After last Saturday, when Catholic bishops used their Congressional influence to push the Stupak amendment, I am not feeling particularly kindly toward the Catholic Church. But this article, published yesterday in the Washington Post, is simply appalling. On Wednesday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. announced that it will not continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law. This is a change, needless to say, that would affect tens of thousands of D.C.’s most vulnerable citizens, especially the one-third of D.C.’s homeless who go to city-owned shelters managed by the Church. Overall, the Catholic Church serves 68,000 people in the city.
The Archdiocese is justifying its stance by saying that although under the new bill, religious institutions would not be required to perform same-sex marriage services, they would have to comply with city laws regarding discrimination against gay men and lesbians – i.e., they couldn’t discriminate anymore. “If the city requires this, we can’t do it,” Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, told the Post. “The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”
Except – the law wouldn’t really require secularism, would it? Because the Catholic Church would not be required to marry same-sex couples, and Catholic churches and cathedrals would be free to deny their spaces to anyone but heterosexual couples. I don’t want to start pointing fingers here, and I certainly don’t want to sound anti-religious – in fact, the Mormon Church of Latter-Day Saints recently upheld a piece of Salt Lake City legislation that prohibited bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Michael Otterson, the director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said: “The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.” Surely, this outlook should make sense also to the Catholic Church, since the proposed D.C.law does not require them to readjust their stance on marriage.
But arguments about how the law will affect the Church aside, let’s think for a minute about the devastating impact that a removal of Church support would have on Washington, D.C. itself. Tens of thousands of people depend fully on Church-run services to survive. The idea that the Church would put those people in jeopardy because of an ideological difference is absolutely appalling. And the idea of using these vulnerable people as pawns in a political game simply reflects badly upon the Church – which is so often lauded for its focus on good works and charity. Where is the Church’s moral obligation to feed the hungry and care for the sick? Are they really going to let go of that fundamental tenet in order to make a point about gay marriage?
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