of service to gay couples through Catholic Social Services impacts the total number of children adopted. I conclude that it is primarily a practical matter.

    As far as being a trouble maker, I’ve said more nice things about MA in my comment #20 than anyone else here has.

  30. My three younger sisters and I were made wards of the state and, because we were Mormon, given over to the custody of LDS Social Services. They were our actual guardians.

    I suppose any state could do the same thing. I remember vividly, as do my sisters, the trial where the judge placed us in the custody of church social services. My grandmother was sobbing and blew her nose very loudly and we all burst into uncontrollable laughter.

    Finally the judge looked at us and said, “I fail to see the humor in this situation.” We fell off our chairs laughing and holding our stomachs. It just made us worse.

    The day they “took us away” and split us up was one of the saddest days of my life.

    The irony of our placement is that almost all of the homes we were put in were inactive or severely dysfunctional active LDS families. Long sad story. Two of my sisters were adopted. This has made me skeptical of the whole process and I have a huge bias against closed adoption. It would just kill me to lose a grandchild.

    Life is hard, guys. Mistakes get made. A gay couple might be much more loving and healthy as parents than an active Mormon family (or Catholic), but I guess only Solomon could make that decision. Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum, weren’t they married?

  31. Elisabeth says:

    DKL: Adoption agencies use certain characteristics to match prospective parents with children to achieve the best outcome for both the parents and the children. My argument is if you categorically exclude a certain set of parents based on a particular characteristic (that has been determined to be irrelevant to placement), you will undoubtedly miss an opportunity to place a child with the best family, all things being equal.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you would deny an exemption to Catholic Charities if it could be proven that their discrimination against same-sex couples prevents the adoption of children. Facts are facts, but even without proven statistics, I think it’s extremely likely that some children would languish in state care if an entire category of parents were automatically excluded from adopting them.

    And I’m not sure where you are getting this “extra-legal” entitlement idea. There is nothing “extra-legal” about requiring adoption agencies to comply with current anti-discrimination laws. What do gay activists have to do with this?

    annegb: thanks for sharing your experience with us. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to place a child with an adoptive family. Or to be that child sent away to live with strangers. You seem to have turned out pretty darn well, though, all things considered. Thanks for your comment.

  32. Elisabeth, by extra-legal I’m referring to appeals to some form of fairness that may form the basis of a normative (or even optative) statements concerning real or potential laws.

  33. Is that my first BCC comment edit? Wow – this is so exciting! I can see what Dave means when he says the comment edits are a natural high.

  34. “Almost all of the homes we were put in were inactive or severely dysfunctional active LDS families.”
    AnneGB, I was under the impression that LDSFS was selective about the families recieving children. Is that a misconception, or were things just different then?

  35. David, I read every word and I have no clue what you’re trying to say. Have you ever read Contact by Carl Sagan?

  36. No, Elisabeth, I’m pretty much a mess. Like my sisters. I have been fortunate in many ways, grace of God, all that.

    Ariel, I don’t know how it is now. I am not even sure if LDS Social Services cares for foster children now, here in Utah, most foster families are probably Mormon.

    My understanding, my memory (call me James Frey), is that my sisters and I were trial cases, the first in a newly opened LDS Social Services, this was in 1968, in Las Vegas. Victor H. Brown Jr’s son was our big cheese social worker. Very nice guy.

    A lady I visit teach works there now, I’ll have to ask her. I haven’t thought of that in our conversations.

    The family I was sent to was totally inactive, in five months we only went to church once and I never participated in any activities in church. My sisters had a much rougher time of it, they were younger and less rebellious.

    We’re all grandmas now and we still laugh our guts out at the most inappropriate time. My sisters are my best friends and the smartest, funniest people I know. Thank God for laughter.

  37. Another view on how adoptions used to work when times were simpler is beautifully written by one of the best essayists of our time, Florence King. It is available online here (this essay first appeared in The National Review, where Ms. King wrote a regular feature entitled “Misanthrope’s Corner” printed on the prestigious final page of each issue.) She wrote it as a tribute to her mother’s adopted sister.

    Ms. King, as it happens, is gay.

  38. annegb, though I watched Cosmos on PBS when I was young (8th grade, maybe?) I’ve never actually read anything by Carl Sagan. Is contact good?

  39. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for not lumping me in with the rabble. Great post by the way.

  40. DKL,

    Another Florence King fan! I have loved her ever since I read about her parent’s first date. Her mother had arranged to meet her father for the first time at her small Virginia town’s 4th of July celebration. Florence’s grandmother had the honor of depicting the statue of liberty and was dressed for the part, complete with long robes, crown, and an aluminum foil torch held high. The young man arrived late and slipped into his chair just as the woman in the statue of liberty getup took the stage, saying, with great volume and drama: “Give me yo tard, yo poah…”

    He, whispering: Who is that crazy old bat?

