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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Washington, DC

Reaction by a Roman
Catholic academic & agency

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Possible loss of social services to the DC poor:

Catholic Charities, an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, offers social services to about 68,000 residents of Washington DC, including assistance with adoption, food, health care, legal assistance, and shelter. Abut 75% of the Catholic Charities' budget comes from the many contracts that they have with the city. Nationally, the Catholic Church is the second largest provider of services to the poor; their contribution is exceeded only by the federal government. The Washington Diocese decided that if the city proceeds with its same-sex marriage law, they would allow the city to terminate their contracts and to go out of business, rather than change their discriminatory policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (GLBT) persons They would then abandon many or all of the people that their charities were designed to help.

The reason is that the proposed marriage equality legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the district would require all organizations and companies that have contracts with the city to cease discriminating against homosexuals and bisexuals in same-sex marriages. Such social service agencies, including those controlled by the Catholic church, would also be required to provide medical benefits to same-sex spouses of their own employees if they provide benefits to opposite-sex spouses of their employees. Their Pregnancy and Adoption Services agency would have to be willing to consider qualified same-sex couples as potential adoptive parents.

This produces an internal conflict within the Church. Although the church has issued statements stating that LGBT persons should not suffer unfair discrimination, the church believes that same-sex couples should be discriminated against in other ways. Catholic Charities are unwilling to end their policies of discrimination against GLBT clients and employees. This would, in turn, require the city to cancel agency contracts for non-compliance.

One of the ramifications of this decision would be that many of the married same-sex spouses of church employees would not have other health insurance to rely on. They would join the 48 million Americans without health insurance. Some of them might well become one of the 45,000 Americans who die each year because of lack of health insurance. Thus, this decision to opt for the religious freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities could have life and death impacts on some individuals.

Most organizations opposed to marriage equality and experiencing this type of conflict -- even church organizations -- would weigh their distaste of dealing equally with same-sex marriages with the possibility of causing the death of those spouses. They would probably decide to stop discriminating and to conform to the city's rules. Otherwise, they would run a high risk of being indirectly responsible for human deaths. However, the Roman Catholic Church is a special case. They have a foundational philosophical belief: it is never moral to perform an evil act even if the overall result is overwhelmingly positive. For example, in those rare cases where a woman is dying while giving birth, the church forbids medical professionals from performing an abortion even if it would save her life. Doctors are expected to stand by and give only comfort care, while allowing both the woman and fetus die. Where the spouse of an employee is in danger of dying because of a health problem, the church forbids providing health care because it would lend support to a same-sex couple, and thereby be seen to legitimize homosexual behavior and generating scandal.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., a Woodstock Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  wrote in the On Faith column of Newsweek and the Washington Post:

"... the City Council for the District of Columbia has decided to enact legislation forbidding discrimination against those in gay marriages. This legislation would not force churches to perform gay marriages or to change their moral doctrines, but it would require any organization with a contract with the District to provide medical benefits to a gay partner just like it provides them to the heterosexual partner in a marriage. It would also require adoption agencies to sponsor children to gay couples if the agency is under contract with the city."

"The archdiocese says that it cannot do this because of its moral opposition to gay marriage. This is not new. The Archdiocese to San Francisco had the same fight with its city council, and the adoption programs of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts were shut down because the state legislature insisted that they sponsor adoptions to gay couples while the bishops insisted they would not."

"It should be clear from this review of the facts that the church is not threatening to withdraw its money from the poor. It is simply pointing out that it cannot observe these new requirements and therefore the city will cancel its contracts. It is in fact the city council that is closing down these programs, not the archdiocese."

"Not surprisingly, the members of the city council are much better at spinning this story with the media than is the archdiocese. The Catholic Church's PR skills are dismal. Perhaps it was caught by surprise by the vehemence of the attack. The dispute is being portrayed as the Catholic Church versus gay rights even though everyone knows that Black ministers in Washington are also opposed to this legislation."

"Let's be clear. The city has a right to set whatever conditions it wants on agencies that receive money from it. But the church also has a right to say, 'Sorry, we can't accept money under those rules'."

"Some people on the city council think that is fine. Good riddance. They think they can find other people to run these programs as well as Catholic Charities. I doubt it, but they have the power and the money so they can try. If they fail, it is their responsibility." 1

In an interview with CitizenLink, a service of Focus on the Family Action, Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said that Catholic Charities of Washington will likely be the first victim of the policy. She said:

"To contract with the city, to provide official services with the city, we would have to certify that we promote and recognize same-sex marriage, and we can't do that. ... With this bill, the council is telling faith groups, 'You can practice your faith at church services and in your religion classes, but when you walk out the door you've got to stop'." 1

To preserve their city contracts, they would have to treat their employees equally, regardless of their sexual orientation, whether heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian or gay. We are at a loss to understand how this would constitute "promotion" of same-sex marriage. It would merely be meeting the District of Columbia's legislation requirements. In mid 2009-NOV, we asked Ms. Gibbs for clarification. Based on previous attempts with conservative Christian groups, we expected neither a response nor a receipt confirmation. We received neither as of DEC-12.

