Meanwhile, just a year ago this week, two very powerful state legislators in Connecticut proposed a bill that would have had the government take over the finances of the Catholic Church. (It took a rally drawing thousands of folks to the state capitol to persuade them to withdraw the measure.)
How did we reach the point where powerful people seriously consider such outrageous intrusions on religious liberty? These "shots across the bow" are skirmishes in a larger war between a newly triumphant liberalism and older American values, including pluralism, conscience protection and respect for religious liberty.
If the right to religious liberty -- a right clearly and explicitly established in our U.S. Constitution -- were being supported and enforced equally with other First Amendment rights, traditional faith communities would not be as worried as they are about the coming attempts to misuse government power. Secular liberals are showing a powerful desire to use the power of government to repress faith communities that disagree with their views. They have been enabled by a Supreme Court (led, ironically, by Justice Antonin Scalia) that has thrown up its hands at the difficulties of enforcing religious liberty and ruled that government intrusions imposed on all people are acceptable, even if they substantially interfere with religious practice.
How else can we explain what just happened in the District of Columbia, the nation's capital? The Washington, D.C., city council chose to pass a gay marriage bill, and then chose to try to block the right of ordinary D.C. citizens to exercise their charter-given right to put actions of the city council to a vote. But that's not the worst of self-righteous zealotry among entrenched local politicians.
The Catholic Church is an outsize provider of social services in D.C., with a well-deserved reputation as a valuable partner in providing a vast array of caring services to the most vulnerable citizens of the district.
When the D.C. politicians passed gay marriage without serious conscience protections, the Catholic Church became aware that it would seriously interfere with the church's ability to help the government care for poor people in D.C. Catholic organizations, especially those that accepted government money, would now be required by the government to recognize gay marriages, regardless of their faith commitments.
As a result of this senseless government pressure, Catholic Charities was forced to close its adoption and foster care services, needlessly reducing the number of caring and competent services available to poor and abandoned children. And the diocese just announced it would, henceforth, cease offering spousal benefits at all, in order to protect Catholic organizations from being forced by the government to recognize gay marriages.
What was the point of these kinds of government impositions on Christian institutions? The Catholic Church's position on gay sex and gay marriage are well-known, or should be. Surely it should come as no shock to a potential employee to discover that a Catholic organization is not the right place to pursue their career if they want gay marital benefits? What gay person in D.C. is practically better off as a result of this mean-spirited and successful attempt to drive the Catholic Church out of the public square in key ways? If this were left up to ordinary gay people, I'm betting it would all turn out very different. Live and let live is the American impulse across ideological and moral disagreements.
But in today's world, Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., is both a brave and a kind man. He went to the city council and asked for permission to continue helping poor and vulnerable people in partnership with the city. The city council spurned his request. Its members were not interested in helping mute the conflicts between gay marriage and religious liberty. They want the right to use government to brand traditional Christianity as bigoted and discriminatory.
Shame on them. Shame on them. They will only fuel Americans' legitimate fears about what the real motivations behind gay marriage are.
And Americans of good will clearly have to come together over the heads of politicians to find a better solution.