Catholic Charities, the largest private provider of social services in Washington, D.C., has said it may cut contracts with the city because the city council's soon-to-be-passed same-sex marriage bill lacks religious freedom protections. The showdown between a faith-based organization and a local government over gay marriage is rare and could set the table for other nonprofits seeking similar protection around the country.
The capital's same-sex marriage bill extends some religious freedom protections to churches, allowing them to refuse to rent their facilities to a gay couple for a wedding. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington argued that those protections aren't sufficient for religious organizations. These groups could face lawsuits for discriminating against gay couples who wish to adopt. They could be forced to provide employment benefits to same-sex partners.
The lack of protection, the archdiocese said in a statement, "leaves religious organizations and individuals at risk for adhering to the teachings of their faith." Council members, however, dismissed the organization's concerns and indicated the bill would remain as it is.
Council member David Catania, who is gay and sponsored the bill, told The Washington Post, "They don't represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure."
Catholic Charities serves approximately 68,000 people in the city through programs run on the church's funds as well as public grants. It provides services like refugee resettlement, language classes, healthcare, drug treatment, and legal aid. The organization runs one-third of the city's homeless shelters. And any scale-back will fall particularly hard on a city that has cut millions from its social services budget this year-$20 million from its homeless services alone. Meanwhile evangelical organizations provide a smaller amount of social services in the city and have not been as vocal in the debate over the religious protections in the bill, which is expected to come up for a final vote in December.