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Posted at 4:40 PM ET, 11/17/2009

D.C.'s same-sex marriage bill: Finding the balance

By editors

By Donald W. Wuerl

One year ago, I stood with city leaders on a hill in Northeast as we broke ground for affordable housing in the District. When the St. Martin’s Apartments are completed, nearly 200 low-income families and individuals will get a fresh start on life in a wonderful example of the type of effective public-private partnerships the residents of our nation’s capital need.

St. Martin’s is being developed by Catholic Charities, on land owned by the Catholic Church and with funding sources that include the District of Columbia.

Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington are committed to continuing to serve the people of the District as we have for many decades. That includes partnerships such as St. Martin’s. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council is considering legislation that could end these kinds of partnerships.

It doesn’t need to be that way. While we do not agree with the council on redefining marriage, we recognize that it is firmly committed to opening marriage to homosexual couples. 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. The archdiocese is not alone in this request. Other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and nationally recognized legal scholars all called for stronger protections for religious freedom in their testimony on the bill.

For the archdiocese and Catholic Charities, two core tenets of our faith are at the heart of our concerns: our understanding of the nature of marriage and our commitment to expressing Christ’s love through service to others. Under the legislative language before the D.C. Council, the archdiocese would be forced to choose between these two principles. The archdiocese has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children.

The proposed legislation offers little protection for religious beliefs, including no protections for individuals, as is required under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the bill, religious organizations would be exempt from participating in ceremonies or from teaching about same-sex marriage in religion classes and retreats in accord with their faith beliefs, but they would be required to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere else, including in employment policies, and adoption and foster-care policies, against their beliefs.

So what does this mean?

The archdiocese and Catholic Charities are committed to continuing to provide services in the District. Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now. This is so because the District requires Catholic Charities to certify its compliance with city laws when applying for contracts and grants. This includes contracts for homeless services, mental health services, foster care and more. Since Catholic Charities cannot comply with city mandates to recognize and promote same-sex marriages, the city would withhold contracts and licenses.

Each year, 68,000 people in the District rely on Catholic Charities for shelter, nutrition, medical and legal care, job training, immigration assistance, and more. This assistance is offered to whoever needs it, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. Many of the programs are offered in partnership with the city, which turns to Catholic Charities and other ministries when it cannot provide social services on its own. Catholic Charities has a proven track record of high-quality service, supported through caring, qualified staff, thousands of dedicated volunteers and millions of dollars in financial support from parishioners all over the region. This legislation won’t end Catholic Charities’ services, but it would reduce unnecessarily the resources available for outreach.

We recognize that the council is likely to legalize same-sex marriage. It is the hope of the archdiocese and Catholic Charities that council members will work with us to find a way to better balance interests so religious organizations that have served this city well for many decades may continue to provide services without compromising the tenets of their faith.

The writer is archbishop of Washington.

By editors  | November 17, 2009; 4:40 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., same-sex marriage  
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Regardless of what one thinks of the Catholic Church's stance on gay marriage, it's something they believe. The law protects that. I don't understand why we can't make some room for them in this bill--they're not allowed to use the grant money they get from the city to proselytize.

Posted by: yogi3 | November 17, 2009 8:53 PM | Report abuse

And how does the good father propose handling Atheists? Should we suffer at the hands of archaic beliefs-- at the hands of the Catholic Church, taking public money (MY DC taxes). And how does the Father propose the the non-profit status of the Church meddling in civil law? I'd also like to ask the Father how he and the Church currently handles fornicators and adulterers in the church. Are you going to withhold services for them, or as usual, is the Church just going to pick and choose which passages of the bible you are going to follow?

Posted by: Aimhigh2000 | November 17, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Archbishop, I have to disagree with you. We strongly support homosexuals in their historic and valiant quest to overturn 5,000 years of unfortunate human history. We're behind, but not in front of, them all the way.

As soon as they get their rights, we're going to get ours. We're Polygamists United (PU) and we're ready to come out of the closet. If government can't tell us who to marry, then neither can they tell us how many.

Throughout history many societies have embraced polygamy. Unfortunately, our Mormon brethren have had their rights cruelly taken away. We aim to get them back for the Mormons and for all Americans. With homosexuals leading the way, we're sure to succeed.

Posted by: neilwied | November 17, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

The Catholic church has done more to help DC residents then their own social services which are inept and corrupt. Everyone in DC knows this.

Once again the Catholic church stands up for a reasonable and responsible approach to address the situation and actually help people, but the DC council will attempt to force the Church to accept its "moral direction" rather than even try to find common ground.

The Church should not be forced to choose but as we all know they will be with the result being a flight of Catholic resources out of DC and more poverty and mysery for DC's poorest residents. Those getting 'married' will do nothing to help these people and argue that DC needs more federal dollars to alleviate poverty and the cycle of despair in DC will continue.

(Fenty will ride by on his bike while this is all going on with a Homeland Security escort!)

The Real Issue is; why is the council doing this now?

