Soft Despotism

Contracts for Catholic Charities in Washington, DC hang by a thread of “tolerance.”

At the end of 2009 the gay marriage movement, which once seemed unstoppable, hit a series of roadblocks. A referendum in Maine was defeated, and even the liberal New York state Senate voted down a gay marriage bill by a surprisingly wide margin. But its proponents did score one win in December, when the Washington, DC City Council legalized same-sex marriage.

That month, when it should have been focusing on helping the poor get through another winter, Catholic Charities in Washington, DC was facing a new year full of uncertainty.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington explained how the legislation could affect Catholic Charities in a Washington Post op-ed:

Under the bill, religious organizations would be exempt from participating in ceremonies or from teaching about same-sex marriage in religion classes and retreats in accord with their faith beliefs, but they would be required to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere else, including in employment policies, and adoption and foster-care policies, against their beliefs….

The archdiocese has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children.

Wuerl explained that now “the archdiocese would be forced to choose” between two principles: “our understanding of the nature of marriage and our commitment to expressing Christ’s love through service to others.”

In short, as an employer in the District, the archdiocese and its agencies are now legally obligated to provide benefits to the live-in partners of homosexual employees. They will also be obliged to approve adoptions to samesex couples. Failure to do so will expose the archdiocese to costly litigation, and the possible loss of the contracts, certificates, and licenses required to carry out its work in the District of Columbia.

That work includes serving close to 70,000 people, including approximately 33 percent of Washington’s homeless. In a city plagued by high rates of poverty and crime, Catholic Charities plays a vital role in alleviating suffering. It offers shelter, food, counseling, foster care, tutoring for GED tests, employment and job-training services, legal and health care assistance, immigration assistance— and not incidentally, an AIDS Ministry and Outreach program.

The archdiocese recently partnered with the city to develop St. Martin’s Apartments, a complex designed to provide housing to 200 low-income families and individuals. That is just one of many partnerships the archdiocese has with the city, worth a total of $9 million.

“The Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Charities, and our other agencies are committed to continuing to serve the people of the District of Columbia as we have done for more than 80 years, with the resources available to us,” insists Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.

However, many are wondering how these vital services will be hampered by the new law. Similar laws passed in Massachusetts drove Catholic Charities out of the adoption field when it refused to place children with homosexual couples.

Critics are urging the archdiocese to “compromise” on the issue of providing benefits to the live-in partners of homosexual employees. Washington Post columnist Robert Mc- Cartney held up new policies adopted by Georgetown University as a possible solution.

“It allows an employee to designate any ‘legally domiciled adult’ as a recipient of spousal benefits,” explained Mc- Cartney, “while conveniently avoiding the question of whether that person is a same-sex spouse.”

The trouble is that this compromise smacks of sophistry. “It would allow same-sex ‘spouses’ to receive benefits but give them a different label,” says Colleen Raezler of the Culture and Media Institute. All the evasive legalistic words in the world can’t disguise the fact that, through this arrangement, the archdiocese would be implicitly endorsing homosexual partnerships. And for a Catholic institution, that solution is no solution at all.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union recognizes and condemns the one-way “compromises” that seem to be the only ones on the table in DC. In testimony leading up to passage of the bill, the ACLU called for stronger protections for religious freedom in the wording of the legislation.

“What is happening in DC isn’t the failure of political give-and-take,” writes Charles Colson in The Christian Post. “It’s a declining regard for the most important of human rights: religious liberty.”

Like so many hot-button issues of the day, the gay marriage fight pits newly minted post-modern “rights” against those rights enshrined in the US Constitution and in centuries of Western common law, particularly the right to religious liberty and freedom of speech. As Colson warns, “The alternative to religious liberty isn’t ‘tolerance,’ it’s what Alexis de Tocqueville called ‘soft despotism’—government by rules and regulations.”

He notes the now-familiar irony that gay rights activists, whose favorite mantra is “tolerance,” become notably intolerant of their opponents, particularly orthodox Christians. Colson notes that secularists should be worried about this toxic tactic, too. “The victims of this legally sanctioned intolerance aren’t only Christians,” he warns. “It’s all of us.”

Colson upholds religious institutions like Catholic Charities as “an essential buffer between ordinary people and the overweening authority of the state.” But increasing state authority is exactly what “progressives” hope to achieve. Frequently, they resort to bullying to achieve this goal, since those “ordinary people” Colson mentioned have a disconcerting habit of thwarting their goals, either through that messy annoyance known as “democracy” or by making a lone stand against creeping tyranny.

