The Archdiocese of Washington DC has pledged to continue fighting to provide services without compromising the Church's stand on same-sex marriage. It has also rejected the so-called ‘San Francisco option’ as a way out of the dispute.
Last month, the district’s City Council legalised same-sex “marriage”, but the bill contained only a narrow religious exemption for church-run institutions.
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl warned that passage of the law could make Catholic Charities ineligible for city contracts.
The archbishop has refused to provide employee benefits to same-sex partners, or facilitate adoptions for homosexual couples. He has said he still hoped the current impasse could be resolved without reducing services.
“Religious organizations have long been eligible to provide social services in our nation’s capital and have not been excluded simply because of their religious character. This is because the choice of provider has focused on the ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently,” declared a statement issued by the archdiocese.
“We are committed to serving the needs of the poor and look forward to working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church,” the statement continued.
Congress must still approve the city-council vote, and opponents of the proposed law have vowed to take their fight to Capitol Hill, or the courts.
In the district, Georgetown University now provides benefits to one other member of an employee’s household, an attempt to avoid explicit approval of same-sex unions. That policy — dubbed the “San Francisco option” — has already been quietly adopted by at least one Catholic health-care provider in the district.
Archbishop Wuerl has opted to reject the “San Francisco option”, which refers to a 1997 decision by Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, in response to the city’s domestic-partnership law, which required agencies with city contracts to offer benefits to same-sex partners and included no religious exemption.
Archbishop Levada, now head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, decided to provides benefits to one other member of an employee’s household, an attempt to avoid explicit approval of same-sex unions. The diocese of San Francisco also allowed its adoption services to facilitate same-sex adoptions.
The initiative fueled considerable criticism.
However, a 2006 Vatican directive banning adoptions for same-sex couples forced the San Francisco Archdiocese to close its adoption services, even as it publicly acknowledged that its adoption program had previously placed some children with homosexual couples.
The directive led to the Archdiocese of Boston closing its adoption program, with Cardinal Sean O’Malley unable to identify any other acceptable solution.
In Massachusetts, the 2004 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision cleared the way for same-sex ‘marriage’; a subsequent archdiocesan-led effort to put the issue on the ballot was stymied by the state’s powerful Democratic leadership.
However, some states, such as New Hampshire and Vermont, gave the Churches a wide berth to maintain their distinctive institutional practices.
“A religious exemption was written into Vermont’s law from the beginning,” reported Father Daniel White, vice chancellor and moderator of the curia at the Burlington Diocese.
“We wouldn’t be coerced into performing ceremonies,” Father White said. “We were free to hire and provide benefits as we saw fit. All things considered, we have as good a situation as we could hope for.”
However, many legal scholars predict that conflicts over homosexual rights and religious freedom are likely to escalate. Some suggest it is past time to establish a formal framework for balancing the concerns of both camps.
“A lot of people of good will understand that some kind of religious exemption should be provided,” argued Robin Wilson, a professor of law at Washington and Lee University who also testified at the D.C. Council hearings on same-sex ‘marriage’.
But Robert Destro, a professor at the Columbus School of Law and founder/co-director of The Catholic University of America’s Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion, doubts whether any moderate accommodation would placate homosexual-rights activists. “They seek total affirmation,” Destro asserted, something Catholic Church leaders cannot provide.