Moving ahead with same-sex marriage in D.C.

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Yesterday’s 11-2 vote on the first reading of the D.C. City Council’s same-sex marriage bill makes same-sex marriage inside the Beltway all but inevitable. Neither Catholic Church nor black clergy nor Congress is going to stop this train, and everyone knows it.

Under the circumstances, it looks like Archbishop Wuerl has decided to dial back the threats to withdraw Catholic Charities from the District. The latest on the archdiocesan website is that the legislation “could require” faith-based organizations to compromise on their religious beliefs and teachings.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that if a
compromise is not reached, the Church will continue to provide services
but with fewer resources, because it will no longer be able to bid on
city contracts.

“We are just asking for a bill that would balance the
city’s interest in legalizing same-sex marriage and religious groups’
interest in following their faith teachings,” Gibbs said.

Discussions on tweaking the bill to make it more religiously palatable are ongoing, but they’re not going to change the bill much if at all.

So far as I have been able to find out, Catholic Charities has managed to continue most of their good works just fine in jurisdictions that permit same-sex marriages but which provide nothing more by way of legal exemptions than the D.C. bill–namely in Massachusetts and Connecticut. A few years ago, Massachusetts’ bishops did compel Catholic Charities of Boston (over the unanimous opposition of its board) to stop placing babies with gay and lesbian couples and to withdraw from the adoption business. But otherwise, the agency seems to be engaged in business as usual. I should say, however, that my own efforts to determine whether Catholic Charities in Boston and Hartford are paying health benefits to same-sex spouses (an alleged sticking point in D.C.) have thus far proved fruitless. Maybe some full-time reporters will have better luck getting answers.

Within D.C.’s black community, there’s been debate about whether same-sex marriage qualifies as a civil rights struggle. The challenge of whether to allow others a share in a critical dimension of one’s own collective journey is not unique to African Americans. Jews have had to confront their “ownership” of the Holocaust–and over the years have come to acknowledge their common cause with other victims of genocide. The problem for African-Americans is more complicated, however, because of their high degree of disapproval of homosexuality. Still and all, in a majority black city, what’s notable is the degree of support same-sex marriage has garnered.

As for Capitol Hill, Republicans seem resigned to waiting until they’re back in the majority to overturn same-sex marriage in Our Nation’s Capital. Now there’s a campaign promise.