Sailors in trouble are advised to seek out “any port in a storm.” Well, most state treasurers need to find a port.
A report from the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts 37 states and the District of Columbia will face revenue “shortfalls” this year. Big ones, too. They’re currently short by $31.2 billion -- more than 7.2 percent of their total budgets.
Many states enjoyed windfall tax receipts earlier in the decade and boosted their budgets accordingly. But the recession took a bite out of revenues, and many now need all the help they can get. So one would expect state governments to accept help gladly from the private sector, even if it’s offered by a -- gasp -- religious organization.
Instead, District of Columbia lawmakers recently took deliberate steps to spurn an important force for good in their city: Catholic Charities. For full disclosure: I am proudly a practicing Catholic, who supports Catholic Charities as a private citizen.
The story involves the intersection of social and moral issues. Last year, D.C. Council members were crafting a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in the District. But the measure’s effect didn’t stop there.
City officials made clear that if Catholic Charities wanted to continue to provide social services through a contract with the city, it would have to offer spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees or stop offering benefits based on marital status altogether. Catholic Charities also learned that its foster care and publicly funded adoption programs would have to place children with same-sex married couples and license them as adoptive and foster families.
Failure to address these impacts is a direct slap at Catholic Charities, a faith-based organization that serves a critical role in the District. Its shelters, for instance, care for about a third of the city’s homeless.
District lawmakers could easily have included a religious exemption in its same-sex marriage law that would have allowed Catholic Charities to continue its work. But the lawmakers refused to address the concerns that Catholic Charities and several others, including several law professors, had raised. Religious organizations would have to bend to the government’s will in these matters.
Catholic Charities stuck by its principles and ended its foster care and adoption programs. It transferred some 43 children and their biological families, along with 35 foster families, to a private organization.
Some doubt this will matter much. “They don’t represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure,” District Council member David Catania told The Washington Post. Catania sponsored the same-sex marriage bill.
But make no mistake -- this is a decision with long-range consequences.
Statesman Edmund Burke once celebrated the “little platoons” of citizens in free countries who voluntarily band together to help others. These groups make a country better, and they save taxpayers millions.
Catholic Charities is just such a group. It encourages its employees and countless members of Catholic churches to get involved in helping the less fortunate.
The group serves nearly 80,000 people each year. Even without the foster care and adoption services, it operates 82 social-service programs in the District of Columbia. But with D.C.’s same-sex law, Catholic Charities will find it more difficult to complete missions or hire employees.
That’s because, instead of offering spousal health insurance benefits to the same-sex spouses of homosexual employees it hires, the organization has decided to stop offering spousal benefits to any new employees.
The outcome is predictable. Under its new restrictions, Catholic Charities won’t be able to accomplish as much. Needy District residents will turn to other providers chosen by the D.C. government, which has lost the benefit of Catholic agencies’ full experience and character. An already tight budget will be stretched even more. Meanwhile, fewer private citizens will join the important work of helping their fellow Americans.
The law of unintended consequences has come into play. Lawmakers set out to protect the rights of one group, but ended up trampling the religious rights of another. In the end, it is District residents who will suffer -- and pay -- for that decision.