D.C. officials push for compromise on Catholic Charities

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

Some D.C. Council members and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton are reaching out to the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to see whether they can find a compromise so the Church will not end its social services contracts with the city if the council legalizes same-sex marriage.

After a week of heated rhetoric, District officials said Thursday that they see a way for Catholic Charities to continue operating programs with city money while assuring that the organization's gay and heterosexual employees would be treated equally if they got married.

"The rights of [gay] partners cannot be any different from similar situated couples, but with that said, if other jurisdictions have found a way to accommodate Catholic Charities, that would be very much be desired," said Norton (D).

Norton, who said she was trying to make sure Congress does not intervene in the dispute, spoke briefly with Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl on Thursday.

Meanwhile, D.C. Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) sent Wuerl a letter Wednesday urging that Catholic Charities embrace a policy similar to one in effect at Georgetown University.

They said that the Catholic university gives benefits to some same-sex couples even though the university does not officially recognize that the beneficiaries are of the same sex.

Susan Gibbs, a Church spokeswoman, said archdiocese officials were happy that city leaders were "finally responding," but she said she was not sure the proposal alleviates the Church's concerns.

Church officials have said they worry that they will have to end their contracts with the city if Catholic Charities does not provide employee benefits to married same-sex couples or process their adoptions, among other things.

Although several council members initially dismissed the Church's concerns, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) met with several Church leaders and lawyers Monday night. After the meeting, Gray asked Mendelson and Catania to try to see whether a compromise could be reached.

"We are still looking at how they could be accommodated" without major changes to a pending same-sex marriage bill, Gray said Thursday. The council is scheduled to vote on that bill Dec. 1.

In their letter to Wuerl, Catania and Mendelson asked the Church to explore positions held by the Church in San Francisco and by Georgetown University.

In San Francisco, the archdiocese reached an agreement in 1997 that permits religious-based employers to allow "each employee to designate a legally domiciled member of the employee's household as being eligible for spousal equivalent benefits."

Georgetown, they wrote, "provides medical, dental and vision coverage to either a spouse or to a 'legally domiciled adult' " who "has for at least 6 months lived in the same residence as the employee."

Gibbs said that Wuerl was reviewing the council members' letter. But Gibbs said Church staffers who have reviewed it wonder how the council can equate domestic partnership in San Francisco with same-sex marriage. She noted that the District has a domestic partnership law but that the Church is not covered by it.

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