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. [See the version of the legislation as revised November 10th.] 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.Law professor Nancy Polikoff questions whether Catholic Charities would be required to extend spousal benefits to gay and lesbian employees, even when, as widely expected, the D.C. Council adopts marriage-equality legislation at its December 1st meeting. (If Catholic Charities self-insures, she believes that neither the marriage-equality bill, nor existing law in D.C., would require the organization to provide health care benefits to same-sex spouses of employees.) Moreover, the District's Human Rights Act already prohibits sexual-orientation discrimination in the kind of public services Catholic Charities provides. So Polikoff considers it a "red herring" for the Archdiocese to object that the marriage-equality bill would create a ban on this form of discrimination.
Responding to the Archdiocese's objections and a Washington Post editorial by Archbishop Donald Wuerl, a coalition of 12 organizations has submitted a November 20th letter to Vincent Gray, Chairman of the D.C.. The coalition includes the ACLU and the local Gay and Lesbian Activists. The coalition recommends that the Archdiocese of Washington follow the policy of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which allows employees to "designate one person - any person - as an additional beneficiary." The coalition also recommends further amendment of the bill, and claims that Catholic Charities already have a legal obligation to extend spousal benefits to its same-sex employees.
Gray has asked two other Council members to consider how to accommodate the Archdiocese. They are David Catania, a key author of the marriage-equality bill, and Phil Mendelson, chairman of the committee that recently held hearings on the legislation and revised it. In their November 18th letter to Wuerl, they offer examples of how the Archidocese might offer spousal benefits to gay and lesbian employees without recognizing their marriages. However, like the advocacy coalition, they maintain that the Human Rights Act bars Catholic Charities from denying its services to same-sex couples. They express readiness to consider an amendment that will answer the Archdiocese's concerns, "while ensuring that District funds are not used [by Catholic Charities] in a manner inconsistent with the Human Rights Act."
11/24/09 DC Agenda:
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese said she was making inquires over the Archdiocese’s reaction to the San Francisco-Georgetown compromise proposal and the assertion by the 12 groups that Catholic Charities is already bound by law to provide benefits to same-sex partners of its employees.