D.C. Council girds for fight on gay marriage bill
Friday, November 13, 2009
D.C. Council members are hardening their opposition to the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington's efforts to change a proposed same-sex marriage law, setting up a political showdown between the city and one of its largest social service providers.
Several council members said Thursday that Church officials miscalculated by saying this week that their Catholic Charities organization will have to end its contracts with the city if the proposal passes without changes.
"It's a dangerous thing when the Catholic Church starts writing and determining the legislation and the laws of the District of Columbia," said council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Human Services Committee.
Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, countered that the city is "the one giving the ultimatum."
"We are not threatening to walk out of the city," Gibbs said. "The city is the one saying, 'If you want to continue partnering with the city, then you cannot follow your faith teachings.' "
Under the bill, headed for a 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. Church officials say Catholic Charities would have to suspend its social services work for the city, rather than provide employee benefits to same-sex married couples or allow them to adopt.
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), one of two openly gay members of the council, said Thursday morning that he hoped to reach a compromise with the Church. He noted that it is a major provider of services for immigrants in his ward.
Late Thursday, however, Graham said he had changed his mind after reviewing same-sex marriage laws in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont. He asked why the Church has not abandoned services in those states.
"If the Catholic Church has been able to adjust in Connecticut, I think they can certainly adjust here," Graham said.
Catholic Charities in Boston halted its adoption programs with the city because Massachusetts requires that agencies not discriminate against same-sex couples as potential parents.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he plans to meet with his colleagues Friday to discuss the issue. But he added, "I don't know where the compromise would be.
"It seems to me if they choose not to provide those services, we will have to find someone else," Gray said.