This week on Register Radio, Jeanette De Melo talks with Register correspondent Brian Fraga about his coverage of President Obama’s recent executive order that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Dan Burke discusses pastoral outreach to persons with same-sex attraction with Melinda Selmys, author of two books on sexual authenticity.

Speaking with Brian Fraga about President Obama’s Recent Executive Action

Brian Fraga has covered national news for the Register for the last four years.  He is also a staff reporter covering crime & religion for the Herald News of Fall River, Massachusetts.  For the Register, he has recently reported on the progress of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as President Obama’s signing of an executive order this week that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.   He joins us today to talk about reactions to this new law.

The executive order, signed on Monday, “bans federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. This was something that a lot of the gay lobby has been pushing for for quite some time,” said Fraga. He said that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which Congress has not passed, would have applied to private companies as well as public employers.

“In the weeks leading up to the executive order, a lot of religious groups, even from President Obama’s own supporters, called on him to craft a religious exemption into the order to accommodate religious organizations that have contracted with the federal government to perform various social services and charitable operations. For example Catholic Relief Services receive federal money for some of their programs,” Fraga said. Though there was some hope, especially after the Hobby Lobby ruling in late June, President Obama decided not to include that exemption.

There are a lot of concerns that Catholic organizations will be penalized somehow for staying true to Church teaching on sexual morality.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate but not the House. It would apply to private businesses. The Executive Order only applies to federal contractors, but not necessarily to Catholic schools who receive federal grants.

Most Catholic organizations receive federal funds in the form of grants, not from contracts, according to Fraga. The Executive Order would not apply to those organizations. However, there have been Catholic organizations who have contracted with the federal government, and Fraga used the example of the USCCB Migration Office having a federal contract to assist victims of human trafficking. They lost that contract, he said, because they would not refer people they were helping to abortion and contraceptive services.

The concern with the new Executive Order is that it will make it even more difficult for Catholic organization to apply for and receive federal contracts. Fraga’s recent piece at the Register covers the US bishops’ reaction to this Executive Order.

“They are very concerned that there is no religious exemption in this Executive Order,” Fraga said. “This now lends the economic power of the federal government to a flawed understanding of human sexuality, a concept that faithful Catholics and many people of faith can’t assent to. The bishops definitely see this as something troubling and a measure that in the name of preventing discrimination in fact discriminates against people of faith.”

The Executive Order maintains a 2002 amendment, signed by President Bush, that allows religious organizations to give preference to hiring people of the same faith and the power to apply moral standards toward employees’ conduct. It is less clear, according to Fraga, whether that amendment still applies to religious organizations with federal contracts.

Fraga referenced a recent article at the Register that religious contractors and employers need to take a look at how they are abiding by the Bush exemption to see if they have written information about their religious standards into their employee information. The Hobby Lobby ruling, according to one of the authors of that article, there was such a blowback among the Democratic base of the administration to that ruling that the President had an incentive to show his supporters that he was going to deliver to them despite the Court’s ruling. 

“It’s a sad example of the growing partisanship of religious freedom, something that Democrats and Republicans used to be able to agree on, but now it’s increasingly becoming a polarized and partisan issue,” Fraga quoted a commenter as speaking.

It’s increasingly looking like groups will have to resort to litigation to protect something that used to be protected.

Speaking with Melinda Selmys about Sexual Authenticity

Melinda Selmys is an Catholic author and Register columnist, who writes most frequently at her blog Sexual Authenticity. She's written a number of books including Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism and its sequel, Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections.  In her writings, Melinda's expressed aim is to speak directly to every Christian who has experienced same-sex attraction or knows someone who has. Today she joins us to talk about pastoral outreach to persons who experience homosexual desires.

In her past, Selmys was a lesbian who was in a relationship with another girl for about six years. She became Catholic and she is married now. “I hesitate to just pass that off quickly because it can give the impression that I’m claiming that I’ve experienced some sort of miraculous orientation change,” she said, “which I haven’t. I happen to have fallen in love with someone who is not the gender that I would normally be attracted to.” She has six children and she’s devoted over 100,000 hours, by her own estimate, over the last seven years, to thinking, writing, blogging, writing, dialoguing, and providing assistance to people who are same sex attracted and trying to live in accord with Church teaching.

Selmys referenced a Christmas address by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, where he talks about dialogue and the process of listening, sharing, and moving forward to the Truth. The end result, based on how Selmys explained it, is the the Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ. Taking these lessons learned in the past from dialoguing with other religions and applying them to how we dialogue with the LGBT community, Selmys says, could lead to “a very fruitful exchange as we move into the next couple of decades.”

How do you “help” someone in your family or close friends who is experiencing same sex attraction? Selmys advises “the same way you would help somebody who is going through any sort of difficult situation in their lives. The first step is to strengthen your relationship with that person, to be there, to listen, to provide concrete forms of love and assistance and help. And then the witness to the truth flows out of the strength of that relationship.”

She continued, “There’s a tendency we sometimes have to be like ‘Oh my gosh! There’s a problem! Something must be done!’ and to come in like a sledgehammer, and that doesn’t work.”

Coming out is, she said, a way of making public something the person has been dealing with in private for a long time. It can be a time for the family to undergo extreme risks. On the other hand, it can also be an opportunity to strengthen the relationships and witness to Christian love. Trying to make it go away won’t work.

“Part of any dialogue or conversation is listening to how the other side is using language: what they mean by it, what offends and what doesn’t,” Selmys said. It’s important to know that you can say that you’re sorry, that you didn’t mean to say something a certain way or to offend. “The demonstration of humility and a willingness to listen is very often the precondition to being listened to,” she said.

“The basic principle is to talk to people in their language,” Selmys advised, citing Pope Francis’s address to the bishops in Rio de Janeiro at World Youth Day in 2013.

Some resources that Selmys recommends:

The film Desire of the Everlasting Hills, which takes a realistic look at what a conversion can look like and how grace operates.

The Spiritual Friendship blog, which is written as a joint Catholic-Protestant venture by people who are faithful to the teachings of the Church and of the Bible on homosexuality. They’re working out how to live a full life and express love in a way that says yes to God.

Dan Burke also recommended the film The Third Way in this conversation.

Selmys is working on a piece for the Register about how Catholics can interact with the seeming media storm on this subject, including how to remain a positive force.

Listen to this week’s show online or on your mp3 player.