Posted by: Postde-subscriber | November 17, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

FIRST: It seems simple enough to me - if the church must adjust itself to the laws of the District of Columbia by reducing or changing its services, then by all means reduce or adjust. There are numerous other agencies, churches and non-profits that can fill in the blanks left by the Catholic church's adjustments. If you feel you must discriminate, do it on your own dime - not public funds.

SECOND: If the Catholic church must have an exemption to the laws of the land, then any person (or group of persons) adversely affected by that exemption should also have their own exemption - i.e. they should not have to contribute to the taxes which are given to the church and in turn used to discriminate against them. And they should, in my private businesses or organizations, also be able to refuse benefits and/or services to religious persons or entities if they feel they violate their beliefs.

THIRD: Absent from the Archbishop's op-ed is any discussion of the numerous questions which have been raised regarding the dioceses's "picking and choosing" of which beliefs they enforce. There exist many divorced employees of the church and Catholic Charities who receive spousal benefits. Additionally, why did the church not terminate priests accused of pedophilia, but instead transferred them and continued paying them and providing employment benefits. Surely this is against their "teachings and beliefs." If the Archbishop had addressed these inconsistencies, I would have more reason to believe his current stance against same-sex married employees had more to do with his beliefs and less to do with his desire to oppress gay and lesbian citizens of the district.

FOURTH: Same-sex married couples already have recognition of their marriages in DC. That being the case, why has the Catholic church not already shut its doors on its charities? Perhaps this is because the Archbishop's entire argument is really nothing more than a red herring?

FIFTH: I would love to hear from the Archbishop again specifically addressing his opinion about why everyone must bend and navigate around his beliefs when he makes no attempt whatsoever to bend and navigate around the beliefs of others. Maybe others would be more respectful of the church if the church showed a little more respect toward others in this abundantly diverse world of ours.

Posted by: JohnVisser | November 18, 2009 1:26 AM | Report abuse

Donald W. Wuerl describes politics driven by a "spiritually motivated ideology!

We have only ourselves to blame if we allow freedom, once gained, to be taken away from us!

John you have brought up very interesting points on this issue.

Posted by: Chris543 | November 18, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Archbishop, but you're wasting your ink. No institutions can be allowed to interfere with the fantasy that the DC City Council can take a centuries old, divinely-inspired, pretty much global institution and re-define it to include one community's social and political agenda and perverse desires.

As one of those who over the years has volunteered in many of her charitable efforts,I hope the Church will continue to do what she can to help those she can help without any funds from the city. I expect her mission here will be even more important after this!

Posted by: DCMorrison1 | November 18, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

"There are numerous other agencies, churches and non-profits that can fill in the blanks left by the Catholic church's adjustments."

Not really. Not as effectively or generously as Catholic Charities brings millions of dollars, countless hours of facilities and by volunteers, well-organized management and excellent expertise.

Posted by: cprferry | November 18, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"I would love to hear from the Archbishop again specifically addressing his opinion about why everyone must bend and navigate around his beliefs when he makes no attempt whatsoever to bend and navigate around the beliefs of others."

You realize it's very difficult, if not impossible, to separate from what the Church does in love and service of God and pragmatism. You seem to imply that the Church should abandon spiritual direction and lean to make this distinction clear. Further, you demand this is necessary in a modern society.

Posted by: cprferry | November 18, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Here's my question: do Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington discriminate against divorced people who are in second marriages, or the spouses of those people? Does it provide benefits for spouses of such marriages? Just wondering how they make that work...

Posted by: MrDarwin | November 18, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

"Since Catholic Charities cannot comply with city mandates to recognize and promote same-sex marriages...."

Why not? I still don't understand what precisely the church is being asked to do that it feels it cannot do without violating its core tenets. Even assuming that it would be required to "promote" gay marriage, which I find nearly impossible to believe, what specific examples of "support[ing]" and "promot[ing]" does the bishop have in mind that would be so impossible? Surely it can't just be providing services to a population that happens to include married gays, because if that logic were respected, the church couldn't do anything for anybody! And yet the church continues not to explain itself about what in particular would be so unthinkable here.

Posted by: jfiorill | November 18, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I am a dues paying Catholic who attends Mass every week. I really think the top leadership of the DC Church should really pray and focus their energies on helping people, not spreading hate and confusion. Until recently, I contributed to the Archbishop's annual appeal...I do not intend to continue financial support for one who could show mercy, compassion, and tolerance, but instead underscores ignorant, unlearned, and often bigoted so called "ministers" in opposition of the same sex bill in DC.

Posted by: 98DFpbN4 | November 18, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

This is a disgraceful statement. "[T]he District requires Catholic Charities to certify its compliance with city laws when applying for contracts and grants"--quite rightly. And there is no reason Catholic Charities cannot comply with city laws even if the city council adopts the gay marriage proposal. There is no religious reason that Catholic Charities should discriminate against gays either as employees or as beneficiaries of their services. Are they allowed now to discriminate against gays when running foster care and adoptions programs? If so, it is a good thing to stop this now. Are divorced people banned from living in St. Martin's Apartments? Gay people? If so, this is a travesty of charity, and SHOULD be stopped.

