For Gay Catholics, D.C. Marriage Win Bittersweet Gay couples lined up to apply for marriage certificates Wednesday as Washington, D.C.'s gay-marriage law took affect. The law caused the diocese to change its policies so it wouldn't have to give gay spouses benefits or handle adoptions for them. The change may allow the diocese to keep city contracts, but it could also push the faithful away.
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For Gay Catholics, D.C. Marriage Win Bittersweet

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For Gay Catholics, D.C. Marriage Win Bittersweet

For Gay Catholics, D.C. Marriage Win Bittersweet

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The District of Columbia has become the 6th jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage. Before the doors to the marriage bureau even opened this morning, more than 100 couples were standing in line to apply for licenses.

NPRs Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports that for those who happen to be Catholic, this is a bittersweet moment.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Its a familiar script.

Unidentified Group: God won't hear what you say when you pretend to pray...

HAGERTY: A handful of religious conservatives damning gay unions as an offense to God. Soon their protests were drowned out when the first batch of couples emerged from the D.C. courthouse.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HAGERTY: They stood in front of microphones, euphoric that they can now marry. But for Catholics, like Phillip Dunham, there was some ambivalence.

Mr. PHILIP DUNHAM: I didnt go on Ash Wednesday for the first time in years. And I really felt like I didnt belong anymore.

HAGERTY: Clutching the hand of Allen Pittinger, his partner for the past nine years, Dunham says hes long felt snubbed by the Catholic Church. But the final straw came when Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., stopped handling adoptions so that it would not have to place children in the homes of gay couples. And as of yesterday, it stopped providing spousal benefits for all employees, lest the organization give benefits to a gay spouse. Pittinger and Dunham see these as cynical moves.

Mr. ALLEN PITTINGER: Now, they dont have to provide any type of benefits for anyone going forward.

Mr. DUNHAM: And when I read that, I thought, wow, its a great way to save on payroll costs: blame the gay community, and come out smelling like a rose.

HAGERTY: They say the Catholic Church in other places, such as San Francisco, found a way to accommodate gay couples. The Washington Church simply didnt want to. Not so, says Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Given the Catholic Churchs history of social justice and fighting for working-class wages, this decision was wrenching for the church.

Ms. SUSAN GIBBS (Spokesperson, Archdiocese of Washington): This has been really hard for Catholic Charities and for the archdiocese because we are so committed to working with the poor. Its what we do.

HAGERTY: Gibbs says the church had no choice. The D.C. government redefined marriage. And so Catholic Charities was forced to choose between keeping its contracts with the city and abandoning its belief about the holiness and purpose of marriage, in which a man and woman unite to have children.

Ms. GIBBS: Really the priority was: How does Catholic Charities continue serving all the people it does now, while meeting the requirements, and staying true to who they are as a Catholic organization?

HAGERTY: But Father Joseph Palacios, an openly gay priest affiliated with Georgetown University, says the new policies were quote, written by the lawyers.

Father JOSEPH PALACIOS (Priest, Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University): The church will find itself in increasing isolation with its own Catholic community.

HAGERTY: Palacios sees this particularly among students, a trend that was captured by a recent poll of Catholics under 30.

Father PALACIOS: The millennials who identify as Catholics are thinking of themselves as increasingly spiritual and rather less Roman Catholic.

HAGERTY: Which translates into fewer people in the pews, he says. Of course, some conservatives from other denominations have flocked to the Catholic Church because of its harder line, suggesting that the battle over marriage and theology will be messy for some time.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News, Washington.

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