D.C. councilmember Mary Cheh had it about right last week when she told the Washington Post that the Catholic Church had been “somewhat childish” in threatening the city over its pending same-sex marriage bill. The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is throwing a tantrum—and who gives a crap? Not likely the D.C. City Council.
Here’s the flap: The church’s Catholic Charities is one of several nonprofits that the city contracts to provide social services, such as managing homeless shelters. But the church told the City Council Wednesday it may have to ditch its contracts if, as expected, lawmakers pass a bill next month allowing gay couples to marry. The bill would force the church to abide by non-discrimination laws, which would mean doing things like hiring gays and extending benefits to their spouses. The church wouldn’t have to provide marriages or even make space for them; it just wouldn’t be able to use taxpayer money to discriminate in the workplace. That, says the church, is too much to ask. So the city may have to find a new agency to manage about a third of its shelters, among other things.
Oh well. As gay, Republican councilmember David Catania put it, “If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes.” He’s stating what ought to be obvious. Frankly, if the church is so opposed to gay rights, it’s got no business working with the city on something like homelessness anyway. By the most conservative estimates available, 20 percent of all homeless teens in America are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And a recurring national problem is that the existing shelter system is so hostile they prefer sleeping in the streets. (Go here to learn about a D.C. group actually helping with this problem.) If the church is so homophobic it can’t stomach anti-bias laws, then good riddance.
Which seems to be about where the council’s at on the church’s “childish” threat, too. Much as with Marion Barry’s wild, empty threats of a black revolution back in May, when the council voted to recognize out-of-state gay marriages, D.C.’s political leadership is just too resolved in its support of gay civil rights to be swayed by these outbursts. Chocolate City—with its black political culture and black political elite and large black gay community—boasts one of the country’s most progressive governments on gay civil rights, and has for a long, long time. Absent congressional interference, D.C.’s same-sex couples would have had domestic partnership back in 1992.
And that gives the lie to the toxic assumption that black communities will not support gay civil rights. You just have to do the long, hard work of building support for it—which, as Adam Serwer has spelled out over at the American Prospect, is exactly what D.C.’s politicos have done. The Catholic Church can thrash about all it wants. Maybe it should invite Barry in to give a sermon on the sanctity of marriage, even. What it won’t likely do is reverse the march toward justice in the District of Columbia.