Sunday, November 15, 2009

DC Same Sex Marriage: Catholic Discrimination "Somewhat Childish."

Next month the District of Columbia will vote on same-sex marriage, a bill that would enforce equality in marriage.

The Examiner (a British publication) has a fantastic little article about Catholic organizations working to impose a conscience clause on the bill that would exempt both institutions and individuals from performing marriage services they are "morally" opposed to.

Because I have recently been looking at Catholic hospitals and health care networks (which effect more than 20% of our patients), I found the reporting and quotes to be most telling. I've highlighted my favorites below:

On Tuesday, the final draft of the District’s same-sex marriage bill passed 4-1 by the D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and is now ready to be voted on by the full city council next month. As reported by theGLAA Forum:

The bill calls for protections for religious institutions authorized to formalize or celebrate marriages. These groups shall not be required to formalize or celebrate any marriage.

Each religious society will still have control over its own doctrine, teachings, and beliefs. In addition, a religious society or a nonprofit organization run by that religious society shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, or goods related to the marriage of same-sex couples.

Committee member Yvette Alexander proposed an amendment that would have added a so-called "conscience clause" — that is, it would have added "any individual" to the list of those permitted to discriminate against a same-sex married couple on the basis of the individual's religious belief—but it failed 4-1

According to the Washington Post, the passed protections do not seem to be enough. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington announced yesterday that it would still not be able to continue the social service programs it funds for the District if the D.C. Council votes for the bill next month.

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

The response to the Catholic Church was not positive. Council member Mary M. Cheh said the church's response was “somewhat childish.”

The sponsor of the marriage bill and chairman of the Health Committee, David A. Catania said, “They don’t represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure.”

The sticking point seems to be the “conscience clause” the committee rejected on Tuesday allowing individuals, not just religious institutions, to deny services to same-sex couples. Council member Yvette M. Alexander told everyone that because the amendment failed, religious groups that received city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples, and rent a church hall to lesbian couples.

Peter Rosensein of the watchdog group, Campaign for All DC Families, said, “The issue here is they [religious groups] are using public funds, and to allow people to discriminate with public money is unacceptable”

According to Council member Phil Mendelson, “The problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle. There are many people back in the 1950s and '60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God.”

Meanwhile, Clergy United for Marriage Equality, the group of Protestant clergy, continues to back same-sex marriage and urges the passage of the bill next month.

Any opposition to Catholic imposition of discriminatory rules on citizens makes me happy. These organizations, funded by the US government, are deciding what rights individuals have. Our laws, particularly on health care access, have long been far too lax to prevent such discrimination. I have no issue with individuals and organizations living by their own ideological "laws." In fact, I greatly believe in individual conscience (institutional conscience not so much!) but when ideological rules are applied, through government funds and social service participation, we should all get scared. It's called discrimination.

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