The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. went too far when it threatened the City Council last week that it would halt its social service programs in the capital if lawmakers there approve a gay marriage proposal next month. According to The Washington Post, the church is concerned that the law would force it to extend medical benefits to same-sex partners, or otherwise tolerate homosexuality.
As far as church activities funded by public dollars go, let's hope so. No institution, no matter what its guiding principles, should be allowed to discriminate with public money. It is sad that the church apparently believes its misguided effort to ostracize gays is more important than its mission to help Washington's poor and hopeless. Some 68,000 people rely on the church's services, including homeless shelters and health clinics, and it's not right to hold them hostage to the church's political agenda.
This conflict also points out a limitation of the government's habit of relying on outside groups to provide social services. Those who argue for government to play a smaller role in establishing the social safety net often note the ability of private charities to pick up the slack. But as this situation makes clear, organizations that choose to do so can also choose to stop.
If the Archdiocese is using this solely to block the proposal, that is wrong; however, if the city intends to use the fact that the church received public funds to force it to provide services that support behavior it considers immoral, that also is wrong.