"If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog" was the headline for the satiric magazine National Lampoon in 1973. Accompanied by this photo of a cute black and white pooch with a man holding what looks to be a .38 special at its head, it was typical of the over-the-top humor that the magazine was known for.
Over 30 years later, somebody at the Archdiocese of Washington must have thought it was a great idea to hold innocent people as hostages in order to engage in the fight against marriage equality. At least with National Lampoon it was just a joke. They didn't really shoot the dog. We don't know if the Archdiocese really wants to stop running programs that help the sick, homeless and orphaned children if the District of Columbia passes marriage equality legislation, but we have to take them at their word. The Archdiocese argues that Catholics abiding by their faith's teachings would put them in conflict with the proposed D.C. law.
The proposed Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 would permit same sex marriages within the District of Columbia (the District already recognizes same sex marriages from other jurisdictions), but would not require religious denominations to perform such ceremonies.
Who are these hostages that the Archdiocese has threatened to not support? The list includes:
• Tutors assisting students who are preparing for GED tests
• Adoption placement and foster care for children
• A medical clinic serving primarily Spanish speaking residents
• A homeless shelter serving women
Apparently, the Archdiocese runs between 20 and 25 programs in the city. Approximately $20 million in city funds pays for or subsidizes these services for the city and for city residents.
To be fair, the Archdiocese says that among its employees and among the people they serve are many who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. What they apparently object to is not their existence, or their participation in city or church activities, but giving benefits to same sex spouses or placing children with gay couples. In other words, they want to discriminate against employees and they believe that being gay disqualifies you from being a parent.
In one sense, it is a real church-state issue pitting religious freedom vs. anti-discrimination. On the other hands, history is replete with examples of people using their faith to discriminate, segregate, and justify their own bigotry
For example, the Southern Baptist Convention in 1995, admitted that "Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery;"
The Church of the Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormons) also has a history tinged with racism. For decades, church leaders taught that black people were cursed by God, and therefore ineligible to be priests in the church. In 1978, there was a "revelation" by then President Spencer Kimball that black members could be priests. (I guess it could be worse. They could have waited until 2008). Of course, even today, the Church of Latter Day Saints is one of the leading opponents of marriage equality, funding anti-equality groups and fighting referendums in states across the nation, from Maine to California.
There are, of course, many more examples, some of them Catholic. Fortunately, most of them are in the past. Many of us believe that one of the strengths of our nation is that we are a pluralistic society with many religions and many views. It's why we have made progress in advancing freedom and civil rights. The First Amendment's provision for the separation of church and state has permitted us to have religious freedom, civic freedom, and personal freedom. Even though Rev. Pat Robertson doesn't think that the separation of church and state is in the constitution (he really said it. You don't need to make up the stupid things that Rev. Pat Robertson has said) the Archdiocese of Washington is blatantly telling the city what to do!
There are solutions, of course. The Archdiocese could capitulate, but that is extremely unlikely given the public stance that they have taken and pinning it to their faith. The city council could give in, but I can't imagine the city council wanting to be dictated to by a church - any church - about their civic responsibilities regarding what they view as a civil rights issue. It's possible that there is a compromise that would permit both sides to claim victory, but it's hard to imagine.
I believe that the best solution is to find other entities to replace the Archdiocese. The way that they have tried to publicly muscle the city into following church teaching on this issue probably makes it improbable that they can continue to be a trusted partner in the future. The search for replacement operations - secular or religious, non-profit or for profit - should begin now. Even if a compromise could be found, one that doesn't force the city to abide by the church's hardcore discriminatory policies, it would only be a matter of time before they threatened the city again. Besides, they have already proven that they are willing to take hostages.