Georgetown professor defends D.C. Archdiocese’s anti-same-sex marriage moves

Patrick DeneenThe Catholic Archdiocese of Washington provoked quite a stir this week when it announced that it would abandon its contracts with the city unless the D.C. Council changed its proposed same-sex marriage bill.  The church says that the bill could force it to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, so they would no longer be able to provide the charitable services they currently offer.

Patrick Deneen (left), an associate professor of Government at Georgetown and director of the Tocqueville Forum, hosted a chat on the Washington Post’s website yesterday to explain and defend the Archdiocese’s decision.

Deneen spent a large part of the chat trying to re-frame the issue as the church being forced into giving up business relations with the city:

I think the basic premise of the Post’s story requires clarification. The premise of today’s story was that the Catholic Church was threatening to cease to provide charitable services if the law legalizing gay marriage is passed. In point of fact, it is the DC government that would cease to license or contract with the Church unless the Church conformed to a definition of marriage that violates its faith tradition.

Without a set of broader legal exemptions allowing for the Church to remain faithful to its definition of marriage, it will cease to be permitted by the City to provide the contracted and licensed services that it has for well over a century. The Church’s fundamental desire in this controversy is to continue its desire and freedom to serve.

At one point, a reader asked how the first amendment protections of religious freedom played into the debate.  Deneen replied:

There is a basic conflict here between the claims of those seeking the legalization of gay marriage and the claims of religious liberty – not only for religious institutions per se, but individuals (such as individuals who might offer privately contracted services, such as wedding photographers, whose faith beliefs could be compromised by providing their service to a gay couple, and who would be subject to anti-discrimination lawsuits).

Another area where there is a conflict is the right of religious organizations not to provide certain services or benefits, such as certain spousal employment benefits or adoption services. More broadly (going beyond the gay marriage issue), without exemptions, religious organizations can be forced to act in ways that go against their tenets, for instance, in being forced to provide contraceptive benefits in health care policies. Here the various claims run against the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. In these sorts of instances, there is a demand that religious organizations essentially act as secular organizations.

22 Comments on “Georgetown professor defends D.C. Archdiocese’s anti-same-sex marriage moves

  1. Remember the whiney kid who would say “That’s it, I’m taking my ball home and never playing with you any more”?

    Well that is exactly how the Catholic church is acting.

    You cannot use your religion to justify discrimination against gays and lesbians any more than you could use it to justify discriminating against African Americans.

    Just imagine how preposterous it would be if the church were to pull this same crap over miscegenation laws? I could see it now: “The Catholic Church deeply regrets the moves the City Council is making to recognize marriage between the races. The Council’s moves will mean that the Church will have to extend benefits to employees’ spouses regardless of their race. Moreover, this law will mean that the church won’t be able to refuse to rent our space out to mixed race weddings. This is clearly a limitation on our right to exercise our religion”

    Just face it people. You aren’t concerned about your right to exercise your religion, you’re concerned about your right to exercise your bigotry. Religion is just a convenient cover.

  2. We always talk about “toleration” and allowing for a “diversity” of opinions. If an opinion/view happens to disagree with someone’s then, well, it’s not diverse, it’s bigoted.

    Seems to me like the above logic doesn’t quite make sense. What’s wrong with the Church affirming its own beliefs? Shouldn’t we try to be open to all opinions, not just those that we hold? Mind you, I’m not even Catholic.

  3. To the Freedom of Speech person’s comment – There’s nothing wrong with the Church affirming it’s own beliefs, just like there’s nothing wrong with others criticizing the Church for the way they are affirming those beliefs. Just like your name states, both are called “Freedom of Speech”.

    I respect your comment to try to defend the Church, but I just hope you did the same thing for the gay community in the decades upon decades that the church has been verbally attacking gays with names such as “sinners”, “deviants”, “sodomites”, etc.

  4. …what does this have to do with the church affirming its beliefs? We’re all aware of its beliefs. The law allows for churches and religious organizations to have complete self-determination, unless they own a building that is available to the public at large, or uses public funds. Why should they allow a building that operates as a private company – which is what a building available to the public would be – to violate the District’s anti-discrimination laws? Why should they allow organizations that use public funding – from gay and lesbian citizens – to discriminate against them with their own money?

