A piece in yesterday's Washington POst shows that Catholic Charities threat to withdraw from the city is moral blackmail:In 2001, Portland passed a law requiring city contractors to give equal benefits to heterosexual spouses and same-sex domestic partners. Catholic Charities refused to sign a contract including such a provision, sued the city and won. Here’s why:The health and pension benefits offered by private employers are regulated only by federal law, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Federal law does not require employers to recognize same-sex domestic partners or spouses, and therefore private employers cannot be compelled to treat same-sex and different-sex couples equally. Nor can non-9discrimination in employee benefits be a condition of receiving a government contract.Churches are permitted to “opt out” of ERISA. If they do so, they are subject to local law. I do not know whether Catholic Charities of D.C. has opted out, but if it has, it can opt right back in. T...That’s the law, and it means that Catholic Charities has no basis for demanding a special religious exemption.Given the ease with which Catholic Charities can achieve its stated goals — maintaining its city contracts and extending benefits only to different-sex spouses — I have to wonder why it insists that there is an irreconcilable conflict. Two explanations seem plausible. The church may want the most prominent platform possible for both opposing same-sex marriage and urging an overbroad religious exemption; it gets this by threatening to cut social services. Alternatively, Catholic Charities might be planning to cut its programs anyway because they cost the archdiocese so much money, in which case the same-sex marriage bill provides a convenient scapegoat.
Great comment fromBp John Chane of Washington:The decision of the City Council of the District of Columbia to pass "The Marriage Equality Act" guarantees all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, the right to contract civil marriage within the District. I support and celebrate this decision because it ends discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. For too long, these couples have been denied rights that heterosexual couples take for granted, such as spousal health and pension benefits, and the right to make crucial medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner. They have also been denied the recognition that their relationships are every bit as important, and every bit as life-giving, as those of their straight friends. While no law, in and of itself, can change social attitudes, this one sends a powerful signal that the District of Columbia stands against prejudice and on the side of equality.It must clearly be understood that this legislation is authoritative only in the civil sphere. No member of a religious denomination or faith tradition is required to act as an agent of the District in officiating at or witnessing to such marriages. We are bound only to recognize the civil rights of every human being, regardless of sexual orientation.As the Bishop of Washington, my policy is to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships. After a period of study and consultation, I will be announcing whether our clergy will be permitted to solemnize same-sex marriages, and sign marriage certificates, as is done in several Episcopal dioceses where same-sex marriage is already legal.
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