Foster Kids and Religious Liberty in DC

This week Washington, D.C. became the second U.S. jurisdiction to lose the benefit of Catholic Charities’ adoption and foster care services over the issue of same-sex marriage. Early next month, barring Congressional or judicial intervention, the District of Columbia will become the sixth U.S. jurisdiction to authorize same-sex marriage. As the law developed last year, the Archdiocese of Washington, of which Catholic Charities is a part, endeavored
to avoid a conflict between its social services and the new D.C. marriage law.

The two major points of conflict involve the interaction of the marriage law and prior laws enacted banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. First, the laws would require city contractors, including charities that operate homeless shelters and other programs, to provide any benefits they offer to married couples to heterosexual and homosexual couples on the same basis. Second, the same laws affect licensing practices, so that the adoption and foster care agency operated by Catholic Charities would have been required to place children with same-sex couples.

Doing so, the Archdiocese asserted, would utterly contradict church teaching, parallel to that of other major religious traditions, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and children need the care and nurturing of both a father and a mother. The Archdiocese concluded it had no choice but to jettison an invaluable social service it has provided D.C. families for nearly a century. The District of Columbia is among the nation’s jurisdictions with the most intractable rate of family breakdown.

Tragically, the D.C. government could have done much more to avoid the conflict by including a robust religious exemption in its same-sex marriage law. It chose instead to turn a deaf ear to the pleas of Catholic Charities for an exemption that would allow it to continue to strive to heal D.C. families and give many children hope of a better life. As a result, a vital force in civil society – religiously sponsored charities rich in love and personal voluntarism – has been sapped by the expanding demands of public officials.