Archdiocese Threatens D.C. Over Same-Sex Marriage

The religion exemption in a proposed same-sex marriage bill adequately protects religious freedom, and the District of Columbia Council should not give in to demands from the Catholic hierarchy that it be broadened, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a Nov. 10 statement, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington threatened to drop contracts with the District government to provide social services, unless church programs are broadly exempted from civil rights provisions that will protect same-sex couples.

Catholic Charities DC, the archdiocese’s social service arm, received $16 million of its $23 million budget last year through government contracts.

Said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “The church’s demand is outrageous. If ‘faith-based’ charities cannot or will not obey civil rights laws, they ought not benefit from public funds.

“I am amazed that church officials would threaten to stop helping the disadvantaged because they are being asked to treat all citizens of the District fairly,” he continued. “They seem to have lost all perspective. How strong is their commitment to helping the poor if they’re willing to take this hard-line stance?

“If Catholic Charities drops its participation in publicly funded social services,” Lynn concluded, “I am confident that other charities would be happy to pick up the slack.”

Lynn said Americans United attorneys have examined the religion exemption proposed in the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act” and found it to be a reasonable balance that protects the civil rights of all city residents as well as the independence of religious institutions.

Said Lynn, “We made several suggestions to the council in regard to the religion exemption, and most of our concerns have been met. The archdiocese’s demands are extreme, and council members should reject them.” 

Several D.C. Council members recognize that the archdiocese is trying to erode anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians.

Phil Mendelson, chairman of the council’s judiciary committee, told The Washington Post the council “will not legislate based on threats.”