A Publicly-Funded Charity Should Serve the Public
My op-ed was published today in The Washington Post.
A publicly funded charity should serve the public
By Mark Levine
The Catholic ChurchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s complaint rings hollow. No charity should take millions of dollars from taxpayers and then treat as second-class citizens the very taxpayers who fund it. Gay men and lesbians pay taxes, too.
Catholic Charities argues it should not provide benefits to the secular married spouses of its employees who are married in violation of Catholic doctrine. But it has done so for decades without complaint. Because federal law requires nondiscrimination with taxpayer funds on the basis of religion, Catholic Charities already provides benefits to Jewish, Muslim and atheist spouses, as well as those Roman Catholics who have divorced and remarried in severe violation of Catholic doctrine. Are the marriages of gay people somehow less Ã¢â‚¬Å“CatholicÃ¢â‚¬Â than those of thrice-remarried ex-Catholic atheists? Or a married ex-Catholic priest? Is the Catholic Church Ã¢â‚¬Å“promotingÃ¢â‚¬Â these un-Catholic marriages when its publicly funded charity provides spousal benefits to all its legally married employees? I think not. Otherwise, why does it do it?
Just as federal law protects taxpayers against religious discrimination with federal funds, D.C. law forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with District funds. If Catholic Charities is refusing to allow gay and lesbian citizens to participate in its publicly funded adoption programs (as the Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl seems to be suggesting), then it is already in violation of District law. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neither Ã¢â‚¬Å“equal dignityÃ¢â‚¬Â nor Ã¢â‚¬Å“equality under the law.Ã¢â‚¬Â In fact, why promote adoption at all if, as the archbishop suggests, the only purpose of marriage is the Ã¢â‚¬Å“essential connection with the creation of childrenÃ¢â‚¬Â? Why then does the Catholic Church currently marry and promote adoption to infertile heterosexual couples?
A simple compromise would protect the archdiocese from being Ã¢â‚¬Å“forced to chooseÃ¢â‚¬Â between serving the public and upholding the tenets of its faith. Catholic Charities could allow each of its employees to designate one individual (spouse or non-spouse) whom the employee chooses to receive benefits and therefore not discriminate on the basis of marital status, sex or sexual orientation. Such a policy would make clear that the church is not sanctioning or approving of anyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s marriage. If the church truly cared more about sheltering the homeless or feeding the hungry than punishing gay people, it could easily do this, with less harm to its religious principles than its current policy of providing benefits to non-Catholic spouses.
Or it could get off the public dole. What it cannot do is take public funds and then refuse to serve the public. No taxpayer should be asked to finance his or her own discrimination.
Would the church support taxes going to a charity that refused to provide certain services to Catholics and discriminated against its Catholic employees?
The writer is counsel for the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.