The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, is no longer offering benefits to spouses of new employees, because of the change in DC law allowing same-sex marriages. Here's the Washington Post:
Employees at Catholic Charities were told Monday that the social services organization is changing its health coverage to avoid offering benefits to same-sex partners of its workers -- the latest fallout from a bitter debate between District officials trying to legalize same-sex marriage and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. Starting Tuesday, Catholic Charities will not offer benefits to spouses of new employees or to spouses of current employees who are not already enrolled in the plan. A letter describing the change in health benefits was e-mailed to employees Monday, two days before same-sex marriage will become legal in the District. "We looked at all the options and implications," said the charity's president, Edward J. Orzechowski. "This allows us to continue providing services, comply with the city's new requirements and remain faithful to the church's teaching."
Catholic Charities, which receives $22 million from the city for social service programs, protested in the run-up to the council's December vote to allow same-sex marriage, saying that it might not be able to continue its contracts with the city, including operating homeless shelters and facilitating city-sponsored adoptions. Being forced to recognize same-sex marriage, church officials said, could make it impossible for the church to be a city contractor because Catholic teaching opposes such unions....The church faced two options with the approval of the new law, said Robert Tuttle, a George Washington University professor who studies the relationship between church and state. One choice was to expand the definition of domestic partner, as the Archdiocese in San Francisco did years ago, to include a parent, sibling or someone else in the household. The second choice was to do what the Washington Archdiocese has done: eliminate benefits for all spouses. "For decades, the church has been at the forefront of worker benefits, so this move cuts against their understanding of social justice and health benefits to all possible," Tuttle said. "But obviously, you can see they felt there was a real conflict between those values. They feel they weren't left with much of a choice."
This comes on the heels, as we reported in the Signs of the Times this week, of the archdiocese shuttering its 80-year-old foster care and adoption program rather than licensing same-sex couples as adoptive or foster parents, to comply with the new DC law.
The allusion in the Post article to (now Cardinal) William Levada's alternate approach to the issue when he was archbishop of San Francisco is an interesting one, since it shows that there may be a number of ways to respond. Here is John Allen's summary of Levada's approach in San Francisco, written in May 2005, when Archbishop Levada was named as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Levada has a reputation as someone with the capacity to find imaginative solutions to difficult problems. A leading case in point came in 1997, when the City of San Francisco threatened to withdraw funding from any social service agency that did not provide health benefits to domestic partners. I was in Los Angeles at the time and was assigned to cover the story, and it seemed for a brief period that the city and the church were at a stalemate. At the eleventh hour, however, Levada proposed allowing employees to designate anyone they wanted as a recipient of benefits on their health plans -- an aunt, a parent, a good friend, etc. In that sense, the church was making benefits more widely available, without endorsing same-sex relationships. One Catholic theologian at the time called the decision "Solomonic," though some critics still felt it fudged over the church's opposition to homosexuality.
And here is Cardinal Levada's own description of his approach, in a letter to Crisis magazine:
What did we agree to? We agreed that agencies and businesses would be in compliance if their benefits packages allowed unmarried persons to designate another legally domiciled person in their household (including blood relatives) to receive benefits equivalent to those already provided for spouses (without reference to a partnership based on sexual identity or activity). In other words, we took a stand in favor of expanded benefits, which the city could hardly refuse, since its "model" legislation is named "Nondiscrimination in benefits." But the effect of this agreement is to move the discussion from "discrimination" against homosexuals to one in which the provision of greater benefits is the issue.
Since Catholic agencies now can comply with city law without being forced to recognize a category based on unacceptable sexual criteria, I think we have achieved a breakthrough that is in accord with Catholic moral principles on both marriage and family and social justice.
James Martin, SJ