Saturday, January 02, 2010

Backing down (?) ... or not (?)

In a post last year, I made the simple point "if you make a threat, you MUST carry it out." The context there was the Church and Britain's adoption law, which requires private groups to let gays adopt. Now, it's coming up again in my back yard, over D.C.'s gay "marriage" law, and at least prominent gay site is already claiming the Church has pussed out.

In November, the Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying that a gay-marriage bill, which by that point looked inevitable, needed a religious-exemption. Otherwise the Church's social missions, which frequently involved partnership with the city, could be hampered. This was interpreted, thanks to ham-handed headline-writing at The Washington Post, into a threat to abandon city social services. (A couple of degrees of the Internet equivalent of the "Telephone" game made things even worse.)

Then the day D.C. created gay "marriage," the Archdiocese issued the following statement:
Today the District of Columbia joined a handful of states where legislatures or courts have redefined marriage to include persons of the same sex. Since this legislation was first introduced in October, the Archdiocese of Washington opposed the redefinition of marriage based on the core teaching of the Catholic Church that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the definition of marriage. However, understanding the City Council was committed to legalizing same sex marriages, the archdiocese advocated for a bill that would balance the Council’s interest in redefining marriage with the need to protect religious freedom. Regrettably, the bill did not strike that balance.

The Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are deeply committed to serving those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This commitment is integral to our Catholic faith and will remain unchanged into the future.

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. 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.
Now this contained no threat. And that had Jim Burroway at Box Office Turtle a-crowing:
Remember when the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington threatened to shut down its homeless shelters, food services and other community services if the D.C. city council approved same-sex marriage? Well now they’re saying “never mind.” ... This is the opposite of what they said before the same-sex marriage bill passed. At that time, they said they would be “unable” to continue those services if same-sex marriage became legal.
I know how this got jumbled. If you are looking for clear statements of principle, of whatever kind, Archbishop Donald Wuerl is not your man. The one thing he is, according to everybody I know who deals with him, is a smoothie. He is very reluctant to commit to anything concrete and pinning him down on something is the proverbial "Jell-O to the wall" experience.

Read the December statement carefully. Nowhere does it say the Church will abide by the D.C. law and treat same-sex "marriages" solemnized by the city as marriages. Nor does it say it won't. Keep in mind, the scenario the Church claimed (despite the Washington Post's dramatic headline and lead) was not "if there's gay marriage, we're pulling out of the city." Nor even "if a poor person is in a same-sex 'marriage,' we won't serve him." Rather it is "if the city requires us under non-discrimination law to recognize same-sex 'marriages' in our ordinary business (like providing spousal benefits for, say, a school librarian) as a condition of eligibility for city contracts, then we will not be eligible for them." Pro-gay-marriage blogger E.D. Kain explains here these distinctions, based on the November statement. At Box Turtle, a commenter noted that the Church had issued a clarification in the wake of the Post report.

And the D.C. city government hasn't issued any threats nor actually "married" anyone yet (the law can't take effect for a while because of the waiting period required to give Congress a chance to veto most DC laws; which won't happen here, but nevertheless ...). Nor has D.C. issued or not issued any social-service contracts. Nor has any gay person working in the Church has tried to claim spousal benefits. Until the rubber hits the road, there's nothing to do but wait.

In other words, both in November and December, the Archdiocese of Washington did not carve out a clear position. Even saying "we just won't be eligible for city contracts" isn't really a position. And here is the rubber-road meetings will take place:

(1) What will the Archdiocese do when Adam, husband of Steve, demands spousal benefits?
(2) What will the Archdiocese do when Adam and Steve, having been denied, take a discrimination claim to Caesar, in the form of a city panel or a federal court, and win?
(3) What will the Archdiocese do if, having said no to Adam and Steve, the city then pulls any or all contracts with it on the grounds that the Church is a discriminatory organization?
(4) What will the Archdiocese do if it sues the city for religious discrimination under scenario (3), but loses the case and Caesar orders the Church to choose between providing social services and maintaining its "discriminatory" policies?

Those are the real questions in this case ... and neither statement really addresses them, one way or the other.


Kurt said...

First, to clarify, there is no issue of the Archdiocese. It is Catholic Charities, which has been set up as a distinct entity.

I expect, in the end, Catholic Charities will have to do what it does not for opposite sex couples in civil marriages not recognized by the Catholic Church.

Kurt said...

Let me add the other interesting matter is that the Archdiocese issued this detailed legal arguement disagreeing with the Board of Elections decision on the referendum. What puzzles me is why they issued this statement IN RESPONSE to the Board's action rather than file it as an a.c. brief BEFORE the decision.