Just this morning, I was at thinking that it might be time to write a few words in praise of the Catholic Church. Of course, it’s hard for me to do that given (1) my own history as a conscriptee (until old enough to opt out); (2) the Church’s stand on same-sex unions; and (3) Pope Benedict XVI, whose public-health-defying pronouncements on the use of condoms are only the most visible evidence of his complete detachment from reality.
Yet the Church favors expanding health care to the poor, and has long offered a range of social services to underserved populations. I recall hearing Chai Feldblum, a rather insistent LGT rights advocate (who’s lately been tapped for a position on the EEOC), giving the Church props for its work with D.C.’s poor. (This is the thanks she gets for working with the Church on these issues.)
Yet it’s precisely those poor who the Church has just announced it’s willing to put at risk, and for the most offensive reason I can imagine. According to this story, if D.C. enacts marriage equality legislation, the Church will pull its social services out of the District, thereby leaving 68,000 of the city’s poorest residents high and dry. (At least until another agency steps in; as Emma Ruby-Sachs reminds us, most of the money doesn’t come from the Church itself.)
Why would they do this, especially if the finished legislation retains the substantial “religious liberty” exemption that’s expected to be included in the next draft? Under that exemption, the Church could cheerfully discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to do anything to facilitate or recognize their unions — such as renting space that they otherwise rent to any and all comers.
So what’s the problem? The Church is “afraid” it would have to extend health benefits to the legal, same-sex spouses of gays and lesbians under the law.
Where to start? It seems that the Church should welcome the chance to provide health benefits to anyone. Does it really want to take the position that someone should go without coverage rather than provide it? Is the Church’s commitment to ideological purity so strong that it swamps all other concerns?
It needn’t come to this. Why doesn’t the Church simply change its policy to allow any employee to designate one additional person to receive health benefits? (This would be fairer to all employees, btw.) The person could be anyone in need of health benefits: an elderly sibling, a poor friend, or…a same-sex partner. By recasting the eligibility criteria, the Church could both expand the pool of those covered and avoid doing something that its steely principles don’t otherwise allow.
I hope that someone reads this and considers such a move, but I suspect they won’t consider such a change. The Church has found a cudgel to use against marriage equality, and it won’t be inclined to think of something that could avoid the issue. Lawmakers should not be intimidated by the Church, though. Pass the bill, and then let the Church explain to the tens of thousands of homeless and other needy residents why it couldn’t find some way around its dogma, and why caring for them is less important than refusing to provide health benefits to same-sex partners.
You think the Church has a P.R. problem now?