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The new religion’s strict rules

Adoption and foster care rejections show that the LGBTQ movement was never about tolerance

Jessica Bates of Malheur County, Ore., with her children Alliance Defending Freedom

The new religion’s strict rules

A federal judge has just heard arguments on behalf of a widowed Oregon mom who wants to do something that should be completely uncontroversial: adopt children into a loving home. But for Jessica Bates, things haven’t been so simple. The reason has nothing to do with her competency as an adoptive parent and everything to do with her Christian values. During a training seminar, Bates was informed that unless she promised to “respect” her prospective children’s sexual orientation and preferred gender identity, she couldn’t adopt them. Instead of taking “no” for an answer and giving up, she’s chosen to fight.

She’s not alone. In Massachusetts, Mike and Kitty Burke are also suing the state after being similarly rejected as foster parents. Throughout their intense vetting process, they were repeatedly asked whether their Catholic faith would allow them to “support” a child who assumed an LGBTQ identity. They explained that they would love such a child unconditionally. They would even attend his hypothetical gay wedding. But because they wouldn’t affirm the validity of such a marriage or support a gender transition, they were still judged too dangerous to be parents.

Still more cases like this could be listed. The case of Washington couple James and Gail Blais in 2020 was even more egregious. They were denied the right to foster their own great-granddaughter.

For statistical perspective, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has more than 1,500 foster children on a waiting list, with no home to call their own. In Oregon, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 children in the foster system. In Washington, there are over 10,000. Parents like Jessica, the Burkes, and the Blaises are among the courageous few who are willing to step up and love them. If the system loved them too, these decent, compassionate people would be guided through the vetting process as swiftly as possible. Instead, they are stonewalled and shut out. Why? Because, under the new state religion, they are heretics.

The Burkes’ case brings this into especially sharp relief. This couple is tolerant to a fault, even willing to make unnecessary concessions like attending a gay wedding. The fact that they were still rejected is clear proof, if any more proof was needed, that this culture war has never been about “tolerance.” It is about forcing sexual conservatives to bend the knee at the altar of sexual liberation, or else.

This is, indeed, a religious game. And religious games are, in essence, zero-sum.

The new rules of this new regime are so draconian that even some gay voices are protesting. In the New York Post, British journalist Douglas Murray condemns this “wild social shift.” He sees gay marriage as a cultural win, but he believes the social progress train should have stopped precisely there, instead of “threatening people with different beliefs to either get with the project or become enemies of the state.” He claims to speak for many gay rights advocates who are now “horrified by this overreach,” which should be unacceptable in “any pluralistic, genuinely tolerant society.” Personally, Murray may be a secular liberal, but he’ll take Catholic Church dogma over Rainbow Church dogma.

I appreciate Murray’s vigorous rebuttal of anti-Christian bigotry, but I also question the assumptions grounding his analysis, just as I question similar analysis from older gay activists like Andrew Sullivan. All of them offer variations on the same theme: It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. The train was supposed to go this far and no farther. 

But was it really? Or could it be that the brakes were never applied because there was no braking system to begin with? 

I often go back to this New York Times essay by ordained Episcopalian Steve Paulikas, who argued against Christians like web designer Lori Smith on the grounds that they want to violate his “religious liberty” as a gay man. “Even schoolchildren know that the Bill of Rights prevents the state from showing favor to one religion over another. Why should her religion be favored over mine?” 

Paulikas may be a sophist, but his framing is disturbingly apt. This is, indeed, a religious game. And religious games are, in essence, zero-sum. Someone will win, and someone will lose. Either gay “marriage” and family formation will be normalized, or it won’t be. There is no perfect pluralistic outcome, no middle ground where both gay families and traditional Catholic families are considered equally normal. Even a “moderate” presidential candidate like Vivek Ramaswamy, who recently criticized the “tyranny of the minority” in trans activism, will pull his punches when it comes to gay couples. Politically, he knows that ship has sailed. 

This is what passes for “centrism” in 2023. What will it look like in 2033? We don’t really want to know, but we can be sure it’s all downhill from here.

Bethel McGrew

Bethel has a doctorate in math and is a widely published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in First Things, National Review, The Spectator, and many other national and international outlets. Her Substack, Further Up, is one of the top paid newsletters in “Faith & Spirituality” on the platform. She has also contributed to two essay anthologies on Jordan Peterson. When not writing social criticism, she enjoys writing about literature, film, music, and history.


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