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Catholic archdiocese gives ultimatum to D.C.

Church officials say that unless the city alters a proposed same-sex marriage law, the archdiocese will discontinue its social service programs.

November 12, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it would be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District of Columbia if the city refused to change a proposed same-sex marriage law.

The threat could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and healthcare.

Under the legislation, which the City Council is expected to pass next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey laws prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

"If the city requires this, we can't do it," said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."

The clash escalates the dispute over the same-sex marriage proposal between the council and the archdiocese, which has generally stayed out of city politics.

Catholic Charities, the church's social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with Washington.

City leaders said the church, which serves 68,000 people here, is not the dominant provider of any particular social service. But the church pointed out that it supplemented funding for city programs with $10 million from its coffers.

"All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow," Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the archdiocese, wrote to the council.

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