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A Small Defeat for Religious Liberty

March 4, 2010

Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. has decided to stop offering health insurance benefits to the spouses of its employees because the city has just recognized same-sex marriages.   Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was already illegal in D.C., so Catholic Charities faces the dilemma of either violating its religious principles by recognizing same-sex marriages in providing employee benefits or denying benefits to all spouses equally.   The city could have included a freedom-of-conscience provision in the law to exempt religious institutions, but chose to impose its religious views on a dissenting minority instead.

I wonder why the city chooses to put religious minorities in this situation.  At a time when decreasing the number of uninsured is a national priority, D.C. is forcing the spouses of Catholic Charities to either give up their health insurance or their faith.  The decision not to allow a religious exemption doesn’t benefit homosexual couples in any way.  That decision was not about helping gays.  The only effect of that choice is to repress religious freedom.  I can’t help but wonder if repressing religious freedom isn’t the point of same sex marriage for many advocates.

In California, for example, same sex couples enjoy all the legal benefits of marriage.  The only difference between a committed sames sex couple and a married, opposite-sex couple is the use of the word “marriage.”  And yet the ultimately successful Prop 8 initiative faced vehement, at times even coercive and violent opposition.   Why?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Debbie M permalink
    November 13, 2016 7:49 pm

    I find it difficult to understand how providing insurance benefits for same-sex spouses violates the religious principles of Catholic charities. It doesn’t require them to “recognize” or approve the marriages any more than other non-Catholic marriages such as Protestant marriages, Jewish marriages, and marriages between unbelievers and heathens by a Justice of the Peace.

  2. November 13, 2016 9:09 pm

    Hey, wow, a comment on a blog post from 6 years ago!

    So much has changed since then. Since 2010 people have been compelled by law to participate in ceremonies the symbolic meaning of which violate their religion. California has banned the Jewish practice of Kapparot, which Jews have practiced for over a millennium. Artists are being compelled to create works of art in violation of their values. That spousal benefits thing was at the top of a long slippery slope down which we are still descending.

    As to the specific contents of any of the religious beliefs that are being violated, I also don’t understand them all. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want bacon. It’s so good! But, then again, I don’t really expect to understand other people’s religious practices. Understanding isn’t necessary for respect, or at least not for mere tolerance.

    I must misunderstand your comment that granting spousal benefits doesn’t require recognizing marriages. It seems obvious to me that one has to know who is married to whom in order to grant spousal benefits. Otherwise any old Joe Schmoe could file an insurance claim against the insurance policy of anyone who has insurance. I know that when I sign up for insurance with a company, I fill in the name of my spouse so that the company will then recognize claims from my wife. They even issue her an insurance card.

    • Debbie M permalink
      November 13, 2016 11:56 pm

      There are different meanings for “recognize.” I think you can acknowledge that something exists (for the purpose of providing insurance benefits) without approving of it (as fitting in with your ideals of what you think is best for people).

      • November 14, 2016 6:23 am

        Sure. In principle I both recognize and agree with the distinction you’ve drawn. But it doesn’t help in this case for two reasons:

        1) The Catholic Church doesn’t recognize that same sex marriages exist. It’s not that the Church thinks same sex marriages are immoral so much as non-existent.

        2) You can’t provide material support for something without implicitly approving of it. Insurance benefits are material support. Therefor providing insurance benefits to same sex partners, on the grounds that they are spouses of employees, implicitly approves of the claim that they are spouses.

      • Debbie M permalink
        November 14, 2016 12:44 pm

        So does that mean the Catholic church implicitly approves of all other currently legal marriages? Some of those are pretty wacky!

      • November 16, 2016 6:46 am


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