Ms. Gibbs continued:

" ... With this bill, the council is telling faith groups, 'You can practice your faith at church services and in your religion classes, but when you walk out the door you've got to stop'." 1

This is correct. The City Council is telling faith groups that they can teach and practice discrimination during church services, in religion classes, and during the provision of sacraments, etc. In fact, the Catholic Church has practiced discrimination in the past --- and continues to practice in the present -- against individuals on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, and disability. However, when they choose to provide services to the public which are financed by public funds, they presumably have to confirm to District of Columbia regulations. This means that they are no longer completely free to discriminate. Many would consider that for the city to collect tax money from persons of all sexual orientations, and then give that money to groups that provide services to persons of only some sexual orientations, is immoral and perhaps even unconstitutional.

Petula Dvorak, a Washington Post reporter, interviewed a woman who was a client at the John Young Women's Shelter that is run by Catholic Charities. The woman said:

"They want to stop helping us? ... I hear they gonna put us out. ... I don't get it. What do gay people have to do with the shelters? They're the Church; that's what they do. They help. That don't make no sense."

Ms. Dvorak commented:

"By trying to play political hardball with the District, no matter how carefully they word their objection to the bill, officials at the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are telling our city's most vulnerable people -- homeless families, sick children, low-income mothers -- that they are willing to throw them on the table as a bargaining chip."

"What the Church is doing is an uncharitable and cruel maneuver. ...  Catholic Charities runs nine homeless shelters using at least some money from the city. This is not a time to threaten any of the services those provide. ... in this case, the message the Church is sending with its actions is wrong, and it has left me and countless other Catholics heartbroken."

"In that awful rain Thursday, I talked to Eric Seegars, who is 47 and living in a family shelter on the old D.C. General Hospital campus. There is nothing pianissimo about the way he feels and expresses himself. His wife, twin 8-year-olds and 15-year-old have been there for three months. The neighboring shelter is a women's place run by Catholic Charities, and they know the people who stay there. 'Where will all those people go?' Seegars asked. 'They can't put people on the street'."

"I just pray he's right." 2

In three days, her article received 89 comments from readers before posting was closed. Most are quite angry in tone. They make for fascinating reading. 3

One reader of Ms. Dvorak's column made a particularly insightful suggestion, saying that Catholic Charities probably mark "divorced" in the personnel records of its divorced employees, even though the Church does not recognize divorce. Using the same logic, they could mark "married" for an employee married to a same-sex spouse even though the Church does not recognize same-sex civil marriages.

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2009-NOV-13: Catholic scholar opposes church anti-same-sex marriage efforts:

Thomas Reese, described above, concluded his On Faith piece by writing:

"... I regret that the U.S. Catholic bishops have an obsession with opposing the legalization of gay marriage. This is an issue that at most deserves one letter of opposition from the bishop and then they should let it go. Spending millions of church dollars to oppose gay marriage in California, Massachusetts and Maine was a waste of resources and a case of misplaced priorities."

"I have never bought the argument that gay marriage is a threat to families. Legalizing gay marriage is not going to cause millions of people in heterosexual marriages to suddenly decide to leave their spouses for a same-sex partner. It could be argued that gay marriage might help heterosexual marriages. For example, in an apartment building filled with unmarried couples in New York City, the gays who get married may inspire the heterosexuals to do the same thing." 4

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2010-FEB-18: Catholic Foster Care closes doors after 80 years:

Roman Catholic Archbishop Donald Wuerl ended the contract between the city of Washington DC and the Catholic Charities agency that handles foster care and adoption services. He was faced with two alternatives: to consider loving, committed same-sex couples as potential foster parents, or to follow the Church's beliefs which consider homosexual orientation to be a disordered state that justifies certain types of discrimination against them.

Catholic Charities' web site stated that although they have had "... an 80-year legacy of high quality service to the vulnerable in our nation’s capital, the D.C. government informed Catholic Charities that the agency would be ineligible to serve as a foster care provider due to the impending D.C. same-sex marriage law."

Ed Orzechowski, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, wrote: "Foster care has been an important ministry for us for many decades. We worked very hard to be able to continue to provide these services in the District. We regret that our efforts to avoid this outcome were not successful." 5

Their former services are being transferred to the National Center for Children and Families. 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Steve Jordahl, "Catholic Social Services Will Go if D.C. Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage." CitizenLink, 2009-NOV-12, at: http://www.citizenlink.org/
  2. Petula Dvorak, "Catholic officials shouldn't forsake D.C.'s poor in gay marriage fight," Washington Post, 2009-NOV-13, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. "Your Comments On...'Catholic officials shouldn't forsake D.C.'s poor in gay marriage fight'," Washington Post, 2009-NOV-12 to 15, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. "Catholic Charities, gays and DC's poor: This Catholic's View," Newsweek/Washington Post "On Faith" column, 2009-NOV-13, at:  http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/
  5. Ruth Schneider, "Catholic Charities ends foster care, adoption program," 365gay.com, 2010-FEB-19, at: http://www.365gay.com/
  6. "D.C. Catholic foster care closes -- Gay agenda wins," Traditional Values Coalition, 2010-FEB-18, at: http://www.traditionalvalues.org/.

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Home page > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Couples > SSM > Washington DC > here

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Copyright © 2009 & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posting: 2009-NOV-16
Latest update: 2010-FEB-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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