” The premise of today’s story was that the Catholic Church was threatening to cease to provide charitable services if the law legalizing gay marriage is passed. In point of fact, it is the DC government that would cease to license or contract with the Church unless the Church conformed to a definition of marriage that violates its faith tradition. Without a set of broader legal exemptions allowing for the Church to remain faithful to its definition of marriage, it will cease to be permitted by the City to provide the contracted and licensed services that it has for well over a century. The Church’s fundamental desire in this controversy is to continue its desire and freedom to serve.” ~ Patrick Deneen, responding to news that the Catholic Church will end social services in D.C. if a gay-marriage law is passed there
I think the Catholic Church is wrong about a lot of things, including its stance on gay marriage. I also think that they’re wrong when they go political and actively seek funds to oppose same sex marriage at the ballot box. But on this one, I think they have a pretty valid stance. Religious liberty is a fundamental American value, and even the ACLU thinks the D.C. gay-marriage law goes too far, and provides too few religious exemptions. For instance, any church that hosted any public event at all would be required to also host events for gays. This includes weddings.
John Wimberly, the president of the ACLU in Washington and a pastor, agreed the current phrasing could cause problems. He told the council that while the ACLU supports the bill he would recommend taking out part of the exemption to avoid confusion.
“A church shouldn’t have to host a wedding it doesn’t want to host,” said Arthur Spitzer, an ACLU attorney who reviewed the legislation.
This isn’t the Catholic Church simply saying that if gay-marriage is passed in D.C. they’ll stop providing services. They’re saying that they won’t receive contracts for services that they won’t provide due to religious conflicts of interest. The Church hasn’t stopped providing services in all the states where gay marriage has passed, after all. In New Hampshire the religious exemptions are written in such a way to avoid these conflicts. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, the state has pulled many contracts from the Catholic Church because their exemptions are not as strong.
So I have to disagree with Jamelle on this one, who writes:
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has always been a bit more measured in its approach. This might be my naivety talking, but I expected a bit more of the Catholic leadership. Sure, the Catholic Church isn’t particularly enamored of gays, but as an institution (and at least in the United States) it’s always seemed much more concerned with fighting the war on poverty than the war on gays. What’s more, unlike evangelicals – who are overwhelmingly Southern and conservative – Catholics represent a wider geographic and ideological cross-section of America, which had a moderating influence on the church’s leadership.
But things changed, and in the past decade or so, Catholic leadership has become more and more committed to a socially conservative political agenda. If given the choice between saving the needy and sticking it to the gays, these Church “elders” would rather let 68,000 of the most vulnerable Washingtonians suffer in the dead of winter than have to extend basic legal protections to gay people.
The misreading of what’s actually going on aside – this is not a simple threat, as many are painting it – I think Jamelle makes a good point. The Church has become too politically involved in all of this. But they’ve done so because they’re legitimately worried about religious liberty, and moves like this reaffirm their fears. Gay marriage advocates, and I am one myself, need to craft legislation that doesn’t impinge upon one set of liberties in favor of another. This is a matter both of respect and practicality. The Church shouldn’t be politicized, but its leaders will continue to take on political causes if they feel their own rights are threatened.
I hope that one day the Church will change its positions on many things, but until that time it isn’t the job of the state to do it for them. There are devils in all the details here, and turning it into an Us vs. Them moment only helps to avoid addressing those devils we don’t know, in favor of the ones we do.
Commenters are pointing out that there have been some revisions to this bill. That is true. Religious organizations would not be forced to provide space or perform marriages for gay couples. They would still be required to do a number of other things, including provide benefits to gay couples, offer other charitable services to gay people, and so on and so forth. Again – I think they should do this, but what I think really isn’t the issue here. The issue is whether they should be required to by law. If they are required to follow specific rules in order to receive federal funds, and they believe that those rules are in conflict with their beliefs, then they will have no choice but to refuse those funds.
You can’t really have it both ways. These funds are used to provide for the poor. You can’t complain that the Church is awful for receiving the funds on the one hand and awful for not providing these services on the other. The two are connected, and if the law makes it impossible for the Church to do both, then there really is little that can be done except change the law. Or change the Church. And so this comes back to a question of religious liberty.