The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. is currently at odds with many city council members in the District of Columbia regarding a proposed same-sex marriage bill that will be decided on in early December. The Catholic Church said it would cut its social service contracts with the city if the bill is passed. If the church follows through on its threat and abandons social services, tens of thousands of people will be negatively impacted by the loss of the essential charity work done by the Catholic Charities.
According to the archdiocese, services the church provides in Washington, D.C. through the Catholic Charities include physical and mental health care, legal care, immigration and employment services, counseling, shelter, education, foster care, adoption and services for the disabled.
When I first read about this, I was astounded. It appears that the church is using the poor as a weapon to fight against marriage equality and to threaten city council members to vote down the bill. This is quite interesting because I thought Christians valued generosity to the poor and helping less fortunate people.
According to the book of Deuteronomy 15: 7 – 8, “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren … you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever his needs.” The Bible is full of passages that encourage just treatment of the homeless, the poor, the handicapped and any person in need.
Under this proposed city bill, religious institutions would not have to perform weddings or provide space for ceremonies. However, it would be required to extend other spousal benefits to same-sex couples. The law would force the Catholic Charities, which receive federal funding, to work in accordance with city law and provide homosexual couples with equal adoption and foster care policies, which are against Catholic religious beliefs.
But upon further investigation, I see what the church’s conflict is. The bill creates a civic institution of marriage and all federally-funded organizations would have to comply with that law, even if it goes against their beliefs.
The reason the church is threatening to cut services is because it would refuse to comply with the law, and would therefore no longer receive the federal funding it requires to operate its services and charity work on such a large scale.
In a Nov. 17 Washington Post Op-Ed, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said that under the current legislation, the archdiocese would be forced to choose between two core principles of the Catholic faith—the definition of marriage and service to others.
“We are asking that new language be developed that more fairly balances different interests—those of the city to redefine marriage and those of faith groups, so that they can continue to provide services without compromising their deeply-held religious teachings and beliefs,” Wuerl said.
This request is a step in the right direction. It is much more effective to have communication instead of blind resistance. Compromising from both sides, or at least starting a dialogue about the issue, would greatly benefit everyone involved in this debacle.
Although I am not Christian and I am not well-versed in the intricacies of the gay marriage debate that go beyond “being gay is wrong,” it doesn’t really make sense to me that providing adoptions to gay couples is a large enough reason to refuse to comply with city law and lose federal funding. However, it gets a little more tricky when talking about things like immigration and employment—both services that the Catholic Charities provides.
Nonetheless, the church will not be forced to perform marriages to homosexual couples, nor be required to provide space for their ceremonies. So if the church is really just hung up on the intricacies of the debate, not gay marriage as a whole, this is question of semantics. Both the church and the city of Washington, D.C. should look at re-evaluating the wording they choose to recognize the rights of joined couples, and should compromise with one another so they are both satisfied. If they could come to an agreement, it would avoid the fallout that would happen if more than 60,000 people were unable to access services they depend on.