The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC, threatened Wednesday to stop offering social services if the city passes a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Church expressed that one of the driving reasons for their opposition to the law was that it does not include an exemption that would allow the Church to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals, according to the Agence France Press.
The bill will not require the Church to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. However, it will require that they offer the same services to married same-sex couples that they do to married different-sex couples, including employee benefits, medical benefits, adoption services, and rental of church space, the Washington Post reports. Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said “If the city requires this, we can’t do it…The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”
In New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont, where same-sex marriage has been legalized, the Church did not threaten to abandon their services, according to the Washington Post.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee, said, “the problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle…There were many people back in the 1950s and ’60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God.” Mendelson asserted that the council “will not legislate based on threats.” The council intends to pass the bill next month.
Members of the council said that the participation of the Church in providing social services is not essential, and that they are prepared to offer government contracts to other groups. However, the Catholic Church uses $10 million of its own funds to help run its programs, which serve 68,000 DC residents, including one third of DC’s homeless population. Reverend Dr. Dennis W. Wiley, Co-Chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, said in a statement, “Yesterday, the leadership of the Catholic Church made clear that they are choosing a cynical political ploy over their call to serve the neediest among the community….they must decide whether they are in the charity business for charity’s sake, or if imposing their will on the D.C. City Council and the citizens of the District is their primary interest.”