Liberal Values and Mandates

by Don Boudreaux on March 14, 2006

in Charity

Addendum: When I wrote the following post, my understanding of the goings-on in Massachusetts was only that the Massachusetts government prevents adoption agencies from discriminating against homosexual couples.  Inexplicably overlooking the final paragraph in the link I included in the post, I did not realize that Catholic Charities accepts government money.  I agree that receipt of government funds changes matters significantly.  Government has no obligation to continue funding any agency that discriminates against homosexuals — but I continue to believe that govenment has no business dictating which types of people private organizations can or must do business with.


A dear friend — one of the smartest people I know — and a
man of the left, sent me an e-mail taking issue with my refusal to condemn the
decision of Catholic Charities to pull out of the adoption business in Massachusetts.  The reason Catholic Charities is pulling out is that the Massachusetts government prohibits
adoption agencies from refusing to serve gay and lesbian couples
.  Being
Roman Catholic, Catholic Charities does not believe that children should be adopted by homosexual couples.

I am not Catholic.  And although I’m not homosexual, I don’t share
Catholics’ antagonism toward adoption of children by gays and lesbians. If I had my druthers, no adoption agency,
including Catholic Charities, would regard homosexuality as a liability for
couples seeking to adopt children.

But why condemn Catholic Charities for agreeing to serve
some but not all couples seeking to adopt children?  Why force Catholic
Charities’ contributors and employees to choose between adherence to their
creed and their wish to facilitate adoptions? Why not instead condemn the legislature for its in-your-face insistence
that adoption agencies share the full set of liberal values that the legislature apparently endorses — an insistence that, anyone should see, risks reducing the amount of charitable work done on behalf of children needing homes and of couples seeking to adopt?

I say that Massachusetts’ legislators only “apparently" have liberal values.  A true liberal tolerates others’
peaceful views; a true liberal doesn’t cram his or her values down others’
throats; a true liberal understands that an open society requires that
different people with different views be allowed peacefully each to act on his different
views, with time sorting out the bad from the good – and even modifying the
good in beneficial ways.

And a true liberal doesn’t insist that Mr. A will be allowed
to give generously and voluntarily of himself and his resources to persons W,
X, and Y only if he also gives, against his wishes, to person Z.

Why not let Mr. A himself choose who will be the object of
his charity?  Why penalize charitable
instincts by forcing those with these instincts to deploy their charitable impulses
in ways beyond their own choosing?

Suppose a Jewish organization is created to facilitate the adoption of young
children by Jewish parents.  Should the
legislature say “No No! We’ll have none
of that!  If you’re in the adoption
business, you can’t discriminate against Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and any
one else who seeks to adopt.”  Or suppose
a charitable organization is created to facilitate the adoption of children by
gay and lesbian couples.  Should the
legislature demand that this organization also spend its time and resources
facilitating adoptions by heterosexual couples?

All such mandates reduce the supply of charitable efforts.  What’s so liberal about that?

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Anonymous Coward March 14, 2006 at 12:53 pm

Modern 'Liberals' are ironically anything but. A far more accurate moniker for the Left, would be Illiberal.

rjh March 14, 2006 at 1:34 pm

The issue of who forced who to do what is more complex than you describe. Vatican made the decision despite the unanimous opposition of the entire local board of directors, the resulting resignation of many advisors, and the resulting withdrawal of many donations.

The Massachusetts law is also not as narrow as you described. The Massachusetts law is that an official adoption agency must make its decisions exclusively on the basis of the best interest of the children. No other factors are permitted. As an aspect of family law that is a defendable position.

This will no doubt work itself out with the emergence of a separate charitable organization with no official Vatican ties that replaces the Vatican operated local Catholic charities. This was already underway in response to the Vatican mis-management of child abuse scandals and other local issues. The adoption decision by the Vatican will just accelerate things.

KipEsquire March 14, 2006 at 2:03 pm

"Why force Catholic Charities' contributors and employees to choose between adherence to their creed and their wish to facilitate adoptions?"

