We live in interesting times when the Catholic Church has to defend its doctrinal beliefs regarding the adoption of children against those who insist that the church adjust its policies to reflect the preferences of gays and lesbians.
Such is the case in Massachusetts, where the Boston Archdiocese's Catholic Charities has been challenged by gay activists opposing the church's rule that adoptive children be placed only in heterosexual homes.
Massachusetts' gays have taken the position that the church, which has handled state adoptions for the past two decades, is discriminating against homosexuals and lesbians and is thus in violation of state anti-discrimination laws.
When both positions are fundamentally true - state and church laws are indeed in conflict - what's to be done? Unfortunately for all concerned, this apparent no-win situation has found a lose-lose resolution.
Catholic Charities, which for more than 100 years has placed 80 percent of the state's most challenging children - those who are mentally and physically handicapped - has decided to cease its adoption operations. Hard-to-place children henceforth will have to find homes some other way.
Meanwhile, gays, who could have adopted children from some 80 other gay-friendly adoption agencies in Massachusetts, have won a perhaps-dubious victory that has observers concerned about future church-state challenges.
If the church can be forced to adhere to state laws regarding adoption in spite of prohibitive doctrine, can the church also be forced in other areas, perhaps to conduct same-sex marriages? Gay activists have always insisted not, but the adoption case demonstrates that the lines separating church and state are not always so clear.
Theoretically, isn't the church discriminating against gays by refusing to marry them? In time, no doubt, a well-placed lawsuit will tell.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with gay family adoptions isn't the issue here, and it's important to articulate this clearly.
Personally, I know many gay and lesbian couples who would make far better parents than thousands of heterosexual couples out there who do not deserve the progeny they create. And while I agree with the church that children deserve both a mother and a father, not all children are so lucky. Inarguably, children are better off placed in a home with loving adults than left in an institution or traded among a series of foster homes.
But hypothetical, worst-case scenarios distort the real story, which isn't about either gays' qualifications to parent or gay rights. Nor, especially, should this case serve as a convenient soapbox for opportunistic politicians to bloviate about their open-minded virtue against those "bigoted" bishops.
Ethics guru Sen. Ted Kennedy, for example, has condemned Catholic Charities for its gay-adoption ban, as has the Human Rights Campaign, which issued a news release titled, "Boston Catholic Charities Puts Ugly Political Agenda Before Child Welfare."
One could more accurately charge that gay activists in this case have put their own political agenda before child welfare. After all, what public interest is being served in crushing Catholic Charities? Whom does it serve that Catholic Charities abandon its role as matriarch of adoption agencies in Massachusetts? Certainly not the children.
What this unhappy battle really is about - a battle in which all Americans have a stake - is freedom of conscience.
As one Catholic observer put it to me: "Frankly, prudentially, you can easily make the decision that it's better for children to be in a gay home than to languish in foster care, but this is fundamentally about controlling the church."
In an attempt to find some other remedy to the gay/Catholic Charities imbroglio, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Thursday filed legislation - "An Act Protecting Religious Freedom" - that would allow religious institutions to continue to be licensed to provide adoption services without violating the tenets of their faith.
In an accompanying letter to state legislators, Romney wrote: "It is a matter beyond dispute . . . that a government not dictate to religious institutions the moral principles by which they are to carry out their charitable and divine mission." The bill's exemption does not authorize discrimination among prospective adoptive parents based on race, creed, national origin, gender or handicap.
If Romney is successful in getting his bill passed, gays can still adopt children in Massachusetts and Catholic Charities can its do their good works. No one loses - except those advocates for whom individual "rights" are more important than either the cause of helping needy children or religious freedom.