On the one hand, we like the idea of religious institutions being involved in the local community and providing social services that local governments cannot (or simply do not). On the other hand, we don’t like the idea of taxpayer dollars going toward religious groups that actively discriminate against an entire class of people. So the threat from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington D.C. that it will be “forced” to abandon its taxpayer-funded adoption and homeless programs if marriage legislation goes through without broader religious exemptions — because the law would force the Church “to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples” — while unfortunate, is also a stinging reminder that currently, D.C. taxpayers have their money going to an organization that discriminates.

Do we want the 68,000 people served by the Church’s Catholic Charities unit to go without? Of course not. But the Church already spends $10 million of its own cash on those programs, and can still do much good with that same commitment. The city’s dollars, meanwhile, can and should go toward an organization that doesn’t value one human life above another.

It seems City Councilmembers agree:

The church’s influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as “somewhat childish.” Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city’s relationship with the church than give in to its demands.

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

[…] Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee, said the council “will not legislate based on threats.”

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

And, of course, local gay activists:

Peter Rosenstein of the Campaign for All D.C. Families accused the church of trying to “blackmail the city.”

“The issue here is they are using public funds, and to allow people to discriminate with public money is unacceptable,” Rosenstein said.

And it only takes a little analysis to decode the Church’s real message: It can only provide social programs when it’s allowed to discriminate. And nobody should support that.

In the meantime, neglected in this entire debate are people and groups of faith who do not discriminate while also offering social services to the community. Surely they wouldn’t mind a few more bucks sent their way?

Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum [WaPo]

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