Catholic Church Says It Will Stop Charity Work If D.C. Passes Gay Marriage Law

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC
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The D.C. city council is weeks away from possibly passing a law that would legalize gay marriage in the city. Though controversial with some religious groups in the city, council sources and gay rights advocates say the law is destined for passage in the nation’s capital, and supporters here expect to see the first legally recognized same-sex weddings in D.C. by spring. But today, the Washington-area Catholic Archdiocese told the city that legalizing gay marriage will cost D.C. the social services and charity work the church offers to help the city’s homeless and other low-income populations.

Some are calling the threat the strongest stand against same-sex marriage taken by the Catholic church anywhere in the country.

From the Washington Post:

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.”

The proposed D.C. law, expected to go before the council for a vote in the first week of December, would not require churches to perform same-sex weddings. But it would place churches and religious institutions under the auspices of the city’s existing equality laws, which forbids employer discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

According to the Post, the charity arm of the D.C. archdiocese serves around 68,000 people in the city with services ranging from homeless shelters to health clinics to adoption services. The church spends around $10 million a year on D.C. charity work, and provides a third of the city’s homeless shelter beds.

All that could end if D.C. passes the gay marriage law, the church says.

From the Post:

The standoff appears to be among the harshest between a government and a faith-based group over the rights of same-sex couples. Advocates for same-sex couples said they could not immediately think of other places where a same-sex marriage law had set off a break with a major faith-based provider of social services.

So far, the threat has had little effect on the council’s resolve to legalize gay marriage. The city already recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states, and the law is seen by most on the council as an extension of the city’s existing welcoming stance to same-sex couples.

More from today’s Post:

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.

Late Update: D.C. Clergy United For Marriage Equality, a group of pro-gay marriage religious leaders in the District, released a statement condemning the archdiocese for its threats today. From the statement:

“The Catholic Church hierarchy is at a crossroads: they must decide whether they are in the charity business for charity¹s sake, or if imposing their will on the D.C. City Council and the citizens of the District is their primary interest.”

Later Update: More D.C. church groups have been sending us their condemnation of the Catholic position on the city’s proposed same-sex marriage law. Bishop John Bryson Chane, head of the District’s Episcopal church, emphasized that the charity arm of his church will continue to provide relief to D.C.’s less fortunate.

“Episcopalians understand that none of us has the right to violate the human rights of another individual,” he said. “That’s the law of the District of Columbia. More important, it’s at the core of the Gospel.”

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