    This is ridiculous, there is no justification.

  5. I betcha the Catholic church extends all kinds of employee benefits to its priests either accused or convicted of pedophile. That’s the problem with the Archbishops, they choose morality based on their convenience and its effects on power nad money.

  6. This is pathetic.

    The Church donates over $10 million dollars per year from the pockets of Catholic church goers to the District to provide services to those in need, including 1/3 of the cities homeless population.

    The District is willing to give up these services by forcing the Catholic Church to act in discord with its own beliefs. Par for the Course.

    Hopefully, the Catholic Church takes a stand on its beliefs and uses its funding elsewhere.

  7. I hope the Roman Catholic Church does pull out from public services in DC, especially those involving children. It will keep a lot of DC children from being molested by priests.

  8. There are other contractors that will be happy to pick up the work the catholic church “abandons” and will do it well. The city and its residents will be no worse off and may likely be better served by institutions which can work within local law. I don’t see this as a problem.

    Framing the issue as if the church is being “forced” to give up work is misleading. The church would be choosing to give up work because it didn’t agree with the law. It is the church’s choice.

    I do wonder, however, about the specifics of law in Canada, Netherlands and other countries where gay marriage is legal and how the church has responded, and whether or not the church has made the same decision in the states where gay marriage is legal.

    This written by someone raised catholic and educated by catholic institutions.

  9. How much choice does the Church really in giving up the its charitable work when the law it does not agree with violates its beliefs? If the Church continued its work, funded by Catholics in the pews, it would create disincentive for the faithful to continue to donate and raise further questions of hypocrisy.

    I also find it deeply troubling that some people have used this as a blatant bashing of the Catholic Church, just because the Church fails to validate a certain lifestyle.

    In Canada, there have been legal problems involving the Church and the gay marriage law. A Knights of Columbus council was fined when its leaders refused to rent their hall for a lesbian wedding reception. In Massachusetts, the government refused to continue the contract with Catholic Charities for adoption placement because the Church’s unwillingness to place adoptive children with same-sex couples. In New Jersey, the State removed tax-exempt status of a religious organization for not providing use of its property for an event related to a same sex wedding.

    The Church is taking it on the chin for not refusing to acknowledge gay marriage – the same stance the people have taken on EVERY referendum on this issue.

  10. To Catholic Democrat,
    Here’s what you said: “I also find it deeply troubling that some people have used this as a blatant bashing of the Catholic Church, just because the Church fails to validate a certain LIFESTYLE.”

    You highlight the key distinction, what the differences all boil down to: The law considers being a homosexual a matter of identity, whereas the Church (and apparently you as well) consider homosexuality a lifestyle, a choice. As a former Catholic myself, i consider it a matter of identity, not choice.

  11. Two sensible (and non-conflicting opinions):

    Churches should have the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. If they don’t want to rent their wedding halls to gays or provide their employers with same-sex benefits, that’s fine.

    At the same time, churches should not expect to receive tax-exempt benefits for what has clearly moved into lobbying and discrimination (see, e.g., Maine, where Catholic churches passed around a second collection plate to fund the anti-gay marriage amendment).

    That seems fair. Freedom of conscience in exchange for freedom from taxes.

  12. Not only am I sick of the Catholic Archdiocese pulling this kind of crap (and scapegoating LGBT right and women’s right to choose with everything: healthcare reform, immigration reform, adoption services, Maine marriage equality, and now charitable services in DC!), I am also sick of the fact we have people like PAtrick Deneen legitimizing those opinions at Georgetown.

    Wonder why Georgetown has a homophobic environment? When the Catholic Church that it is affiliated to, and professors who are supposed to encourage intellectual vitality, themselves engage in spreading bigoted opinions cloaked in freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief, is it any surprise that students internalize those ideas?

  13. Shruti:

    We have a Constitution. And a Bill of Rights. The prime amendment is freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

    I don’t think Deneen is engaging in ‘bigoted opinions cloaked in freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief’. The Church is arguing bigoted opinions, backed by freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief. That’s their right.

