By Christopher Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union
Selling Senator Obama’s proposed expansion and retooling of the Bush faith-based initiative to the LGBT community is asking people to buy a pig in a poke. How can anyone in the LGBT community make a decision when almost no details are available?The promise of an Obama campaign staffer of no federal funds for proselytizing or reparative therapy (trying to turn LGBT people into straight people) is an empty one. Even Bush bars proselytizing with federal dollars, and as far as we know, no federal dollars go to reparative therapy.
At this point, Obama has proposed substantially increasing the size and stature of the faith-based initiative, while making only vague promises of additional safeguards. Given the record of harm to the LGBT community under the Bush faith-based initiative and similar state programs to use taxpayer dollars to fund religious groups providing government services, the LGBT community should demand that all candidates commit to a list of very specific safeguards in any faith-based initiative. Right now, the LGBT community has no assurance that an even more powerful faith-based initiative won’t end up with more LGBT people being left out of working in, or receiving services from, government-funded religious groups.
Ironically, we’ve been down this road before. In fact, the Bush administration tried the same misguided appeal to the LGBT community in early 2001, when the Bush White House got the support of the head of a predominantly gay religious denomination to support the Bush faith-based initiative, based on the hope that his church would be able to start getting federal funds to carry out its religious mission. Seven years later, the LGBT community has gotten nothing but harm from the faith-based initiative. Certainly the rule for the LGBT community should be once burned, twice shy.
Instead of vague promises, the LGBT community should demand that ALL candidates commit to the specific safeguards listed in the letter posted by the Baptist Joint Committee [PDF], and signed by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, and a host of prominent religious and civil rights organizations. After seven years of the faith-based initiative harming LGBT people who need government services that had been hijacked by religious groups, only a clear commitment to specific safeguards should provide any assurance that the doors to government-funded services will truly be open to LGBT people in need.