Church Responds Differently to Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON. * When San Francisco passed an ordinance more than 13 years ago requiring agencies that contract with the city to provide spousal benefits to employees' domestic partners, then-Archbishop William J. Levada asked for a religious exemption, arguing that it imposed "an unconstitutional condition" on religiously affiliated organizations like Catholic Charities.

Within a few days, the city and archdiocese worked out a compromise: Employees could designate "legally domiciled" members of their households--a dependent parent, child or sibling, for example, or an unmarried heterosexual or homosexual partner--for spousal equivalent benefits, without requiring the church to recognize the "partners" as married.

Now the issue of same-sex marriage has hit the nation's capital. Washington Catholic Charities announced that spousal benefits will no longer be provided to new employees or to current employees who want to add a spouse to their coverage after March 1.

So why have there been different church responses to similar dilemmas posed by same-sex marriage? It's all in the wording of the laws and in "shifting the debate," as Levada put it in a 1997 article for First Things magazine.

The new law in the District of Columbia, where same-sex couples began receiving marriage licenses March 3, says no religious leader will be compelled to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony and religious organizations "shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods" for such a ceremony if it violates their religious beliefs. …