Adding to my seemingly-neverending list of gripes I have with organized religion, the Catholic Church has now threatened to stop providing social services — including adoptions, health care, and feeding and sheltering the homeless — in Washington, DC. What atrocity is our nation’s capital participating in, that would prompt the Catholic Archdiocese there to threaten to stop helping those that need it most?
The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
The church wouldn’t be required to perform same-sex marriages, to make space available for same-sex ceremonies, or to in any way defy the church’s stance on gay marriage. They might, however, have to offer benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, just the way they do with straight couples.
Catholic Charities is the social services group within the church, and provides services to 68,000 people in the district (including providing shelter to 1/3 of the homeless people in the city.) This organization is actually threatening to stop providing services to these people because they might have to extend benefits (medical, dental, etc.) to some same-sex partners of employees.
The debate really stems over the distinction between secular and religious authority. The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem,” said a spokesperson for the church. Representatives of the city council, however, have called the church’s threats “somewhat childish” and one has even said he “would rather end the city’s relationship with the church than give in to its demands.” Another member of the council insisted that they “will not legislate based on threats.”
Here’s the important distinction: these are government contracts, in which the city uses government money to fund the social services.
Look, I can understand the notion that the church doesn’t want to be forced to abandon its religious principles. I think DC Council member Phil Mendelson, the chair of the judiciary committee, put the matter into perspective very well. “The problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle,” Mendelson said. “There were many people back in the 1950s and ’60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God.”
Well said. And shame on you, Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.