10/26/2012 04:47 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Anti-Gay-Marriage Lie Number 3

In its efforts to create fear among voters, the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and its hired gun, Frank Schubert, are doubling down these final two weeks before the election with phony claims that churches and religious-based charities will be sued or punished unless gay couples are blocked from the freedom to marry.

In my post "Here Come the Lies" I provided an overview of Schubert's scare-tactic playbook. My first follow-up post, "Anti-Gay-Marriage Lie Number 1," reviewed the discredited claim that allowing gay couples to marry will result in opponents of marriage equality being "fired, sued, fined, and punished." My second follow-up post, "Anti-Gay-Marriage Lie Number 2," addressed the absurd assertion that marriage doesn't really matter and that civil unions should be considered good enough for same-sex couples. In this post I'll examine the bogus claim of harm to churches and religious charities.

In a new attack ad running in Minnesota, the laundry list of "consequences" of marriage equality includes a dire report of "charities closed down, churches sued." The voiceover provides no details, but viewers are offered glimpses of news coverage meant to confer credibility on these claims. Let's look a little closer.

The headline from a Catholic publication flashed onscreen reads, "Same-sex 'marriage' law forces D.C. Catholic Charities to close adoption program." It's telling that Schubert chose to focus on the District of Columbia. NOM and its affiliated campaigns have long showcased the decision imposed by the Vatican on Catholic Charities of Boston to end its adoption services as evidence of an alleged harm flowing from the freedom to marry, but that claim has now been thoroughly discredited. As Peter Meade, chairman of Catholic Charities of Boston at that time, recently told the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Opponents of the freedom to marry ignore the truth and distort history when they talk about Catholic Charities of Boston and its decision to shut down its adoption services. I'm shocked and amazed that so many years later, they are making the false claim that Catholic Charities' decision had anything to do with allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Maine's Kennebec Journal editorialized in "Foes of same-sex marriage should stick to the truth": "It was the Massachusetts' anti-discrimination law, not the marriage law, that required an agency receiving public funds to treat all adoption applicants equally."

That's the case in every locality where the Vatican has forced Catholic Charities to stop providing adoption services, including the District of Columbia. It made the decision; the government did not ask or oblige it to withdraw services. And that decision was motivated by the Vatican's abruptly imposed refusal to comply with longstanding anti-discrimination laws, with no connection to marriage law.

And what about the claim that churches have been sued? A freeze frame of the Minnesota ad reveals a news headline: "Gay Couple Sues Worcester Diocese For Refusing To Sell Mansion To Them." The only example they can come up with is the filing of a complaint, reported by the Associated Press, in which a gay couple alleged that a Catholic diocese backed out of a real estate transaction "because church officials were concerned they would host gay weddings at the mansion." There has been no legal determination at all, but, to be clear, it's Massachusetts' anti-discrimination law, not the marriage law, that will eventually determine if this complaint has any merit.

The bottom line on all of this: Multiple fact-checking news outlets have found absolutely no merit to Schubert's claims. A Seattle Times national investigation "checked with human rights commissions in four of the six states where marriage is legal; the commissions said there was not an increase in discrimination findings or suits involving same sex marriage." A Maine Today Media "Truth Test" also called around and found that "[t]here were no gay-marriage related claims against religious organizations in any of the states."

There are two major ironies here. First is that the money being spent by Catholic Church leaders opposing the issuance of civil marriage licenses to committed same-sex couples is money that doesn't go into the charitable good works that many donors intended. The Catholic organization Knights of Columbus, for example, has spent at least $15.8 million fighting against marriage for committed same-sex couples since 2005. That sum could have purchased 105,333 wheelchairs for its Global Wheelchair Mission, 972,307 coats for its Coats for Kids program, or 5,873,606 meals through its Food for Families program.

The second irony is that all of this heavy lifting by the Catholic hierarchy is wildly out of step with not just the majority of Americans but with Catholics. In fact, Catholic Americans are among the nation's strongest supporters of the freedom to marry. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll earlier this year confirmed that Catholic voters support the freedom to marry by more than two to one. The Public Religion Research Institute found that 75 percent of Catholics believe "you can disagree with the Church hierarchy on same-sex marriage and still be a good Catholic." Many Catholics who support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples are guided by the church's tradition as a leader in social justice issues. When reflecting on this issue, many Catholics find that support for the freedom to marry is consistent with their beliefs that we are all created in God's image, that God is the ultimate judge, not us, and that the greatest commandment is love.

Next up, the most repugnant and scary lie of all: that allowing marriage between committed gay couples is harmful to children.