US diocese threatens to end social services over same-sex marriage law

National Shrine, Washington DC

National Shrine, Washington DC

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC has threatened to pull out of social services programs, if a proposed same-sex marriage law is passed in its current form. The decision could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, due to be voted on next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings.  An earlier version of the bill would  also have allowed individuals, based on their religious beliefs, to decline to provide services for same-sex weddings.  But this amendment was rejected.

As a result, the Archdiocese said in a statement: "religious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

"The committee’s narrowing of the exemption leaves religious organizations and individuals at risk for adhering to the teachings of their faith, and could prevent social service providers such as Catholic Charities from continuing their long-term partnerships with the District government to provide critical social services for thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

"The bill provides no exemption for individuals with sincerely-held religious beliefs, as required under federal law. In fact, one council member opposed an amendment that would have respected an individual’s federally-protected, deeply-held religious beliefs by saying that would encourage a “discriminatory impulse.”

Edward Orzechowski, head of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington said:  “It is our concern that the committee’s narrowing of the religious exemption language will cause the government to discontinue our long partnership with them and open up the agency to litigation and the use of resources to defend our religious beliefs rather than serve the poor.” 

Catholic Charities serves 68,000 people in the city each year  including the one-third of Washington's homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers. The city’s 40 Catholic parishes operate another 93 social service programs to provide crucial services.

"All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow," Jane G Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, wrote to the council last week.

According to a  Washington Post report, Peter Rosenstein of the Campaign for All DC Families accused the church of trying to "blackmail the city." Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the judiciary committee, said the council "will not legislate based on threats."

The council is expected to pass the same-sex marriage bill next month, but the measure continues to face strong opposition from a number of groups that are pushing for a referendum on the issue.

Source: Archdiocese of Washington, Washington Post

Share this story