Friday, November 13, 2009

Catholic Church Upset with DC's Views on Marriage Equality

From yesterday's Washington Post [free subscription required]:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

"If the city requires this, we can't do it," Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."

Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city's long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination.

Catholic Charities, the church's social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington's homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.

"All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow," Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, wrote to the council this week.

The church's influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as "somewhat childish." Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city's relationship with the church than give in to its demands.

"They don't represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure," said Catania, the sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill and the chairman of the Health Committee.

Catania, who said he has been the biggest supporter of Catholic Charities on the council, said he is baffled by the church's stance. From 2006 through 2008, Catania said, Catholic Charities received about $8.2 million in city contracts, as well as several hundred thousand dollars' worth this year through his committee.

"If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes," Catania said. He also said Catholic Charities was involved in only six of the 102 city-sponsored adoptions last year.

Terry Lynch, head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he did not know of any other group in the city that was making such a threat.

"I've not seen any spillover into programming. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen if [the bill] passes," he said.

To read the full article, click here.

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