The future of the gay-marriage debate

Big news from the Archdiocese of Washington this week: Catholic Charities announced that they would no longer be offering spousal health-care benefits for employees, rather than be forced to acknowledge same-sex partners under DC’s new law. In a statement on Tuesday, Archbishop Donald Wuerl justified their decision:

“The Catholic Church teaches to pay a just wage. The compensation package you use to pay that just wage isn’t defined by the church,” Wuerl said during an interview with Washington Post writers and editors. “Employers have the right to frame compensation packages. . . . At the end of the day, Catholic Charities is here serving the needy, after the law has passed, in complete conformity with the law.”

It’s certainly a reasonable position to take in the face of what some would say is unreasonable legislation, though it’s not without its pitfalls. Over at GetReligion, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway wonders what this could mean down the road:

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How might that change affect a young couple that wants one spouse to stay at home and raise the children? If they’re already operating on one salary – and presumably a low non-profit type salary – will that in any way change their decision to work for Catholic Charities? If these changes are replicated throughout the country, would it have a significant effect on such decisions? Do we care? What if marriage law is changed to permit, as some prominent same-sex marriage advocates hope, “small group marriages“? Will even secular companies drop insurance benefits for spouses? Then how will that change family dynamics?

I’m sure the archdiocese struggled with these questions while reaching their decision (even if the DC Council didn’t). Meanwhile, over at the America blog, Father Jim Martin points out that now-Cardinal William Levada (and head of the CDF) took a different approach when he was presented with the same situation almost 13 years ago in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. As John Allen summarized:

At the eleventh hour . . . Levada proposed allowing employees to designate anyone they wanted as a recipient of benefits on their health plans — an aunt, a parent, a good friend, etc. In that sense, the church was making benefits more widely available, without endorsing same-sex relationships. One Catholic theologian at the time called the decision “Solomonic,” though some critics still felt it fudged over the church’s opposition to homosexuality.

One of those critics was, in fact, a columnist for Crisis Magazine at the time, Michael Uhlmann, who argued that Levada’s solution ceded the grounds of the debate to pro-gay-marriage activists. Cardinal Levada defended his position in a letter to the editor here (you can read Uhlmann’s response here).

Washington is likely to be the first of many dioceses that will have to make similar decisions in the near future. The question is, how should the Church respond — following the Wuerl Model or the Levada Model? Are there other options here that haven’t been considered yet?

What do readers think?


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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