Gay Marriage in D.C.

” 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.

Update.

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.

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61 thoughts on “Gay Marriage in D.C.

  1. Please correct your article. The wording that was questioned by the ACLU has been revised to address the concerns. This was revised on Tuesday. The law now provides a religious exception for rental of space EVEN if that space is being rented to the general public. This goes far beyond our existing laws in allowing discrimination against citizens. Imagine if churches were allowed to deny renting their spaces to interracial couples while they rented to anyone else that showed up.

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  2. The marked-up version of the bill that passed out of committee this week provided stronger religious liberty exemptions. Religious organizations would not be required to rent their property to gays anymore, as you state.

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/2009/11/committee_unveils_changes_to_s.html

    I think it’s disturbing that the church is seeking broad license to discriminate against gay people, all while taking public funds ($18-$20 million of the Catholic Charities of DC’s $32 million budget comes from the DC government). I’m fine if they want to discriminate, but they should not be allowed to do so on the tax-payer dime. Would we even be having this discussion if the Catholic church was trying to discrimiante against atheists or people of other faiths?

    I find the Catholic church to be deeply immoral, and yet I’m legally prohibited from discriminating agianst them if I take public funds. Why should they have the special right to discriminate against me?

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    • The Catholic Church is quickly learning that him what pays the piper calls the tune.

      I suppose that Massachusetts is an interesting test case.

      Would you say that the orphans of the world are better off for Catholic Adoption Services withdrawing from Massachusetts?

      Perhaps the homeless of the world will be better off once Catholic Charities shutter in DC.

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      • Jay didn’t the money just go to a secular adoption agency instead? So in general wouldn’t the orphans be slightly better off then since there’s more money going to agencies that will place them with as many potential parents as possible rather than some funds going to an organization that rejects a group of potential parents based on this religious requirement?

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  3. “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.”

    Again, I would just like to point out that members of, in this context, the Catholic Church have a natural interest in politics in light of first-person plural comments like these (which contains, whether you make the caveat or not, an implicit “us v. them”). The Church worries not just about infringement on its religious freedom, but also about the “we” that expects it to undergo political change from within. Being part of that “we” allows you to put Jamelle’s misreading aside in favor of the “good point” he makes and in favor of the rhetoric that assumes the Church has lately been “sticking it to the gays.” What is it that motivates the Church to care for the poor? Is it utterly different, theologically, than what motivates its care for marriage? Why is that, arguably, same motivation somehow benignly non-political in one area and politicized in another? Looking at the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, it’s really in the realm of poverty and labor that it has been most political of all.

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  4. “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.”

    Yes, and they can then just take private funds and carry on as they wish. I really don’t see a problem there. I’m sure there are plenty of other organizations that don’t discriminate that will be willing to take their place. Again, I don’t think we would even be entertaining this discussion if the Church was demanding access to public funds while discriminating against any other minority (including religious) group.

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    • Of course. And that’s all that is happening here. If the Church loses millions of dollars in taxpayer money they will obviously have to cut programs though. Unless private funds can fill that gap. Do you see how that works?

      City says: “You have to change or we won’t give you money.”

      Church says: “We can’t change. I guess we can’t take your money and will therefor be unable to provide services we have been providing.”

      Media says: “Church plays hardball with city! Refuses to provide services! We shouldn’t give them money!”

      ????

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      • This dynamic has long existed, however. Look at the idea of schism in the Episcopalians.

        Two groups within the church, A and B. (Any Pinky/Brain reference is not intended so please avoid using Pinky or Brain voices when reading the exchange.)
        “Gee, A. What do you want to do tonight?”
        “The same thing we do every night.”

        And a couple of weeks later, B says that they want to ordain practicing homosexuals.

        “Gee, A. What do you want to do tonight?”
        “The same thing we do every night.”
        “YOU’RE SPLITTING THE CHURCH! narf”

        A is doing the same thing that they did in 1999, in 1989, and in 1979. Keep going back. That’s what A is doing.

        Yet they are the ones who are “splintering off”.

        This dynamic has long existed.

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      • Again, I don’t see a problem with any of that. Let the church leave. Let other organizations that don’t discriminate take its place.

        I also think it’s interesting that the Church is currently prohibited by law from discriminating against domestically-partnered gay couples. They haven’t made a stink over that. Now they’re trying to get an exemption that would mean married gay couples actually have less rights than domestically partnered gay couples.

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      • This is why government should NEVER give money to religious organizations. In order to completely level the playing field lets repeal the laws that attempt to muzzle churches politcal speech by revoking their tax exempt/charity status.

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  5. I don’t think that it’s in a communities best interest to be dependent on religious institutions for their social services. D.C. should give their contracts to organizations that can meet their expectations and let the Catholics do what they will.

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          • Would you say that’s worked out well for the Palestinians? Providing services is a civic responsibility. When you pass that responsibility to an organization that one has little oversight over, you run a risk that I believe is short sighted. It would be far better for D.C. to find or create a secular organization that can meet their standards than to run the risk of being dictated to by an outside power.

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              • Did you think that the services they provided or the social advocacy for the poor have anything to do with their rise to power? I think they were brilliant. If I wanted to gain power, providing for the masses would be the way I’d go. I’m not sure, however, that I would want to pave the way for someone else to do the same in my back yard.

