Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Study on Gay Couples and Health Coverage: Implications for Catholic Institutions and Gay Employees

A footnote to my recent discussion of the injustice done to gay and lesbian employees by Catholic institutions (that discussion centered on Anne Hendershott’s claim that there are openly gay and lesbian people in leadership positions in Catholic colleges/universities):

A recent study conducted by Lambda Legal and UCLA’s Department of Health Services finds that, in California, “Partnered lesbians and gay men are more than twice as likely to be uninsured as married heterosexuals.”  The study concludes that “[t]he exclusion of gay men and women from civil marriage and the failure of domestic partnership benefits to provide insurance parity contribute to unequal access to health coverage, with the probable result that more health spending is pushed onto these individuals and onto the public.”

The study resonates with me, because—as I’ve shared on this blog—I have been without health-care coverage since 2007.  Though Steve has a full-time job at an institution with a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, that institution also does not provide partner benefits.  And we cannot afford to buy health insurance for me.  We spent nearly a decade without health insurance previously, when the Catholic college in North Carolina that had hired us both in the early 1990s suddenly terminated both of our jobs without providing a reason for the termination (in my case) or with specious claims (in Steve’s case).

Vis-à-vis Catholic institutions: 

1. The lack of policies prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation (policies the U.S. Catholic bishops are now resisting as they oppose ENDA precisely because it would make such discrimination more difficult); 

2. And the strong and easily proven track record of discrimination by Catholic institutions against gay and lesbian employees who become public about their sexual orientation: 

these factors result in real suffering for gay people and gay couples, when it comes to areas such as access to health care.

Though the Catholic church teaches that access to basic, ongoing health care is a human right, its treatment of LGBT persons working in Catholic institutions fundamentally undercuts that teaching by placing gay people and gay couples in situations of economic distress in which obtaining health insurance is impossible.

If the U.S. Catholic church ever chose to mount a national discussion of the treatment of LGBT persons in Catholic institutions, here would be some points that would deserve consideration in that discussion—ongoing discrimination against openly gay and lesbian employees in Catholic institutions has the following effects:

1. It removes gay and lesbian people from participation in economic life.

2. It prevents gay and lesbian people from contributing to the community, from using their gifts to build a more humane community and from attaining self-worth by sharing their gifts in a communal context.

3. It places burdens of economic distress and lack of access to health care on the shoulders of gay and lesbian people.

4. It gives a signal to the rest of the church and to society at large that the humanity of gay and lesbian people is, in the eyes of the church, less than that of the humanity of heterosexual people.

5. In giving that signal to the rest of the church and to society at large, it opens gay and lesbian people up to the possibility of violence ranging from verbal violence and discrimination to outright physical violence.

6. It makes gay and lesbian people invisible within the people of God, and in this way diminishes the church itself and undercuts its teachings about such fundamental issues as the nature of God as love, the call of the church to be a sacramental sign of God’s love in the world, the meaning of communion, and social justice.

7. It fosters a callous attitude on the part of the church’s pastoral leaders towards other marginalized groups of people: if we can justify making one group of human beings invisible and diminishing their humanity, we can justify doing the same to other groups.

The ultimate pastoral failure of the church’s current leaders—the failure that has resulted in the moment of serious crisis through with the church is now passing—is that our pastoral leaders have been willing and able to treat some members of the people of God as if they simply do not exist.  This penchant is starkly, shamefully evident in how many members of the church’s hierarchy have treated (and continue to treat) survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

And, egregiously, in how they have treated (and continue to treat) LGBT persons.