- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

The Archdiocese of Washington said Thursday that it will not extend benefits to same-sex married couples employed in Catholic schools — a pre-emptive defiance of a bill expected to coast through the D.C. Council by the end of the year.

“If this law is passed, we will have to break the law before we give up our religion,” said archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

A bill pending in the D.C. Council would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the District. Currently, the District recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The church operates 21 schools in the District, attended by 6,400 students. Ms. Gibbs said the archdiocese is aware that it would be open to legal liability for not complying with city law.

“The challenge in the District is that we could be at risk for litigation for not providing these services,” she said.

She said none of the organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church will offer benefits to same-sex married couples.

The archdiocese told council members in a letter this week that passage of the bill could jeopardize the charitable services offered by Catholic Charities, which administers the church’s social programs in the city.

Catholic Charities, which says it offers social services to 68,000 people in the District annually, is concerned it could be forced to provide services such as adoption to same-sex married couples against its beliefs. Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the archdiocese, said if they refuse to offer such services the church’s charitable organizations could be denied licenses or certification by the government.

In her letter, she said the church could be “open to civil suit and/or deprivation of governmental benefits for refusing to recognize the equivalence of same-sex marriage and traditional marriage in a host of settings in which, if the institution were to provide equivalent recognition, it would breach its own fundamental beliefs.”

Ms. Gibbs denied that the letter amounted to a threat on behalf of the church to discontinue services it provides to needy city residents.

“We are not threatening to leave,” Ms. Gibbs said. “The city is imposing a new requirement on us in order for us to partner with the city.”

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said Thursday evening that the archdiocese has not mentioned concerns about its schools in its written or oral testimony before the council.

Mr. Mendelson - chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which held 24 hours of hearings on the same-sex marriage bill - said he thinks the church is “dramatizing” the debate.

“The bottom line is the Catholic Church opposes the bill,” Mr. Mendelson said. “They have embarked on a campaign of kicking up one issue after another.”

Mr. Mendelson said he his satisfied with the current version of the bill, which he said will likely be scheduled for the first of two votes Dec. 1.

The bill is expected to pass, with 10 of 13 D.C. Council members having said they will vote for it.

David C. Lipscomb contributed to this report.

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