D.C. Archdiocese Responds to Same-Sex Marriage
The first same-sex weddings under the District of Columbia’s new same-sex marriage law were performed the second week of March. The capital city became the sixth U.S. jurisdiction in which same-sex marriages currently are legal, joining the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The Archdiocese of Washington opposed enactment of the District of Columbia’s same-sex marriage legislation on grounds that it redefined marriage, as well as placing important religious freedoms at risk.
In addition, the archdiocese held that the issue should be put to the vote of the people, a hope that was turned down in early February by the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. An interfaith coalition of religious leaders had asked the board to approve a ballot initiative affirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
The District of Columbia’s same-sex marriage law was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty Dec. 18. Its enactment then had to await the conclusion of a period of congressional review, since the District is not a state. The first same-sex marriage licenses were issued by the District March 3.
On March 2 the archdiocese announced that Catholic Charities of the Washington Archdiocese was making a change in its health care plan – a change reflecting religious freedom concerns in light of the same-sex marriage law. Edward Orzechowski, the agency’s president and CEO, explained in a letter to staff that while spouses of current employees would retain their coverage, the agency’s health plan would not in the future cover the spouses of new employees or add the spouse of a current employee to the health care plan.
Orzechowski said in a March 2 interview with the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese that the new marriage law “has a requirement that if you provide spousal benefits to employees, then you must provide those spousal benefits to same-sex couples.” The change in its health care plan allows the agency not to provide coverage for a same-sex spouse.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington said in a March 2 interview with writers and editors at the Washington Post newspaper that health care and other employee benefits are not “defined by the church.” A key concern for the church, however, is that employees be paid a just wage, he said.
In an earlier action Feb. 1, Washington’s Catholic Charities transferred its foster care and public adoption program to another provider in order to avoid having to license same-sex couples as foster or adoptive parents.
Under the new law, no religious leader is compelled to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony, and religious organizations are not “required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods” for such ceremonies if doing so violates their religious beliefs. But “we had hoped for a broader religious exemption in this bill,” Orzechowski said.
In a statement Feb. 5, the Washington Archdiocese said that the same-sex marriage law the city council approved “offered only paltry protections for religious freedom that fell far short of what the law and simple prudence require.” The archdiocese said that “a Catholic caterer, for example, should not have to condone a same-sex union by catering the wedding,” and “a marriage counselor should not be required to provide counseling to a same-sex couple if it violates his religious beliefs.”
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington has said that the archdiocese’s affirmation of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and its opposition to efforts to redefine marriage “flow from the understanding of the nature of marriage and its purpose.” But he assured homosexual Catholics in an Oct. 6 message that “the Catholic Church is and always will be welcoming of any person who seeks a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The archbishop noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church upholds the human dignity of every person and condemns any form of unjust discrimination. He acknowledged that for parishioners who are homosexual, “the teaching on marriage established by our Lord may be difficult.” At the same time, the archbishop said to Catholics who are homosexual:
“Please know that you have my pastoral care and prayers, and the support of this local church as you live out your journey of faith and seek a closer relationship with Christ and the eternal life promised to us through him. It is my prayer that you continue to draw closer to the Lord through participation in the sacramental life of the church.”