By Peter J. Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 12, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has said it will be forced to end its government contracts for social services in the nation's capital, if the D.C. Council does not broaden a religious exemption in a bill to legalize same-sex “marriage.” Without the exemption, says the archdiocese, the Church would be required to do such things as extend marriage benefits to same-sex couples, in violation of its core teachings.
The bill under consideration by the district council would legalize same-sex “marriage,” but it has a narrow provision that states religious groups would not have to perform same-sex “marriages” or provide their facilities as venues for the novel nuptials.
An earlier version of the bill exempted religious groups from “the promotion of marriage that is in violation of the entity's religious beliefs.” However the current legislation whittles down that exemption to just the “promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats,” making religious groups and individuals far more subject to persecution via anti-discrimination lawsuits for holding fast to their consciences.
The archdiocese has strongly objected to the legislation, insisting that in all other cases the legislation would put “religious organizations and individuals at risk for adhering to the teachings of their faith.”
In areas not exempted by law, individuals and religious organizations will have to obey D.C. laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, which will then include “married” same-sex couples. This could mean that individuals – from wedding photographers to caterers – will face charges of unlawful discrimination if they refuse their services to same-sex couples for reasons of conscience.
Religious groups and churches, including the Catholic archdiocese and its affiliates, would also have to open up their services to homosexual couples, including: adoption and foster-care services, spousal benefits for “married” same-sex couples, and church halls requested for non-marriage functions.
Despite the archdiocese's having asked for a broader exemption, the D.C. Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary rejected on Tuesday any amendment to that effect.
That provoked the archdiocese to warn that the D.C. government's relationship with the Catholic Church's social services arm, Catholic Charities, which serves 68,000 city residents every year through 93 social programs carried out by 40 parishes, would be dramatically altered by the legislation if changes were not made.
“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,” said Edward Orzechowski, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
The Archdiocese told the Washington Post on Wednesday that failing to broaden conscience protections for religious groups and individuals would force them to cancel its social services contracts with the city. That in turn would affect the tens of thousands of people seeking help with adoption, homeless shelters, and health services.
The Catholic Church in D.C. nevertheless would continue its social ministries that are not contracted with the D.C. government, and therefore would not fall under the district's regulations.
The Washington Post reports that D.C. council members are thus far unmoved. Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) derided the Archdiocese and its concerns as “somewhat childish.” David A. Catania (I-At Large) also told the Post he would rather see the city's relationship with the Church ended before accommodating its demands on conscience protections.
A vote on the D.C. same-sex “marriage” bill is expected sometime in December.
An ecumenical pro-family coalition, Stand4Marriage Coalition D.C., led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church and fellow black pastors is lobbying, along with the Catholic archdiocese, to put an initiative banning same-sex “marriage” on the ballot for 2010.
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