By Ed Condon, J.C.L., & Christine Rousselle
Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2020 / 06:10 pm (CNA).- While Washington’s governor has praised the decision of his state’s lieutenant governor to enter the Society of Jesus after his term of office ends, the political record of Lt. Gov Cyrus Habib is unusual for an aspirant to Catholic religious life.
After Habib announced March 19 his plans to enter the Jesuits, Governor Jay Inslee led tributes to Habib’s public service, saying his “life and career are an inspiration to many.”
“He has had a meteoric career in elected public service,” Inslee said. “While the news was unexpected, anyone who knows Cyrus is not surprised by his commitment to faith. I have no doubt his future in the Jesuit priesthood will bring much good to a world that needs it right now.”
Speaking to the Seattle Times on Monday, Habib said that the illness and death of his father first brought him to consider religious life.
Habib’s father was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, an event that “really, really rocked my world,” Habib told the Seattle Times.
A priest at the Cathedral of St. James in Seattle recommended Habib read “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” by Fr. James Martin, SJ, which Habib said started him on his path towards the Jesuit order.
Habib’s father died in 2016, the same year his son was elected Washington’s lieutenant governor. Cyrus Habib told The Times that the year was a “real low point for me, emotionally and spiritually,” despite his political success.
“From that place, that low point, I started to really reevaluate and start to really think, is this actually making me happy?” he said.
Before his announcement last week, Habib was widely considered a leading light in state politics and widely tipped to eventually rise to the position of governor. As he leaves behind electoral politics, Habib also leaves behind a longer political record than most seminarians.
Habib’s eight years in public life included support for abortion rights and contraception funding in the state of Washington.
He enjoys an 75% and “B” rating from NARAL, the national abortion rights group, and listed the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington during his 2016 campaign for lieutenant governor on his website, CyrusHabib.com. The politician was endorsed by NARAL during his 2014 campaign for legislature as well.
During Habib’s relatively brief career in Washington’s legislature, consisting of two years in the state’s House of Representatives and two years in the state Senate, the lawmaker co-sponsored several bills related to the expansion of abortion rights.
In 2015, he was co-sponsor of the Washington Reproductive Health Act, which mandated insurance cover abortions, sterilization and contraception. This bill did not pass.
Also in 2015, he co-sponsored the Washington Employee Reproductive Choice Act, which would have declared that failing to provide contraceptive coverage in employer-provided health insurance would amount to discrimination. The bill would have established that access to birth control in Washington State is a human right. That bill, also, did not pass.
Similar legislation mandating abortion coverage in insurance plans was passed in Washington state in 2018, once Habib was already the state’s lieutenant governor.
Habib listed Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest & Hawaii’s official endorsement on his 2016 campaign website, and said during that campaign that he was “honored” to have the group’s backing.
In 2017, when the Trump administration announced it would alter the HHS mandate to exempt some employers from covering contraceptive services in their healthcare plans “based on sincerely held religious beliefs,” Habib called the announcement “disgraceful.”
Reposting NARAL’s reaction to the policy shift on Twitter, Habib added “to those who are anti-choice, please recognize that this will increase abortions as well as economic insecurity.”
Habib has also taken positions in suport of both same-sex marriage and so-called transgender rights.
While running for the state legislature in 2012, Habib said he “absolutely support[ed]” a referednum to recognize same-sex marriage.
“I am proud that Washington will lead the way in passing marriage equality at the ballot box,” Habib said during his 2012 campaign.
“Having lost my eyesight at a young age, I have always been particularly sensitive to the dignity and respect owed each individual, and there is no doubt in my mind that denying consenting adults the freedom to marry deprives them of an essential civil right.”
While in the legislature he voted against a bill that would have required people to use the bathroom which corresponds with their biological sex.
During the debate regarding transgender bathroom access, Habib tweeted “Wish you’d been on the right side of history when marriage equality first came up? Here’s another chance: equal transgender bathroom access.”
As recently as last month, Habib posted on his Twitter page a speech given by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in which she offered a response to the decision by a Catholic hospital network in California to refuse to perform a “gender-transition” hysterectomy on a woman who identifies herself as a man.
Cortez complained that ”the only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigaotry and discrimination.”
“There is nothing holy about rejecting medical care to people, no matter who they are, on the grounds of what their [self-ascribed gender] identity is,” the first-term Congresswoman said. “There is nothing holy about turning someone away from a hospital.”
Habib called the speech “a great articulation of Catholic social teaching.”
CNA contacted Habib’s office on Friday, asking if his plans to enter a Catholic religious order signaled any shift in his political views. His office responded on Monday, explaining that Habib is only presently responding to in-state media requests and was unavailable for comment.
In an essay published in America Magazine on Thursday, announcing his plans to enter the religious life, and the Jesuits in particular, Habib wrote that his decision to seek public office in 2012, 2014, and 2016 were ”firmly rooted in Catholic social teaching, which places the poor, the sick, the disabled, the immigrant, the prisoner and all who are marginalized at the center of our social and political agenda.”
Habib also wrote in America that “the Catholic Church has wrestled with difficult social and moral questions for 2,000 years, and while I can be as impatient as anyone when it moves too slowly, I know from personal experience how much we can all benefit from a moral vocabulary that insists on the dignity of each and every person.”
The lieutenant governor also expressed his appreciation for what he called the Jesuit “philosophy of finding God in all people, cultures and things, for their advocacy for a more inclusive church and world” and predicted that his new life in the order “will involve teaching, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, advocacy and spiritual accompaniment.”