Posted by: seller11 | November 18, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Nice try, bigot. Since giving spousal benefits to divorced employees with second marriages doesn't require you to stop sucking down government money, neither should giving spousal benefits to gay employees with same-sex marriages. Nobody is requiring you to bless these unions or even recognize them as Catholic marriages. You're required to cut a check, drawn on taxpayer funds. Get over it.

Posted by: uh_huhh | November 18, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Please share your stories of Washington-area priests who are closeted homosexuals or are having heterosexual affairs:

Posted by: uh_huhh | November 18, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Divorced peoples is a silly argument.
The Church doesn't believe divorced people are living in sin. When they ignore their obligations to their families, hate their spouses or enter into an illegal marriage, then they may be living in sin. And even then, the Church provides for people to seek forgiveness, repent and correct their ways. Remarriages are open to those that have legitimate and acceptable reasons for annulments. However, in no way, are gay marriages acceptable.

Indeed, the Church has the responsibility and religious right to teach that gay marriage is wrong, and act in a manner consistent to those sincere religious beliefs.

Posted by: cprferry | November 18, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

The problem here is one of semantics. The Catholic Church has one meaning for "marriage," based on its traditions and theology. The State (in this case, the DC Council) has another definition of the same term, based on the contractual nature of the couple's relationship, and this definition has an equally traditional meaning. The Church has every right to its definition, though there are plenty of inconsistencies in its theology. But, the State also has a right to its definition, and the State is under no obligation to honor the Church's definition, even though the two are using the same word to describe what used to be considered the same thing but now are considered to be different things.

For the State, it makes perfect sense that the contractual relationship which is marriage should be extended to all who qualify, and the gender of the couple should not be an issue. Archbishop Wuerl is within his rights to object, but the State has no obligation to bow to the Church in this matter.

It would all be so much simpler if we had different words to separate the State contract from the Church sacrament. But, the two uses of "marriage" have been intertwined for some time, so it is unlikely that either group is going to give up the fight. And that's a shame.

Posted by: BillEadie | November 18, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Archbishop Wuerl seems to be preaching from a self-identified position of moral superiority. But as most self-righteous people are expsoed as hypocrites, so is Archbishop Wuerl. Here is what he said in 1988 when he was the Bishop of Pittsburgh after placing 2 priests on "sick leave" and not reporting allegations of child abuse until a year later, "It is not covering up to embrace a man who is suffering."

What about the children and their families Donald?

Hardly a man from which one should be learning morals.

Posted by: JohnVisser | November 18, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

sorry dude - you're not the one who gets to define my legal rights.

Posted by: hohandy1 | November 19, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

so tell me this, Archbishop Wuerl, would you deny benefits to my wife of 25 years were I to take a job with one of your social service organizations? you see, I was raised Catholic but married by a Unitarian minister, hence, according to Church doctine, I'm not truly married, just "living in sin." I'm sure that if I took that job, though, no one would think twice about giving my wife dependent benefits, because when push comes to shove, it's really only certain types of unacceptable marriages that really bother you. Mine or the 2nd marriage of a divorced Catholic don't seem to phase you and your supporters.

Oh, by the way, after having my prostate removed 10 years ago, I am no longer able to procreate -- a double whammy -- but I'm sure that fact wouldn't keep my wife off the roles either. You know, if only you were consistent, most people would give you credit for sticking to your principles, but if all we hear from you and your supporters is hypocrisy, then it's kind of hard to take you seriously.

Posted by: eomcmars | November 22, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Yo Bish Don - looks to me like you and yours are losing on this one. You can't expect to suck at the public teat for tax dollars (especially taxes paid by gay and lesbian residents of DC) and then turn around and discriminate. Would it be OK for gay organizations to declare that they won't pay benefits to Catholics? How about that golden rule you all profess to follow? I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: rtaylor3 | November 22, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

The law does not require the Catholic church to recognize or honor gay marriage. It would require them to provide insurance coverage and benefits to a person designated by their employee. Since the church doesn't recognize gay marriage, then it is not supporting that marriage. It is merely, as required by law, providing benefits to another person. The church could choose to look on it as a public service or as a charity. It is the church's decision to label the relationship as "evil" that makes this step so onerous to them. Someone should talk to the church about reframing. The church could choose to take the "sin" for itself out of this situation by simply looking at the situation differently. No one is asking to church to honor a marriage that it does not condone, but the law is asking the church to provide benefits to a person designated by their employees. Look on it as charity and the sin is removed. Look on it as the church's duty to force/compel all people to do as the church demands and it becomes sin. Jesus never withheld love because he didn't agree with a person. I'm pretty sure that Jesus didn't "condone" prostitution-----and yet He offered love to a prostitute. I suspect He would have been OK with offering food, covering for the body and healing too. The church could change it's reality by changing it's mind. If it can't do that then we'll have to say farewell and develop other resources for charity work. We can't mistreat Americans based on any church's ideology. We believe firmly in our right to a separation between church and state. Thank goodness that Thomas Jefferson understood how important that would be to the health of America.

Posted by: karela | November 24, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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