Monday, November 23, 2009

Catholic Archdiocese Threatens To Take (Our) Toys and Go Home

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington is threatening to stop doing business with the District if DC's same-sex marriage law passes. Via the Washington Post:

"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."

Rather than being outraged over a religious organization using poor people and "Little Johnny" as leverage in the Culture Wars, anti-gays are using this instance as Further Proof As To How Same-Sex Marriage Harms Society. Yet, per usual they distort and misunderstand the situation. Observe, our anti-equality friend Playful Walrus getting it wrong:

"The Catholic Archdiocese says it will not be able to continue providing social services on behalf of the local government if marriage neutering happens as planned."

He, like others who are having this knee-jerk response, misses an important distinction. Namely, the distinction between choice and ability. The Catholic Archdiocese will, quite literally, certainly have the ability to continue providing social services should same-sex marriage become legal. What it would not be able to do is to accept taxpayer-funded dollars for the provision of social services and also discriminate against same-sex families. Catholic Charities would be able to continue providing services, it would just choose not to do so if it didn't get its way about same-sex marriage. In making a threat that would impact our legal system, the Catholic Archdiocese is attempting to define marriage for all of society, including those who are not Catholic.

Now, let's explore that concept of public funding a little further, because many news articles and blog posts are missing something important. I certainly won't deny that Catholic Charities does good, important social services work. Yet, every single entity that is funded by the government knows that strings are always attached to government contracts. If entities do not want to play by the rules, they do not have to accept government money. If entities find that they are not "able" to comply with certain laws, government money is and should be channeled to entities that are able to do so. A contract that does not go to one social services agency will, instead, go to another.

As one councilmember aptly put it:

"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.

It is too bad that the Archdiocese is seeking the special right to take public resources without having to comply with discrimination laws. It is too bad that the phrase "religious freedom" has come to mean the freedom to discriminate against gay people and get paid for it.

To end here, while some libertarian-minded folks (who also, ironically, are sometimes anti-LGBT rights), rail against big government, this case perfectly illustrates the danger of leaving charity care to private entities. The Baltimore Sun rightly points out:

"Those who argue for government to play a smaller role in establishing the social safety net often note the ability of private charities to pick up the slack. But as this situation makes clear, organizations that choose to do so can also choose to stop."

The idea of the Catholic Anything being the ultimate decider of the distribution of social services sends shivers down my spine.

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