It is impossible to overstate how much is at stake this Election Day. But even if the outcomes meet our deepest hopes, the fight for equal protection under the law, particularly for women, LGBTQ people, people of color, will be far from over.
Regardless of who wins the White House or control of Congress, we must still contend with the third branch of government, which has undergone a radical restructuring that has made it even farther out of step with the rest of the country. The Supreme Court and the federal judiciary now pose a serious threat to our most basic freedoms.
Just one day after the election, the Supreme Court will take up Fulton v. Philadelphia, a case that could have huge consequences for LGBTQ families. The case centers around the question of whether Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, as an organization provided foster home services as a government contractor, has the right to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to adopt children.
Fulton v. Philadelphia is an alarming escalation of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which ruled that a private business owner had the right to discriminate against a same-sex couple. The question in Fulton is whether the government has the power to make its contractors — in this case, a religious entity — provide services equally to everyone.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff, it could give a wide range of government contractors the ability to discriminate if the organization’s owners claim a religious justification for that discrimination. This right to refuse services would be a huge win for the religious right and a crushing blow to LGBTQ rights. It would also have massive implications for other vulnerable communities, particularly women and other marginalized genders, who seek out health care and other social services provided by religious entities.
Access to health care will face another colossal threat in mid-November when the court will once again consider whether to strike down key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This would jeopardize groundbreaking protections against gender discrimination in health care and access to health care that millions of Americans have benefited from since it was first enacted.
As a queer, Catholic woman who fights for reproductive rights, it is not lost on me that this alarming moment in American history is dominated by the presence of Catholics on the Supreme Court. The defendant in Fulton v. Philadelphia, a Catholic agency, will be arguing before a court that is now two-thirds Catholic. With the notable exception of Sonia Sotomayor, all are right-wing ideologues.
In the name of conserving an imagined past, they have each expressed public and private opinions that would deny Americans our fundamental rights to protect our health, to create families, and to make decisions about our own bodies and futures.
The irony is that official Catholic doctrine has an exceptional commitment to social justice, stemming from the Gospel teaching that we are to care for “the least among us.” More than that, Catholics believe in a preferential option for the poor, meaning that those who are the most marginalized should receive an overabundance of justice. And yet, we watch as well-oiled, wealthy Catholics use their faith as a justification for systematically stripping the most vulnerable of their basic rights.
In the same way that we cannot underestimate the consequences of tomorrow’s election, we also cannot minimize the power that Catholics with extreme right-wing agendas have over our health care and social service industries. Following a wave of hospital mergers over the last decade, at least one-in-six hospital beds across the United States are in a Catholic facility, and a growing number of rural communities are served only by a Catholic hospital.
The Catholic affiliation of hospitals, adoption agencies, homeless shelters, and the like have huge implications for all our health, our families, and well-being. People from every background are being forced to contend with the beliefs of a small Catholic hierarchy that does not speak for them — nor, for that matter, most Catholics.
In the face of all this, we are justified in feeling anger, sorrow and even fear. These are our families, our bodies and our lives. But I hope that we will not feel despair.
This moment offers us the gift of seeing very clearly the ways in which our lives align and intersect. Our rights are at risk because of our gender identities, reproductive decisions, or sexual orientation. This is an opportunity for us to recognize that regardless of the privileges we enjoy, we are all under threat in this particular struggle. Our shared vulnerabilities mean that our fight is fundamentally the same.
The work before us now is to remain in the struggle together. First and foremost, we must vote. We must vote as if our lives and the lives of our families depend on it — because they literally do.
Whatever happens on Election Day or in the court, this week or next, we must not tune out and we must not lose our focus. Now is the time to remain informed and dedicated to the task. Like so many organizations dedicated to reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights, Catholics for Choice stands ready to defend against any religious or political forces that try to refuse care and services, especially to the most marginalized.
The power to turn this country toward justice is in our hands. Let’s stand together and fight for one another.
Jamie Manson is president of Catholics for Choice and a longtime advocate for gender equality and reproductive rights. Before joining CFC in October, she was a columnist for 12 years at the National Catholic Reporter where she was one of the few openly LGBTQ journalists in the Catholic media in the world.