The Catholic Church is threatening the District of Columbia with a loss of church-provided social services if D.C. does not change a proposed same-sex marriage law.
Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.
"If the city requires this, we can't do it," Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."
The proposed law would bar any organization receiving public funds from engaging in discriminatory practices. The Church, which has received more than $8 million in District funds over the past three years, is asserting its right to continue sucking at the public teat and to discriminate against people it doesn't like.
The church's influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as "somewhat childish." Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city's relationship with the church than give in to its demands.The council should stand strong against this blackmail threat.
"If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes," Catania said. He also said Catholic Charities was involved in only six of the 102 city-sponsored adoptions last year.
Terry Lynch, head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he did not know of any other group in the city that was making such a threat.
And in the context of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' recent involvement in health reform legislation, it might be time to discuss how much political activity is too much for a tax-exempt religious organization.