Thursday, November 12, 2009

D.C. Catholic Archdiocese Threatens To End Social Services Over Gay Marriage Bill

In Washington, DC, the Catholic Archdiocese is threatening to end the social service programs it operates under contract with the city if City Council does not include broader religious exemptions in the same-sex marriage bill that it will vote on next month. In a press release issued on Tuesday, after the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary voted to narrow the language on exemptions for religious organizations, the Archdiocese said:

Under the bill, religious organizations do not have to participate in the "solemnization or celebration" of a same-sex marriage ceremony. An earlier version of the bill also exempted them from "the promotion of marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs." The revised language significantly narrows that exemption to the "promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats."

As a result, religious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

The Washington Post this morning says that Catholic Charities serves 68,000 people in the District, including one-third of the homeless, who go to city-owned shelters managed by the Church. From 2006 to 2008, the Catholic Church received $8.2 million in city contracts, and supplemented city social service funding with $10 million per year of its own funds. Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, told City Council that: "All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow." However, City Councilman David A. Catania said he would rather end the city's relationship with Catholic charities than give in to the Church's demands. [Thanks to both Steven H. Sholk and Scott Mange for the lead.]