D.C. Archdiocese Throws Temper Tantrum Over Gay Marriage

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on November 17, 2009

Talk about spite. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. said that it will stop offering social service programs for the poor and homeless if the district passes a proposed gay marriage law.

The legislation, which is slated to be approved next month by the City Council, would not force the church to perform same-sex weddings. But it could mandate that they extend medical benefits to gay couples, as well as let members of the LGBT community adopt children and rent space in its churches and other properties.

The Church serves about 68,000 people through its Catholic Charities programs. Among them are many homeless who sleep in the Archdiocese’s shelters. Unless the church is given an exemption that allows it to discriminate against queers, “all of those services will be adversely impacted,” said Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Archdiocese.

Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the Church, told the Washington Post, “The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”

The Archdiocese’s temper tantrum came after the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary said No to an amendment to allow people to use their religious beliefs as a reason not to provide services for gay marriages.

The sponsor of that amendment, Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander, explained, “Let’s say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on tops. Why can’t they say, based on their religious beliefs, ‘I can’t do something like that’?”

How about a caterer not wanting to provide a wedding cake for an interracial couple because it’s against his religious beliefs? Or even refusing services to a Catholic because he’s a fundamentalist Christian?

Councilmember Mary M. Cheh described the Archdiocese’s attitude as “somewhat childish.” “Are they really going to harm people,” she asked, “because they have a philosophical disagreement with us on one issue?”

The sponsor of the gay rights law, Councilmember David A. Catania, called the Archdiocese’s bluff. “They don’t represent, in my mind,” he said, “an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure.”

“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.

Phil Mendelson, who heads up the judiciary committee, also stood strong against the Archdiocese’s blackmail: “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.”

The Archdiocese of Washington obviously thinks it has God on its side, too.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for an American Library Association award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.

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