Actually, just about everyone even remotely associated with CathChar is opposed to the request for an exemption to exclude gays, including the board of trustees, which voted, 42-0 I think, not to pursue the exemption.

It's the bishops — and only the bishops — who are pressing the issue.

Oh, and the presidential candidate. Go figure.

drtaxsacto March 14, 2006 at 2:15 pm

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes a good distinction for charities with religious heritage to be able to make distinctions which conform to their views. Regardless of whether you agree with the Catholic Charities position on gays and lesbians as potential parents you should be willing to give them the ability to make those judgments and to live with the consequences of those decisions. There are plenty of other agencies that may be willing to encourage such adoptions so the decision by one agency based on a clearly established religious doctrine should not be trampled on. I guess the State of Massachusetts has still not bothered to read both sides of the First Amendment – which prohibits establishment of a religion but also works to stop efforts to allow the free exercise of same.

j parlow March 14, 2006 at 2:36 pm

Funny how some people get all in a tizzy about religion being inserted into politics, but nary an objection to government inserting its nose into a religion. It would seem to me that seperation of church and state should work both ways. Where is the outrage? Oh wait, you won't get it in Mass. because of the undying belief that government knows all, fixes all.

johngaltline March 14, 2006 at 3:09 pm

I just thought this was part was interesting:

"Boston Catholic Charities has an annual budget of over $40 million, with most of the money coming from government programs."

Bill Osler March 14, 2006 at 4:10 pm

My understanding was that the Catholic Charities are operating a state contract. In fact, they actually perform the majority of adoptions in Mass. Accordingly, as a state contractor, they have to adhere to the state's laws.

Homosexuals pay taxes too, and their tax dollars shouldn't be used to discriminate against them.

Ed March 14, 2006 at 9:29 pm

At the bottom of this comment is slightly modified version of the email to which this Cafe Hayek post refers. I sent it because I have great affection for Don and often find him to be spot on on all sorts of things — but I think he is failing here to consistently apply libertarian principles against externalities.

The point of this situation is not the freedom of those working with the charity to volunteer their time to discriminate. They can have fun for all I care, and start some private enclave only for people who hate gays. Just don't impose it on innocent children who have no right to opt out.

As a left-leaning libertarian I have no problem with consenting adults doing as they please (e.g. get rid of all drug laws) so long as you don't force anyone to be involved against their will.

(By the way, I am Catholic and not gay. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. I am also not black for that matter in case you are wondering)

In any event, forcing third-party innocent children to be party to this discrimination is outrageous. Instead of getting sent to the best home, gay or straight, they get sent (against their will, i.e. without their informed consent) to the second, third, or last choice so long as not gay.

How is forcing these children through this process a defensible libertarian position?

Original email:

"How could it be a libertarian position to allow bigoted adults to
externalize their hatred to these innocent children that are not
even their own? How could it be appropriate to support limiting the children's ability to go to the most loving and supportive couple in the best interests of the child? How can bigoted adults stand in the way of the liberty interests of these children and bar them from going to a wonderful, but 'gay' family and instead send them to a worse but not 'gay' family?

It is one thing to allow adults to choose to be as bigoted and
hateful as they want. I generally support that, as sickening as I find it. But to allow them to externalize that to innocent
children who are not their own and have no ability to avoid it?

How is that consistent with libertarian values?"

k. pablo March 14, 2006 at 9:30 pm

woops, sorry, I thought this post was "Liberal Values and Manatees". I hate manatees.

Scott March 15, 2006 at 2:22 am


I think it comes down to a matter of objectively determining what is the best family. Some Catholics might argue that no matter how wonderful you or I might think a gay couple is, they do not reflect the kind of family values Catholics believe in.

Some people might think parents with higher incomes provide a better home. While others might argue that if that income is achieved through longer work hours that's not a satisfactory home. Is there a way to objectively measure what the best home is?