    She: That is my mother.

    Ain’t true love wonderful?

    Elisabeth, I hope you can tolerate threadjacking at this hour!

  41. By the way, E., your comment may be the first time anyone has lumped Dave and I together as list items. And what a list! “DKL, Kaimi, and other potential troublemakers . . .” I like it! :P

  42. Contact is kind of like how you and Nate Oman write. I read every word, sounding them out and have no clue what he said. I even looked up the words and I have a big new dictionary. I have bad feelings toward Carl Sagan, but not you and Nate.

    It had an interesting plot, though

  43. Mark B. says:

    I’ve seen LDSFS place children for adoption in a home that I surely wouldn’t want any child I knew to end up in.

    Sure, they were “active” church members, but the husband was on his third (or fourth marriage), he in his late 40’s, early 50’s and the wife was barely 20. The reports from LDSFS said all the right things–I suspect the parents acted the right way when the social workers came by. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last, the adopted child bears the scars of her parents’ breakup, and I’m wondering whose job it was to say “stop” back when it could have done some good.

    And, ancient history–I remember the family in my ward that took in foster children. They seemed poor, both in material and social terms. Were they foster parents for the money? I don’t know. But the whole lot seemed unable to function very well, even in early 1960’s Provo.

    I know that two cases don’t make an argument. Perhaps all these two show is that in some cases the system doesn’t work well, and perhaps is incapable of working well given human frailty.

  44. Elisabeth says:

    DKL: Thanks for the clarification. I admire your faith in quantitative methods to correctly measure the effects of a change in a particular policy, and I agree that we should apply efficiency principles to many policy decisions. However, even though broad appeals to principles of fairness and justice make people cringe, quanitification is sometimes very difficult – and number crunching can lead us to an absurd result. For example, slavery is probably cheaper than a paid labor force in many cases, but we don’t allow people to sell themselves into slavery. It’s also more efficient to allow people to sell their babies and their internal organs to willing buyers, but we don’t allow those kinds of transactions, either. (not to mention engage in polygynous relationships, but Naiah is tackling that issue at FMH).

    annegb: I guess I don’t know what to say without being trite, but I very much appreciate your contributions here, and find your perspective and wisdom gained from your life experiences important and valuable. Thank you.

    Mathew: thanks! you’ve almost made up for your Thanksgiving comment to me. :)

    Mark IV: No problem. A little levity is always appreciated at 1:30 a.m.

    Kaimi: not sure DKL would say the same thing about being associated with you. In any event, I’m more interested in what you have to say about my thoughts on your “captive audience” theory. Or have you reached your daily quota for intelligent discourse, and are now reduced to snark?

  45. No, Mark, I KNOW they make a point. I’m going to talk to my friend, and see if progress has been made, or even if the church still places foster children.

    My two younger sisters were terribly abused in one of their homes. I will hate those people until the day I die.

    I think there are basically three kinds of people who take foster children

    1. those who need the money

    2. those totally dysfunctional people who think because they’ve experienced sadness in their lives they are best suited to help and screw it up. A lot of them become psychologists and social workers.

    3. good people who do a good job. Much in the minority. Although, I’ve seen some very good ones in my community who have made all the difference in the lives of the children they’ve taken

    Adoption is different, though. I would keep those same categories in adoptions of older children, but people who adopt babies are mostly normal. In my own personal observation, no statistics or anything. I think personal observation is a pretty good way to figure a lot of things out, though.

    Calling Karen as we speak.

  46. Concierge says:

    The far-right faction is using adoption in the same way they used marriage – to ignite Evangelicals to the polls in the next election.
    The constant media onslaught (Focus on the Family, 700 Club, Coral Ridge Ministries, Hannity, Rush, Buchanan, HSLDA, etc.)around this issue will no doubt gather in non-Evangelical conservatives and moderates to further support the far-right drive for dominion over this nation.

    By chopping away at fringe laws like gays and adoption, they are paving the way to put forth other laws – if gays cannot adopt, the argument can be twisted to the employment field. If they are not fit to parent, they could certainly be attacked with the notion that they are not fit to work in social services, pediatrics, teaching, coaching, and so on.

    We mustn’t be blindsided, browbeaten, or coerced into the far right traps mis-use of moral/political issues. It furthers their agenda – to rid the US of all people that are iniquitous. LDS, “Mormons”, are lumped in this group.

    Everytime we sign a petition to squelch a group – we are acting to take away someone’s agency. We must ask ourselves if, at the bar, we want to be accountable for that action.

  47. Concierge says:

    Does this mean that everyone here trumpeting the so-called wall dividing church and state is ready to bring back polygamy?

