With files from Rebecca Millette

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 28, 2011 ( – Recognizing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as grounds for non-discrimination in new federal housing regulations could require faith-based groups to violate their religious beliefs, warned the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week.

The new regulations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would require that organizations participating in HUD programs not discriminate on these two grounds.

But the regulations could “force” faith-based organizations to violate their religious beliefs by requiring – as a condition for HUD funds – that they make housing available to homosexual or unmarried couples, wrote USCCB General Counsel Anthony R. Picarello, Jr. and Associate General Counsel Michael F. Moses in a March 25th letter.

“By this, we do not mean that any person should be denied housing,” the attorneys stressed. “Making decisions about shared housing, however, is another matter.”

“Particularly here, faith-based and other organizations should retain the freedom they have always had to make housing placements in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, including when it concerns a cohabiting couple, be it an unmarried heterosexual couple or a homosexual couple.”

The USCCB’s position would appear to align with a 1992 directive from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that affirmed that “sexual orientation” is not a “quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc.” because “homosexual orientation is an objective disorder and evokes moral concern.”

The Congregation, then led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, emphasized that homosexuals have “the same rights as all persons,” but nevertheless affirmed that excluding homosexuals is “not unjust” in cases such as adoption, employment of teachers, and military recruitment.  They also warned that recognizing “sexual orientation” in this way “can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights.”

The USCCB argued that protection of these categories “has no support in any Act of Congress and appears at odds with at least one other, namely, the Defense of Marriage Act.”

“Unlike discrimination based on age, disability, or other categories long recognized in federal law, Congress has never acted to prohibit discrimination generally, or housing discrimination in particular, because of sexual orientation or gender identity. … There is no statutory basis,” they wrote.

Noting that Catholic and other faith-based housing organizations play a “very large role,” they say the goal of providing housing would be undermined by the regulations because the organizations with the “greatest expertise and success” would lose funding and therefore provide fewer services.

The USCCB also pointed out that homosexuals themselves would potentially lose out, citing data that Catholic programs are “especially likely to have served … persons with HIV/AIDS.”  Far from unjustly discriminating against homosexuals, faith-based organizations are more likely to have aided them, they say.

Find the USCCB’s complete statement and letter here.

Find the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s ‘Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons’ here.