Taking democracy first: everywhere “gay marriage” has been put to a popular vote in America, it has been defeated. Progressives are loath to discuss one reason for this: the inconvenient fact that African-Americans are far less supportive of the idea of “gay marriage” than white voters are. This is inconvenient because gay activists are fond of likening themselves to the civil rights pioneers of the 1960s.

And the District of Columbia is heavily African-American. So while its City Council voted 11-2 to pass “gay marriage” legislation, many in the community at large—particularly pastors of local black churches—were highly vocal in their opposition. One conservative blogger at did the math: “A poll taken earlier this year in three DC wards showed overwhelming support for it, but those wards skewed heavily white and liberal and ended up dividing sharply along racial lines—92 percent of whites in favor versus just 41 percent of blacks.”

This sharp divide was revealed dramatically during the Proposition 8 battle in California. At the time, comedienne Rosanne Barr declared on her websitethat African-Americans who’d supported the ban on “gay marriage” had “showed [sic] themselves every inch as bigoted and ignorant as their white Christian right wing counterparts.” Meanwhile, ugly reports of white homosexuals verbally assaulting African Americans at rallies revealed a fissure in the peaceful “rainbow coalition” that progressives claim to represent.

It seems that only opponents of gay marriage are punished for being outspoken. When the Huffington Post concludes, “If gay folk can marry, the Catholic church refuses to feed the homeless,” or AlterNet opines that “[the Catholic Church] ranks among the world’s most sexually dysfunctional,” such hyperbole is matter-offactly accepted as representing mainstream opinion.

Or take what happened when a local radio station covered the DC gay marriage vote. According to Randy Sly of Catholic Online, the station misrepresented the story, and then “asked for comments from two government officials. When the archdiocese called, seeking to comment on the issue, they were told that no additional callers would be accepted.”

Meanwhile, those who speak out in favor of traditional marriage, even privately, are frequently punished harshly. Larry Grard was a veteran reporter at Maine’s Morning Sentinel. When he criticized a gay marriage advocate’s methods following the state’s failed referendum, he was fired. Then, according to William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, “Grard’s wife, Lisa, who writes a bimonthly cooking column for the newspaper, was subsequently fired. It was suddenly decided that her work was ‘no longer a good fit.’ Sounds like reprisal to us…. We have put Grard, and his wife, in contact with law firms that may want to sue Mr. Thompson and his newspaper.”

At least such suits will presumably follow the rules of common law and established legal precedent. When pastor Stephen Boissoin was “sued” for writing a similar message questioning the gay agenda, he enjoyed no such privileges. A few years back, a Canadian newspaper printed the youth pastor’s letter to the editor, in which he mentioned the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual acts. A (non-homosexual) reader pronounced himself offended on behalf of gays and reported Boissoin to the provincial Human Rights Commission.

Lawyer Gerald Chipeur represented Boissoin, who was obliged to spend a six-figure sum defending himself before a “human rights tribunal.” Unlike legitimate courts, Canadian human rights tribunals function in a parallel legal universe, where truth is no defense, and “evidence” is based upon anecdote and emotion.

These tribunals enjoyed a 100 percent conviction rate—until Boissoin’s verdict was thrown out in December. A legitimate court overturned the tribunal’s orders against Boissoin, which had included a lifetime prohibition against the pastor quoting certain Bible verses (even in private letters).

Now Chipeur is trying to warn Americans that the expanded law signed by President Obama in October (known as the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act”) will usher in a similar anti- Christian “witch hunt” in the United States that will resemble the “Spanish Inquisition.”

“I would be shocked if you [in the United States] did not have 100 times more problems with this legislation than we are,” Chipeur has said. “There are certain people in society who look to the government for everything, including to help them with their hurt feelings. The government was never made for that.”

After President Obama signed the bill into law (and one month before the DC City Council passed its “gay marriage” bill) a group of Christian clergymen gathered in Washington to challenge the law by reading aloud from the Bible outside the Justice Department offices.

To those who felt that the organizers of the rally were overreacting, organizer Gary Cass of the Christian Anti- Defamation Coalition cited the case of the British senior citizen who was investigated by the police for “hate crimes” after she wrote a letter critical of the local “gay pride” festivities.

Is it conceivable that Archbishop Donald Wuerl could be charged with “hate speech” on account of his opposition to Washington’s same-sex “marriage” laws? It happened to a Canadian bishop after he issued a similarly worded pastoral letter during that nation’s gay marriage debate. The case was eventually dropped, but only after considerable public blowback.


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