As the governor's luck would have it, this happens to be an issue we need national leadership on. As other states tackle similar conscience issues -- the mayor of San Francisco is currently at odds with the bishop there over gay adoption, too; the availability of abortion and contraception services at religious hospitals is a contentious issue that is neither new nor going away -- the religious-freedom principles at stake in the Massachusetts example go far beyond the Bay State.
It is not just about Catholic Charities in Boston. Matthew Spalding, director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. warns: "If religious institutions are forced by the new regime of laws to withdraw from the adoption business in order to preserve and protect their liberty and religious faith, what about marriage itself? What about the tax-exempt status, or free-speech protections, of religious institutions that advance teachings contrary to the new regime? I think we have entered a new phase of the battle, in which the larger implications of the heretofore abstract debate about marriage are becoming disturbingly clear."
That clear message has a lot of noise to compete with, however. Romney's bill, which is unlikely to go anywhere in the legislature, has been received by some media and gay activists as a "gay attack." But Romney shouldn't take that too personally. The Catholic Charities move to opt out of gay adoptions was greeted with a condemnation of its "ugly political agenda," too. (Perhaps there's a 2008 Catholic-Mormon conspiracy at work? Oliver Stone, call your office.)
The Massachusetts freedom fight provides a few opportunities: for Catholic Church leaders to shepherd; for a presidential aspirant to show more of what he's made of; and for a country where "tolerance" and "diversity" are not only overused buzzwords, but something of a civic gospel, it's an opportunity to define what tolerance means. For all of the above, old standbys should not give away to new moralisms.