Saturday, March 6, 2010
A response to Rob’s question: does providing benefits to same-sex spouses legitimize same-sex marriage?
Thanks to Rob for posting this important question that emerges from The Washington Post article about the former executive director of the Washington Archdiocese’s Catholic Charities sending a letter to the Archdiocese asking that it revoke its new policy regarding spousal benefits. The Archdiocese has indeed altered its benefits to spouses, but the Post article does not specify what the Archdiocese actually did. As the Archdiocese stated:
Catholic Charities will continue to honor the health coverage current employees have as of March 1, 2010. After that, all new employees, and any existing employees who want to change their health coverage, will be covered under a new benefits package. The new plan will provide the same level coverage for employees and their dependents, with one exception: spouses cannot be covered. This change is the direct result of not receiving an adequate exemption for religious organizations in the same-sex marriage legislation.
Mr. (formerly Fr.) Sawina, the former executive director of Catholic Charities, was quoted in the Post article, and Rob has captured some of what Mr. Sawina said in his complaint about the Archdiocese’s policy quoted above. Although I have tried to track down all of what Sawina stated in his letter to the Archdiocese, I have not been successful to date. But here is the entire statement that the Post published and attributed to him:
“Some, including the archbishop, have argued that by providing health care to a gay or lesbian spouse we are somehow legitimizing gay marriage,” said Sawina, a former priest. “Providing health care to a gay or lesbian partner—a basic human right, according to Church teaching—is an end in itself and no more legitimizes that marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes divorce, or giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism.”
Rob has asked what should the Archdiocese have said in its letter. Well, before tackling that issue, which I shall not do in this posting, a few questions must be raised about the Post’s quotation of Mr. Sawina. I shall do my best to provide answers to the issues that I raise.
The first point concerns his claim that “providing health care benefits to a gay or lesbian partner—a basic right, according to Church teaching—is an end in itself...” I disagree. First of all, while the Church has a strong stand on ensuring basic health care to all persons, it is quite another thing to insist that this noble teaching mandates the Church to provide health care benefits to the gay or lesbian partners of any of its employees. This claim cannot pass the muster of the Church’s definition of a family that “is based on marriage, that intimate union of life in complementarity between a man and a woman which is constituted in the freely contracted and publicly expressed indissoluble bond of matrimony and is open to the transmission of life.” To do what Mr. Sawina asserts the Church should do would be to coerce her into supporting a relationship that defies her teachings. To borrow from Margaret More Roper’s words, we know what it would mean if the Church were to do what Mr. Sawina asks—it would mean that Catholic Charities has conceded that it is paying benefits to a homosexual partner in contradiction of the Church’s teachings, and this would be an endorsement, perhaps indirect, but an endorsement nonetheless, of “same-sex marriage.”
Mr. Sawina then goes on to argue that payment of the benefits themselves is itself independent of this recognition of same-sex marriage. He argues that it is like other ends which “no more legitimizes that [same-sex] marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes divorce...” Here Mr. Sawina fails to take stock of what the Church teaches. Assuming that the communion minister is aware of the existence of a particular divorce, the minister can still give communion to the “innocent” party, that is, not the person who sought the divorce or whose actions precipitated the divorce. Surely giving the innocent victim of divorce communion does not legitimize a divorce for which that person is not responsible. But Mr. Sawina’s quotation does not take stock of this important point.
Mr. Sawina then goes on to construct another flawed analogy. He further contends that it is like other ends which “no more legitimizes that [same-sex] marriage [than] giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism.” Well, first of all the Church acknowledges that alcoholism can be a disease if it is not caused by conscious and intentional abuse of alcohol that can be stopped and restarted by the person consciously and voluntarily abusing alcohol. But Mr. Sawina is not talking about this; rather, he is arguing that giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism. It does not. The Church is feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. It is not supporting alcoholism. Having worked in the Church’s homeless shelters in the past, I am also aware of the efforts made to assist with treatment alcoholics who come into shelters administered by the Church. And, treatment does not include giving alcohol to alcoholics. But if the Church were to give alcohol to alcoholics, then its actions could be construed as legitimizing alcoholism—but this is not what the Church does.