The fight over proposed same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia heated up Wednesday as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said that if the law passed, the church will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.
Under the bill, religious organizations would not be required to perform same-sex weddings or make space available for them.
But officials from the archdiocese said they feared the law might require them to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples. As a result, they said, the archdiocese would have to abandon its contracts with the city if the law passed.
Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city’s long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination.
The archdiocese’s statement follows a vote Tuesday by the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary to approve the gay marriage bill and forward it on the the full council for a vote.
The council is expected to pass the bill — eleven of the 13 council members have gone on record as saying they will vote for the bill — and Mayor Adrian Fenty has said he would sign it.
Council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), who co-introduced the bill, said he would rather end the city’s relationship with the church than give in to its demands.
The church’s social services arm, known as Catholic Charities, serves 68,000 local residents, including about a third of the city’s homeless people, who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church, city officials said.