I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on placing minority children with minority couples? Is that something that should be strived for or should a child just go to the "best" couple regardless of nationality?

ilsm March 15, 2006 at 9:39 am

"A true liberal tolerates others’ peaceful views"

Since when have the Catholic bishops held peaceful views?

Half Sigma March 15, 2006 at 10:11 am

I think that letting homosexual males adopt babies is a bad policy for reasons having nothing to do with belief in Catholicism. There are plenty of heterosexual married couples who are unable to adopt.

That said, if the Catholic organization receives most of its operating money from the state, it's a state actor and has to follow all the other rules of state actors.

I'm not a big fan of these "faith based initiatives."

Ed March 15, 2006 at 12:45 pm

K. Pablo,

You state that "I think it comes down to a matter of objectively determining what is the best family." I totally agree.

The question is who answers this question. If the government is involved, and innocent children are involved, it must not be answered on a faith-based basis (due to the First Amendment and otherwise) and instead answerd in a rationale, non-discriminatory way.

Now, if Woman A wants to give up her baby to bigot B, and both agree to have the process facilitated by bigoted organization C, without any government money or personnel being involved, I could see the argument for allowing that to proceed, as sickening as it is to me.

Of course, there is an argument for government to interfere there, to protect the innocent child, but it is a much more difficult issue. Clearly we would not let Woman A sell the innocent child for body parts, but what if she wants the child raised by the Aryan Nation? Is that in the best interests of the child, who is incapable of informed consent? And who decides on behalf of the child if not the mother?

I personally think that placing children in homes based on racial status also is offensive and wrong. Again, the question is who decides? If government is involved, the decision of what is best for the child has to be done as rationally and neutrally as possible without faith-based or discriminatory motives. I suppose if there is a good scientific study to show that white adopted kids in black homes (or vice versa) don't do as well as racially matched children (perhaps due to outside discrimination) you could make an argument that it is in the best interests of the child to match racially and that the decision is being made rationally on a non-discriminatory basis.

Again, though, this cannot be a faith-based decision if government money is involved.


Scott Wood March 16, 2006 at 12:05 pm

"Again, though, this cannot be a faith-based decision if government money is involved."

Surely this is not such an easy thing to ascertain, as both the pro-gay adoption and anti-gay adoption sides can find equally dedicated and well-meaning scientific professionals to advocate on both sides.

And you can't really hang your hat entirely on the rights of gay taxpayers, as surely there are far more taxpayers contributing on the other side.

Not that I have any good answer, other than getting the government out of the child adoption business. Absent that, I'd have to go with the democratic choice.

(FWIW, as a voter I'd probably vote with the pro-gay adoption side. But I take your argument as one for why it shouldn't be subject to a vote, much like religous practices shouldn't be subject to a vote.)

Rick March 16, 2006 at 12:10 pm

I think the NAACP should advocate the advancement of all people, not just colored people (or liberal colored people to be more accurate).

"How can bigoted (colored poeple) stand in the way of the liberty interests of these (whites) and bar them from going to a wonderful (and good college or job that is taken away by policies advanced by the NAACP)"?

We need to pass a law, and we need to do it now.

Or I guess we could take the opposite position and let private groups advocate the positions they want. Take away their funding if you want, but dont make them violate their principles.

Half Sigma March 16, 2006 at 3:39 pm

"I think the NAACP should advocate the advancement of all people, not just colored people"

I disagree, there's nothing wrong with a private group advocating for its own members.

Rick March 16, 2006 at 5:28 pm

They arent just advocating the advancement of their own members. The purpose of the organization is to advocate the advancement of all liberal colored people and it seeks to put in place measures designed to effectuate that purpose.

The Church has its own position it seeks to advance– to put children into the home of a traditional family. It puts into place measures to further that purpose.

They are doing the same thing.

Half Sigma March 17, 2006 at 10:30 am

Well the NAACP has a broader view of its consistency than just paying members.

Nevertheless, I find it hard to get worked up about a private group advocating for stuff.

Jack July 4, 2007 at 10:58 pm

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