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Marriage | Same-sex marriage in Washington means groups like Catholic Charities have to change their work and policies

WASHINGTON-A line of same-sex couples, surrounded by a scrum of press, waited outside a Washington, D.C., courthouse in the drizzling rain Wednesday morning to be the first to get their marriage licenses. This week Washington became the sixth place in the country to legalize gay marriage. District marriage licenses have been changed to reflect the new law: No longer are there blanks for the "bride" and "groom" but instead for "spouses."

The D.C. Council had passed the measure in December, but Congress oversees all of the district's laws, delaying its enactment until now. Those who are pushing for a referendum on the issue, led by Bishop Harry Jackson, made a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court to intervene, but it declined to do so. In its opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the high court wouldn't intervene in a local matter. The push for a referendum on the issue, which local courts have shot down again and again, is once again pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

Aside from the new law's impact on the definition of marriage in the district, it is already changing how religious groups do business with the city. Catholic Charities, the Washington's largest private social services provider, ended its foster care and adoption programs in the district last month, turning the caseload over to a Maryland nonprofit group, the National Center for Children and Families. Catholic Charities has contracts with the city for some of its work, sparking concerns that it could face lawsuits if it didn't provide adoptions to same-sex couples or benefits to gay spouses. The programs served 43 children and 35 foster families.

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The organization, an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, explained in a statement: "The D.C. government informed Catholic Charities that the agency would be ineligible to serve as a foster care provider due to the impending D.C. same-sex marriage law. This is the only program Catholic Charities anticipates will be impacted by the law."

Other branches of Catholic Charities in Boston and San Francisco ended their adoption contracts with those cities over the same issue-but the Washington archdiocese may be the first in the country to end spousal benefits over the issue of gay marriage, according to The Washington Post. The organization recently made clear in a memo to employees that it will not provide health benefits to spouses of any new employees, gay or not.

Catholic Charities told the D.C. Council last fall that the legalization of same-sex marriage in the district would threaten its future contracts with the city-a threat that some council members dismissed at the time.

Congress, which oversees the district's laws and budget, could address the same-sex marriage issue further down the road through a variety of tactics, like passing a measure defining marriage in Washington as between a man or woman.

Same-sex marriage is also legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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