    Actually…not everyone is ready, but decriminalizing polygamy has been in the news recently…

  48. Elisabeth,

    You’re right that members aren’t entirely a captive audience. They may choose to leave a particular church. However, many churches — including our own — typically include some layer of socialization and/or theology that complicates members’ ability to simply vote with their feet.

    Our church promises certain concrete benefits (eternal life, eternal families, communion with God) and asserts that those benefits are not available outside of our faith. To the extent that we participate in the church in order to receive those benefits, and to the extent that we believe in the church’s claims as regarding them, we are indeed a captive audience. If I think that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true, and that participation in the LDS church is necessary for me to receive eternal life, then I cannot simply go to another religious community if I happen to disagree with some church teachings.

    Thus, you see tortured souls who believe in Mormonism and believe that it offers benefits that they cannot receive elsewhere, but who have difficulty (or perhaps impossibility) accepting some other aspects of church membership.

    This argument militates in favor of more inclusive policies from religious organizations. Since they are the only game in town, people cannot simply go elsewhere to receive the same benefit.

  49. Elisabeth says:

    Kaimi – But, crises of faith aside, people choose to associate themselves with a particular religion, so the captive audience theory, while instructive, isn’t all that persuasive in this case. Forgive the analogy, but I see the way you are using the captive audience theory as allowing, say, a town clerk (a NY Yankees fan) to deny marriage licenses to all Red Sox fans.

    Anyway, I do see your general point, and it’s a good one. Thanks for sharing it.

    By the way, the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts announced today that she would not support an exemption to the anti-discrimination laws for Catholic Charities.

    “I believe that any institution that wants to provide services that are regulated by the state has to abide by the laws of this state, and our anti-discrimination laws are some of the most important,” Healey said.

  50. Well, Massachusetts got what it wanted. There will be no adoption agencies refusing gays. And, according to this story, there will also be no more Catholic adoptions. Massachusetts has satisfied its high-minded notion of fairness. We’ll have to wait and see whether the Massachusetts zero-tolerance policy impacts the quality of service given to the kids.

  51. Dave,

    Are you saying that all blame for any harm should be go to the state? Or are you equally concerned about the effects of the Catholic Church’s “zero-tolerance policy”?

    After all, it takes two to tango.

  52. I agree, Kaimi. The rhetoric of my comment was intended to point out exactly that point; viz., it takes two to tango. My guess is that the more common portrayal of this event in the media will focus on the intolerance of the Catholic church (as seems to have been done by this very post) rather than the intolerance of Massachusetts.

  53. Who cares what the media portrays? I think it boils down to whether or not these Catholic adoption agencies take government funds and/or act on behalf of the state. If they take government funds, they are a gov’t actor (i.e. subject to the constitution), and cannot discriminate. If they are performing a gov’t function (acting on behalf of the state) they are also subject to the constitution (i.e. cannot discriminate).

    If the Catholic church (or any private group) wants to discriminate, all they have to do is not accept gov’t funds, and they can discriminate away….right???

  54. Anon for This says:

    As a child I was severely abused physically, mentally and emotionally.

    When my son was nine, I knew that if I didn’t do something I was going to physically abuse him. I already was crossing the line emotionally.

    Through the state social services I found a family whom I eventually asked to foster my son. I had already resigned from the church, and this family was extremely active. I decided it didn’t matter–my son had to be safe.

    The mother, Caroline, my dear dear Caroline, loved my son fiercely.

    They took him in and loved him and gave him what I could not, and in fact I eventually agreed to an adoption. It was open and I saw my son whenever I could.

    Then in 1990, Caroline died.

    This really has nothing to do with the subject. I just wanted to say that some people are foster parents for the right reason. I’ll always love Caroline for what she gave my son, and I’ll never stop grieving for her.

  55. Elisabeth says:

    APJ: agreed. A more balanced reading of this post shows that the question posed was factually based: whether the Catholic Church’s refusal to extend adoption opportunities to same-sex couples fell into the subset of discriminatory practices condoned for religious groups under the separation of church and state doctrine. The effects on needy children are still the same, whether the Catholic Church is viewed as intolerant or whether Massachusetts is.

    Catholic Charities has been licensed, and has worked under contract with the Massachusetts Dept. of Social Services to provide special needs adoption services to children with severe emotional and physical needs since 1977. Their adoption license and contract with DSS makes Catholic Charities a government actor, and as such, as you point out, must comply with anti-discrimination laws if Catholic Charities continued to provide adoptions in Massachusetts.

  56. This thread gets me in my gut.

    Kaimi, I totally agree with your first sentence in #48. It goes along with the concept I kept from my one day in college psychology class: there is power in conforming to the norms and mores of the society in which we live.

    Elisabeth is single? Did not know that.

