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