On the eve of the enactment of the District of Columbia's law allowing gay marriages, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington limited employee health care benefits Tuesday to avoid coverage of same-sex couples.
"Catholic Charities changed its employee benefit plan to comply with the D.C. same-sex marriage law," said Edward Orzechowski, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. "We continue to honor health care coverage of all employees but as of today new and current employees will not be able to add spouses to the health care plan."
The limitation applies to employee spouses, which fewer than 100 out of Catholic Charities' 850 employees use. Employee spouses not listed in the health care plan before March 1 will not be covered and no revision will be allowed for future coverage. Additionally, new employees will not have access to spousal benefits.
This is the only adjustment in the new health care plan. The level of coverage remains the same and dependent children are still eligible. Spouses already in the plan will be grandfathered in to keep benefits.
The change came after D.C. Council members and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act that approves gay marriages and directs organizations that provide city services to the public in order to not discriminate against same-sex couples.
"And as an organization doing business with the District of Columbia, we are required to comply with that law and its requirements," Mr. Orzechowski said. "The only issue here was to treat all spouses the same and that's why we made the change."
He said this change allows Catholic Charities to continue helping the 68,000 people it now cares for, while complying with the District's new requirements and remaining faithful to the Catholic identity.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, called the Catholic Charities decision "appalling."
"It's a two-tier system among its workers," Ms. Duddy-Burke said. "It violates every principle of the dignity of work and justice for workers that the Catholic Church has stood for for years and it makes employees of Catholic Charities a sacrificial lamb to prove a political point."
Ms. Duddy-Burke said the choice to cut spousal benefits in these economic times imposes a burden on new Catholic Charities employees. She said this would cause "more damage to their families than a same-sex marriage."
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the Catholic Charities choice struck him "as unnecessary, given that other archdioceses have been able to continue to provide benefits."
This is the second time Catholic Charities has changed its rules in opposition to gay marriage. The group previously ended its foster care program when, under law, it would be obligated to recognize same-sex marriages. However no more modifications are expected.
"These were the only changes that we knew were going to be required to meet the requirement," Mr. Orzechowski said. "We anticipate no other changes in either program services or employee benefits as a result of this legislation."