Question to Ponder

Question to Ponder November 12, 2009

From a Washington Post article, written by Tim Craig and Michelle Boorstein, we learn:

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.

This promises to have significant impact on DC:

The clash escalates the dispute over the same-sex marriage proposal between the council and the archdiocese, which has generally stayed out of city politics.

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.

What is your take on this story? Should the Catholic Church entirely remove its charitable services so as to keep to its own ethical choices, or is the threat over-the-top and discriminatory? Remember, the Catholic Church has said many times we must continue to honor the personal dignity of homosexuals (and not discriminate against them) while at the same time doing so in a way which does not support policies and positions which run contrary to Catholic doctrine (such as same-sex sacramental marriage).

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  • Pingback: On Charity? at The Land of Unlikeness()

  • The Leveda solution is established precedent from the mid-1990s, when the archbishiop Levada brokered a deal with the city of San Francisco over the law that benefits must be paid to same-sex partners. Levada said that if it referred to anybbody domiciled in your household, we would accept it. That precedent has survived and extended to other countries (such as Brazil). Not so long ago, Bishop Tyson of Seattle (auxiliary) made a similar case.

    I haven’t followed this too closely, but I believe the issues are broader here, and relate to inadequate conscience protections – this could affect adoptions among other things.

  • David Nickol

    It reminds me a little bit of cities in the south in the heydays of the civil rights movement who did things like shut down their swimming pools rather than let black people swim in them. But it reminds me a lot of the current, and shameful, refusal to let illegal aliens benefit in any way from health care reform.

    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.

    Heaven forbid that a Catholic organization might be forced to provide health insurance for a gay or lesbian partner!

  • Kurt

    I support giving the Archdiocese whatever conscience exemption they want for themselves and religious organizations (but not to private corporations, as some have asked for). But I do it in appreciation that they have generally folded their tent on the larger issue of DC marriage law and because I am just a nice guy.

    Their arguments however are weak. Under its current policy, a Church employee who is banned from Holy Communion based on a civil marriage the Church does not condone still may receive health benefits that cover his civil spouse.

    And while the Catholic Church has said many times we must continue to honor the personal dignity of homosexuals and not “UNJUSTLY” discriminate against them, they have supported laws putting people in jail or using economic actions against them for homosexuality. The Church’s defintion of “unjust discrimination” is so narrow as to be meaningless.

    BTW, I am shocked that the Archdiocese has done a total of only six adoptions last year.

  • Zak

    It seems to me the Levada solution doesn’t work in cases of adoption – it only applies to benefits to employees.

  • Matt Bowman

    If gay marriage is like race, opponents will be treated exactly like we treat racists. Gay marriage advocates agree, including Obama’s new head of the EEOC.

    If I’m a florist, should the law punish me for not servicing gay marriages?
    If I’m a photographer, should the law punish me for not shooting gay weddings?
    If I run a bed and breakfast out of my home, should the law punish me for not accepting gay couples on their honeymoon?
    If I’m a counsellor, should the law punish me for declining to counsel gay couples on how to have a healthy relationship?
    If I’m a baker, should the law punish me for not making a wedding cake with two grooms on top?

  • David Nickol


    You are introducing a lot of red herrings. The issue here is not about punishment. It is about Catholic Charities continuing to receive (or accept) government contracts and government funding if it refuses to comply with Washington law. The question Henry asked was, “Should the Catholic Church entirely remove its charitable services so as to keep to its own ethical choices, or is the threat over-the-top and discriminatory?”

    Patrick J. Deneen, associate professor of government at Georgetown University, said in an online question-and-answer session on the Washington Post website that the Post article had been misleading:

    My best understanding is that the Church will continue to provide social and charitable services (in this sense, the Post’s article today was not strictly correct – the Church is not threatening to withdraw services as such); it is only in cases where there is a contracted or licensed service that the District would adjudge the Church to be ineligible to provide those services on a contractual basis. If DC does not grant the exemptions that would be in keeping with the Catholic’s tenets, the assumption is that the Church would no longer be eligible to be licensed or contracted to provide those services.

    There is no question that the Catholic Church wants to discriminate over the matter of same-sex marriage. As the Church frames the issue, the question is whether that discrimination is just or unjust. Interestingly, the ACLU went to bat for the Archdiocese arguing that the District was narrowing religious liberties. However, that doesn’t answer the question of whether the Catholic Church is being just or unjust. It may be that in the interest of religious liberty, the Catholic Church should be allowed, at least to some extent, to discriminate unjustly.

  • Kurt

    Matt —

    I don’t believe self-employed individuals are covered under the DC Human Rights Act. I know they are not covered under federal civil rights law.

    I guess you are not familiar with the famous “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding House” exemption to civil rights laws, but it is a long standing provision.

    So yes, FTD Florist, Bachmann Photographers and Nabisco Bakers would be covered. Mrs. Murphy renting out rooms in her own house, working as a free lance photographer or florist or baker would not be covered.

    A counsellor simply needs to give what in his professional judgment is sound counseling.

  • Mike L

    I lived in a state where inter-racial marriage, at least between black and white, was illegal, and inter-racial couples could be, and were prosecuted. Each of Matt’s questions above could have been, and probably were, asked about inter-racial marriages at the time. Today such laws, and probably even the morality that led to them, have been discarded and such questions today would be laughed at. Hopefully in the future the same will occur with gay issues.

    In the end my answer is that each of the businesses above have most likely been issued a business license (if they are legal businesses) and as such have most likely agreed to provide those services to customers. So my answer to Matt’s questions is yes, the law should punish them, either by revoking their license or in some other suitable manner.

  • Pinky

    The Archdiocese was responding to changes in the proposed legislation. The bill has an exemption that frees religious organizations from “promoting” same-sex marriage. This language was changed to narrow the exemption. Under the new language the Church could be exempted from performing same-sex marriages, but compelled to support adoption to same-sex couples, for example. The Church’s response isn’t a temper tantrum; it’s simply a declaration that if they’re forced to perform objectionable acts as part of their social service, they have to discontinue their social services.

    Given that religious organizations receive special exemption, I’d have to assume that each of Matt’s examples would not be exempted.

  • MB

    [sorry if this gets posted twice, I may be having some technical difficulties]
    Mike L, thank you for confirming my point, and for negating the rationalization and dodging of the previous commenters. The breadth of the principle of nondiscrimination makes this about punishment.


    The Washington Post seems to have got some of the story wrong — thankfully!

  • David Nickol


    I hope something can be worked out that both sides can live with, but Kurt (a very reliable source!) tells us that only six adoptions were handled by the Archdiocese last year. Why should Washington compromise on the issue of adoption for just six adoptions a year?

    Catholic Charities says, “This is about sincerely held religious beliefs on marriage, not discrimination. The Church simply wants to be allowed to carry out its mission to serve without abandoning its beliefs about the nature of marriage.” They claim that giving benefits to same-sex couples would be abandoning their beliefs about the nature of marriage, but Thomas J. Reese, S.J. says

    [R]emarrying after a divorce is also against Catholic teaching, yet the church gives health care benefits to divorced and remarried couples. No one believes that the church has changed its teaching on divorce. No one will believe that the church has changed its teaching on gay sex if it provides medical benefits to gay couples.

    And while Catholic Charities claims just to want exemptions, the Catholic Church itself opposes any gay-rights legislation on principle. So things may be a bit better than they originally seemed, but all is not well.