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                  • Point taken. I think my general argument survives, however. The Catholic church is a political player and always has been. It works differently than a particular regional party but has its hand in the pot none the less. It would be wise for those that do not want to be governed by a Catholic regime to pay attention to their political maneuvering.

                    The Catholics went to a great deal of trouble during the Kennedy years to assure the general public that they would be hands off to a large degree. I see that they have forfeited this promise. With the Church playing hard ball with Catholic politicians they undercut the likely hood that those same politicians will have meaningful independence from the Church. The Church has crossed the line, and to a large degree become a political player. They therefore have given up any protection they might have been afforded as a disinterested religious organization and opened themselves to all of the rough and tumble of politics.

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                    • “The Catholics went to a great deal of trouble during the Kennedy years to assure the general public that they would be hands off to a large degree.”

                      This must be what Freddie feels like when he reads an essay talking about how The Unions are destroying American business.

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                    • “With the Church playing hard ball with Catholic politicians they undercut the likely hood that those same politicians will have meaningful independence from the Church.”

                      “Meaningful independence” – what does that mean? Are arguments about cultural/political issues–and subsequent votes–only meaningful when they aren’t religiously-motivated?

                      The Church should not be interested in “being in power” in the United States, but it does not “cross the line” into such interest when it demands (in a way that doesn’t have any actual effect outside of the Church) that Catholic politicians vote according to their professed beliefs. If the Church can’t even ask its own members to act according to their beliefs, what can it do? E.D. wouldn’t follow you down this path.

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                    • Infallibility of the Pope? OK, we’re back to square one. If a Catholic politician must ascribe to all of Rome’s decrees, they should not be trusted in secular governance, period.

                      If religion is informative of political decisions, religions should be open to political opposition.

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                    • Infallibility of the Pope? OK, we’re back to square one. If a Catholic politician must ascribe to all of Rome’s decrees, they should not be trusted in secular governance, period.

                      Can we keep Muslims out of the military?

                      I understand that their religion makes them be part of a permanent jihad.

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  6. I used to work for a catholic based social services type agency (I’m not catholic). We received a lot of federal funds but never proselytized. We served anyone and did not discriminate. It can be done.

    As has been mentioned above, this kind of conflict is a reason why in many cases, government should just do the job themselves, unless religious orgs are willing to live by the rules.

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  7. Should the Catholic church be allowed to discriminate against other minorities in the provision of public charity? Why or why not?

    And why should only religious folks be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals? There are people who are deeply opposed to homosexuality who are not religious. Why should they be left out?

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  8. Here’s another question – has the Church discriminated in D.C.? Have they been accused of anything in particular at this point (beyond, obviously, not wedding gays in their parishes)? Is it more that the Church wants to remain unfettered by state laws governing how they operate, more than how they actually operate in practice? I haven’t heard of any Catholic charity refusing to offer assistance to gays – beyond what I mentioned, and adoption services.

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    • I haven’t heard anything, which is why I find this current move by the church to be so disengenuous. As I noted above, discrimination against gay individuals and gay couples is already illegal in DC. It has been for a long time. It is very surprising then that we have not heard of any issues with the church until now. This why it leads me to believe they’re using their opposition to giving the gays the M-word as an opportunity to roll back gay rights even further.

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  9. 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.

    There’s a choice. They can either follow the specific rules to receive the funds, or they can refuse the rules and not receive the funds. If they believe they should choose one of those paths or the other, that’s on them. Unethical behavior is still unethical even if you believe God wants it.

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  10. It’s really almost funny to hear the reasoning here followed so closely on the heels of the Stupak amendment. When the funding goes to a religious group – well they should drop all their religious obligations and beliefs in order to receive it, church and state separation be damned – but when funding goes to abortion and that’s taken away … well! How dare they!

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    • Giving the money to churches is what is violating the separation of church and state.

      We should stop that. Stupak is completely different as it has nothing to do with the establishment clause. It is trying to reduce peoples option to get a legal medical procedure if they are poor enough to receive a subsidy.

      I didn’t get to require that people pay for their own abstinence only education.

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    • I’m also rabidly pro-choice and unopposed to the Stupak amendment.

      This affair seems like the Catholic Adoption affair all over again. The state gave money to the church to handle charitable work because the church does a good job at it and they did it in a manner that did not conflict with the states laws. Now they law is changing but they wish to be exempted from it. I don’t know if the exemption is a good idea, I haven’t read the issue closely enough to know what it is the church supposedly would be forced to do. I don’t think the Catholics should be criticized for stopping their service if they can’t get the funds to do it. I don’t think they should be criticized for refusing to accept funds that come with requirements they consider against their faith. I don’t think the state should be criticized for requiring that when they pay for services that those services conform to state law. Jaybird said it best above. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

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      • The problem is the law hasn’t really changed with regard to the legality of disciminating against gay couples. That has been illegal in DC for a long time. It was also illegal to discirminate against gay couples in adoption matters in MA before well before they were finally allowed to marry in 2003. Catholic Charities of Boston had actually placed several children with gay couples (becuase it was against the state’s anti-discrimination law to do otherwise) before closing shop after gays were given the right to marry.

        It seems the Church has always been OK with abiding by anti-discrimination laws as they relate to gay couples, so long as the state does not call those couples married.

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