The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is saying it might not be able to continue its social services programs if a marriage equality bill is passed by the D.C. Council.
The Washington Post reports that Archdiocese officials say the proposed marriage bill might threaten their religious freedoms. They say that without a religious exclusion, the bill could force them and other religious groups receiving money from the city to "give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples."
Also at issue are individual religious freedoms:
The archdiocese's statement follows a vote Tuesday by the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary to reject an amendment that would have allowed individuals, based on their religious beliefs, to decline to provide services for same-sex weddings.
"Lets say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on top," said council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 6), the sponsor of the amendment. "Why can't they say, based on their religious beliefs, 'I can't do something like that'?"
After the vote, the archdiocese sent out a statement accusing the council of ignoring the right of religious freedom.
So, there we have it. The debate is now firmly set. This isn't going to be a fight over LGBT equality proponents vs. those who don't think LGBT people should be equal. It will be a fight against equality proponents vs. those who feel as though their personal, religious freedoms are under threat. If I had to choose which kind of fight to engage in, I'd certainly never choose the latter.
I think we can have great, academic conversations and debates about the separation of church and state, religious freedom and why government can't and shouldn't allow religious groups to discriminate on the government's dime. I think a lot of people would understand it, but given the amount of emotion invested in these issues would most people get it?
If there is one thing we've learned after seeing a majority of our states fall like dominoes to this anti-LGBT, anti-family marriage agenda, it's that this marriage issue plays with people's emotions in mightily strong and effective ways. Proponents of government-sanctioned discrimination have been able to pull at otherwise understanding and accepting folks' heartstrings while playing up some false commitment to "morality." It's why you see friends and family members voting to ban your civil marriage recognition, while they say (and wholeheartedly mean) they love you and treat you and your family no differently than your brother or sister and their spouse.
I'm not the first person to say this, by any means, but it deserves repeating: We can't ignore the religious/moral/spiritual issue anymore.
Folks and groups like Mitchell Gold and Faith in America, and Mel White and Soulforce, have done a tremendous amount of work exposing the religion-based bigotry and prejudice underlying our religious, social and civil inequality. I don't think we've taken Gold's and White's lessons to heart.
This battle between "the religious" vs. "the gays" will continue ad infinitum (ad nauseum, if you'd like) until we are able to change hearts and minds, and until an acceptable mass, although maybe not majority, of religious folks agree that civil discrimination against LGBT people is wrong.
We're already seeing some movement in that direction: The Mormon Church supported a pro-LGBT civil nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City. The fact that the D.C. Archdiocese is arguing this from a religious freedom standpoint rather than an anti-gay, "God doesn't approve of homosexuality" standpoint is remarkable.
As we anticipate which state our next marriage equality journey might lead us, we should immediately consider approaching this issue from a spiritual and moral angle. For example, TV, radio and print ads could showcase religious leaders standing up for our equality and images of LGBT-led families attending worship services, while stressing the universal love of Christ.
I can imagine it now:
The camera pans across the front of a suburban-looking white church, and then across a sitting congregation inside the building. As the narrator begins speaking, the camera focuses in on different families, including LGBT families: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Jesus said there were but two great commandments. That you love God..." and then the camera focuses in on the narrator who is, in fact, the preacher/priest: "...and that you 'Love your neighbor as yourself..." as the screen then turns black with big, bold white letters while the narrator speaks: "...'There is no commandment greater than these.'" A second narrator comes in at the end: "You love God and you love your family and friends. Do what love requires on Nov. 3rd. Vote No on Amendment 10."
What a way to pull at Christian, swing voter heartstrings from our point of view, right? The other side does it, so why don't we fight back on their turf and their terms?
We will continue to see religious groups like the D.C. Archdiocese, and individuals and small business owners, throw up these kinds of religious freedom arguments until we're able to get to the point where almost all people agree civil discrimination is wrong and a good number of people agree that private discrimination is just as wrong. To do that, we'll have to address the root of anti-LGBT prejudice and bigotry. We'll have to speak about God, the Bible, church and religion, no matter how much it scares us.