    Anon for this, God bless you, hon, my heart goes out. I relate. I abused my children and I pay every day huge dividends in regret and anguish. I honest to God didn’t mean to, I love them dearly. And God bless your dear Caroline.

    Concierge, the pendulum of opinion blackmailing swings both ways. I read Oprah’s magazine and Vanity Fair (which I love) on the way back. They both advocate left wing liberalism and feminism in a way that advances selfishness. I find far anything (ie far left, far right) repugnant for that reason.

  57. Elisabeth says:

    Hi, annegb,

    Funny how this rumor got started (John C.), but I’m not single.

  58. Getting back to the exemption issue (and Mitt Romney wasted no time in seeking such exemptions), APJ reminds us that govenment funding is the crux of the matter. Should gay and lesbian tax payers in Massachusetts be asked to pay for agencies that discriminate against gay and lesbian taxpayers? That, of course, is what an exemption would do.

  59. As my wife just reminded me, a lot of this resolves around forcing a religion to act against its beliefs. I hope I have the backing of everyone that this is very wrong.

    On the other hand, you cannot eat at the king’s table and refuse to do the bidding of the king. The Catholic Church would then be forced to get out of the business of doing adoptions for the state, but should be allowed to continue as an adoption agency to anyone who wishs to use their services.

    And, if a judge turns a child over to them because the parent/parents now deceased or otherwise incompetent / incompacitated were Catholic, they should still be free to act according to their religious beliefs.

    Let the state carry the burden for their own responsibility if they want to micro-manage.

    Personally, I believe that a gay parent adoption is possabiliy good, just like a traditional marriage can possibly be bad. It depends very much on the people involved. Gays without an agenda should realise that any kids raised will most likely be straight. How will they handle that, as well as the very high probability of not being able to stay together as a gay couple. Add to that, that many gay people were molested as children (my brother at age 9 by an adult neighbor), and it becomes a very difficult call on placing a child with a gay couple.

    Anon for this,
    I think the Church is trying to be much more careful in child placement now. It is something we are trying to learn. It is not easy to make those decisions, and I am very sorry for you and your family.

  60. The state of Massachusetts already takes care of the great majority of adoption cases. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, deals with barely a handful. Over the last 20 years, the Catholic Church has helped only 720 children get adopted in Massachusetts. That’s just 36 per year. Guess how many of those children were put into homes with same-sex couples? Just 13 – over 20 years.

    There is no crisis for the Catholic Church, for children, or for families seeking to adopt children in Massachusetts. There is no crisis – except the one that Mitt Romney is making in his challenge to the rule of law.

    The law is supposed to apply to everyone equally. That’s a basic point in the Constitution: Equal protection under the law is guaranteed to all Americans. That means that same-sex couples are entitled to gain the same legal status as heterosexual couples. It also means that the Catholic Church must meet the same legal requirements for its use of taxpayer money in its programs. Where it does not use taxpayers funds, it should be allowed to apply its own priniciples without fear of anti discrimination laws…simple! Separation of church and state protected. It appears it is not the catholic church that should be scrutinised here but LDS’s own Mitt Romney

  61. sandra mcdonald says:

    LDS does what they want to do and think they can get away with it. In the state of texas right now there is a case where the mother gave a child up for adoption through LDS and the father did not want this he even claimed the baby with the state. The child was born and 2 days latter the child was taking out of state and the father is fighting to get the child back so far the social worker for LDS had got 2 years probation of his state license. What gives LDS the right to do this they are not god and it didn’t take just the mother to have a baby there are 2 of them involved. LDS knew from the start that the father wanted this baby

  62. Commonesense says:

    The reality is there are more adoptable children then there are qualified homes for them to be in. That the Catholic Church would seek to disqualify parents based on their orientation leaves many more kids without homes to grow up in. The Catholic Church and others on their side should be forever grateful that we have courageous parents, gay and straight willing to provide homes and structures for our displaced and unwanted children.

    The fact that many of these children come into the world bc of the policies and climate that frowns upon abortion, contraception and Planned Parenthood is sad enough. We have dwindling resources in this country and if these kids are going to be born to impoverished mothers bc they are shamed into keeping the baby, not using contraception or planned parenthood, then the promoters and implementers of such policies need to pick up the check. Better yet, lets enact mandatory adoption laws for the voters, churches and legislators who want these unwanted children born. They need to shoulder the burden instead of the tax payers who lose on tthese very issues.

    And now you want to deny the very people who want to help make right and better the situation for the very kids who have become through no fault of their own political footballs. What has this country turned into??


  1. […] Over at BCC, Elisabeth is clearly obsessing over marriage, Kevin Barney is solving mysteries that no-one knew about, and Ronan is, once again, pushing R-rated movies on us. So, the usual. […]

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