Same-sex marriage means an uncertain future for Catholic agencies



By Maria Wiering

Twitter: @ReviewWiering


Maryland made history Nov. 6 when it became one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

“I think that vote will prove not to have been for the common good of our state,” Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori told the Catholic Review Nov. 7.

Prior to the 2012 election, same-sex marriage had been put to popular vote 33 times in 32 states, failing each time. Maine and Washington State voters also passed laws allowing same-sex marriage Nov. 6.

Earlier this year, North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The vote was a final nod to a precedent also defenestrated Nov. 6 by Minnesota’s vote against a similar amendment.

When Maryland, Maine and Washington State’s same-sex laws take effect, they will join six other states licensing same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Same-sex marriage is also legal in the District of Columbia.

Maryland Catholic leaders – including those of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who stood stalwart in support of traditional marriage – have yet to state how they expect the law to affect the state’s Catholic institutions. In other states, the laws have interfered with Catholic Charities services and employee benefit plans.

Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.; Boston; and San Francisco dropped adoption and foster care services after same-sex marriage’s legalization would have required them to place children with same-sex couples in order to continue government contracts for those services. In Washington, Catholic Charities also discontinued benefits for employee’s spouses.

Catholic Charities in Illinois dioceses also stopped providing adoption and foster care services after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions in 2011. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., withdrew from state-funded social services contracts altogether.

The Illinois cases contrast the situation across the border in Iowa, where “the status quo really hasn’t changed” for Catholic institutions after the state’s Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, which advocates for public policy on behalf of the state’s bishops.

“I think the reason for that is that people want to let sleeping dogs lie,” he said. “They don’t want to give the church the ammunition to really push the marriage amendment issue right now.”

Catholic Charities in Iowa dioceses do not contract with the state for adoption services, and the provision of employee benefits to married spouses has yet to be an issue, Chapman said. The state of Iowa accredits all Catholic schools, but curriculum requirements have not yet caused a problem.

In New York State, a Catholic hospital employee filed a class action lawsuit against her employer for not providing benefits to her same-sex spouse, but Catholic agencies have not encountered “a flood of lawsuits” after the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, said Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference.

However, he expects issues to arise in the future.

“It’s always going to be a challenge for (the Catholic Church), because times change and there’s always new challenges thrown at us – but the work of the church goes on,” Poust said. “As we see the movement now expanding in other states, there is a fear that some of that reluctance to attack the church might drop away, because (same-sex marriage proponents) are having the successes, and they may feel there’s no turning back.”

In 2003, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document on legalized same-sex unions, stating, “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

The U.S. Justice Department stated in 2011 that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The 2012 election may also prove a bellwether for same-sex marriage legislation introduced next year in state legislatures.

As a result, America may see more changes made by Catholic organizations seeking compliance with new laws while adhering to Catholic teaching.

Maryland same-sex marriage opponents are concerned the ballot language for the state’s same-sex marriage referendum may have swayed votes in favor by focusing on the law’s supposed religious freedom protections.

On the ballot, the measure emphasized that no clergy would be forced to perform marriages in violation of their faith’s belief, that each faith has control over its marriage doctrine, and that religious organizations “and certain related entities” could not be forced to provide goods, services or benefits in violation of their religious beliefs.

When the language was publicized in August, the Maryland Catholic Conference stated that the law only “pretends” to offer religious protections.

“According to the actual legislation, religious organizations that accept any sort of state or federal funds are excluded from religious liberty protections,” the MCC said. “They are not exempt, and there are no protections for individuals. Marylanders should not be fooled into thinking we can redefine marriage and still protect religious liberty.”

Francis DeBernardo, a coordinator for same-sex marriage advocates Catholics for Marriage Equality for Maryland, said it would be “a shame” if any Catholic services in Maryland such as adoption were withdrawn due to the law.

“I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt. I think it’s a question of equality and fairness,” he said. “The hierarchy of Maryland is going to have to decide what is more important – the protection of children, or the defense of their definition of ‘civil marriage,’ which the voters of Maryland have decided has a new definition, and whether or not they would like to continue to take (state) government funds, or fund their programs on their own.”

DeBernardo is the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Silver Spring-based organization the U.S. bishops say cannot claim to be a “Catholic organization” because its teaching does not conform to Catholic doctrine.

An Election Day poll commissioned by the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage found that 60 percent of Americans who voted in the general election favor marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

However, Pew Research Center polls show that only 43 percent of Americans say they oppose gay marriage, with 48 percent favoring it – a majority reversal from its 2008 polls showing 51 percent opposed and 39 percent in favor.

In Maryland, the law narrowly passed with 51.9 percent in favor to 48.1 percent opposed.]

The election results on same-sex marriage should serve as a “wake up call” for Catholics, Archbishop Lori said, demonstrating “our need to redouble our efforts to defend marriage, to preach about what marriage is, and to help people understand it as a unique relationship that does not discriminate against anyone, but is for the good of children and for the good of our society.”

Copyright (c) Nov. 13, 2012

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.