    Deneen is defending their right to do so. As should you. Especially in a matter such as this — it’s been free speech that has allowed the movement to flourish, especially in times when most of the country — indeed, the world — had very negative views on homosexuals.

    It was freedom of speech that allowed Alfred Kinsey to publish his at-the-time-much-derided book, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” which showed that homosexual behavior was much more common than originally believed.

    It was freedom of speech that allowed the Mattachine Society, the first national gay rights organization, to be founded in 1951. Likewise with the Society for Human Rights in 1924, the country’s earliest (at a time when national opinion was certainly against it).

    So, please, before you criticize, imagine yourself back in 1940, advocating for gay rights; perhaps bolstered by a professor endorsing your legal right to do so, and another commentator saying that because it’s professors like these who are spreading these degenerate opinions cloaked in freedom of speech, is it any surprise that students internalize these ideas?

  14. “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”

  15. I have no problem with you expressing your views.

    This isn’t about expression. It’s about action. You have a right to believe what you want, but your beliefs cannot be a legal excuse to discriminatory action.

    Listen, say the Protestant church decided to go back to its roots and consider Catholics evil. Would it be an expression of their religion to deny benefits to church employees who marry Catholics? What if they rent out their meeting space to anybody but Catholics?

    A crime is a crime, no matter the justification. In DC it is a crime to discriminate against gays and lesbians, just as it is to discriminate against Catholics. That’s been the case for decades. This law doesn’t change anything. The first amendment doesn’t protect you any more than it protects someone who beats up a cop as a form of protest.

    Do yourselves a favor. Give up now. You’re only going to embarrass yourselves. The tide of history is on our side. How many people who protested desegregation are proud of themselves now? How many of them waived a bible in their defense?

  16. There will be gays around long after people discover that the Catholic church is a crock. A bunch of fallible humans making arbitrary rules and calling them moral imperatives. It’s both hilarious and sad how easy it is to string along “followers” who are too intellectually and morally bankrupt to find their own meaning and morality in life.

  17. People have not discovered that the Catholic Church is a crock in roughly 2000 years, and the Church counts more than a billion people as its followers. I suppose they are all “too intellectually and morally bankrupt to fund their own meaning and morality in life”?

    How about the Jesuits here? Are they, too, intellectually and morally bankrupt? Seeing as how we all choose to attend a Catholic, Jesuit school, and to pay over $200,000 over the course of 4 years for that privilege, I would imagine that most here do not believe that the core values of our university are intellectually or morally bankrupt.

    I have no problem with criticisms of the decisions of the Catholic Church. I understand that it is run by humans that are fallible, and has made many mistakes throughout the millenia. I am also not one of the Catholics who would say that homosexuality is a “lifestyle” or a “choice.” I have no personal problem whatsoever with homosexual relationships of any kind. I support the governmental recognition of same-sex marriages, so that those couples can receive the same benefits from the government that heterosexual married couples do.

    But the Church supports the idea that one of the principle functions of marriage is procreation. While others may disagree, I don’t understand how this takes away rights from anyone, and I think that forcing religious organizations to recognize and extend benefits to relationships that they believe to be sinful is most certainly taking rights from said religious organizations.

  18. “I think that forcing religious organizations to recognize and extend benefits to relationships that they believe to be sinful is most certainly taking rights from said religious organizations.”

    It’s not an exercise of your religion to give health benefits to employees. If the church were to pay less than minimum wage, it wouldn’t matter how many verses and edicts they cited, it would be illegal. Period.

    Not every act a religious organization performs is an exercise of its religion. Particularly when that act is illegal.

  19. I say we call the Church on their bluff.

    I’d be fascinated to see a church actually abandon the poor in order to restrict the rights of the marginalized. It would be awful, of course, but I think it would cause enough of an abrupt break in the minds of so many Catholics (and others), that it could precipitate a radical shift in consciousness. I’m gay and Catholic and I think the status quo sucks.

    The more that the hierarchy inflates the false choice they have constructed — between “faith” and “justice” — the faster the illusion will begin to crumble. We would have an opportunity to return to the real cause of social justice that has carried everyday Catholics through the centuries. Instead of praying for gays and feeding the needy, we could be a force for liberation that sets itself against all structures of injustice.

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