Catholic Church Threatens to End Social Services in DC if Gay Marriage is Approved

Eric Sheptock

Washington, DC has joined several other states in its quest for same-sex marriage. The DC Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of same-sex marriage on December 1st. According to DC Law, they must vote a second time on December 15th and then the bill goes to Capitol Hill for Congressional review. Congress then has 30 days to vote on it, or it becomes law by default.

Washington, DC
has joined several other states in its quest for same-sex marriage. The DC
Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of same-sex marriage on December 1st. According
to DC Law, they must vote a second time on December 15th and then the bill goes
to Capitol Hill for Congressional review. Congress then has 30 days
to vote on it, or it becomes law by default.


When
news of the impending vote came out in early November, the
Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC threatened to end all social
service contracts that Catholic Charities has with the city if the same-sex
marriage bill becomes law. They don’t want to pay spousal benefits to the
partners of their gay and lesbian employees. Neither do they want to allow
gay or lesbian couples to adopt children through their adoption services. All
in all, the Catholic church doesn’t want to honor same-sex marriage rights
in any way, shape, form or fashion. As a church, they are entitled to their
opinion and their stance on same-sex marriage.

However,
Catholic Charities is not just the social service branch of the Catholic
Church. It is also a non-profit which receives funding from the DC Government.
Churches don’t have to perform same-sex marriages or allow them to be performed
in their space. But businesses may not discriminate against the LGBT
community. Therefore, the crux of the issue is whether Catholic
Charities should be allowed to assert its position as a branch of the
Catholic Church and get a special exemption that doesn’t require them to honor
same-sex marriage rights or if they should be treated as a business and not be
allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians, pedophile priests
notwithstanding.

The
Catholic Church is fighting an inward battle with two of its own tenets being
pitted against each other — caring for the needy vs. being against same-sex
marriage. If they remain under contract with the city to deliver
social services, they’ll have to recognize and honor gay marriage. If they end
their social service contracts with the city, then many of Catholic Charities’
programs wouldn’t have enough funding to remain operational. In essence, they
would be letting down the 68,000 poor Washingtonians that they serve, of which
2,000 are homeless people seeking shelter. The loss of 2,000 shelter beds
during hypothermia could be catastrophic for DC’s 6,000 plus homeless people.
That said, which is the lesser of two evils — accommodating a few gays and
lesbians while providing for 68,000 needy people or leaving all of
those needy people high and dry for the sake of making a statement against gay
marriage? The fact of the matter is that, short of making a here-to-now
unmentioned compromise, the church would need to forgo one of its tenets in
order to support the other. We’ll know by Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2010
which way they went. Let’s hope that they make the right choice.

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My
fellow homeless advocates and I will continue to raise awareness
on the issue in hopes of instilling some sympathy in the hearts of
the affluent for those who are less fortunate. Let’s keep on keepin’ on!

Commentary Sexual Health

Fewer Young People Are Getting Formal Sex Education, But Can a New Federal Bill Change That?

Martha Kempner

Though the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act has little chance of passing Congress, its inclusive and evidence-based approach is a much-needed antidote to years of publicly funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which may have contributed to troubling declines in youth knowledge about sexual and reproductive health.

Recent research from the Guttmacher Institute finds there have been significant changes in sexuality education during the last decade—and not for the better.

Fewer young people are receiving “formal sex education,” meaning classes that take place in schools, youth centers, churches, or community settings. And parents are not necessarily picking up the slack. This does not surprise sexuality education advocates, who say shrinking resources and restrictive public policies have pushed comprehensive programs—ones that address sexual health and contraception, among other topics—out of the classroom, while continued funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs has allowed uninformative ones to remain.

But just a week before this research was released in April, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA). If passed, REHYA would allocate federal funding for accurate, unbiased sexuality education programs that meet strict content requirements. More importantly, it would lay out a vision of what sexuality education could and should be.

Can this act ensure that more young people get high-quality sexuality education?

In the short term: No. Based on the track record of our current Congress, it has little chance of passing. But in the long run, absolutely.

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Less Sexuality Education Today

The Guttmacher Institute’s new study compared data from two rounds of a national survey in the years 2006-2010 and 2011-2013. It found that even the least controversial topics in sex education—sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV and AIDS—are taught less today than a few years ago. The proportion of young women taught about STDs declined from 94 percent to 90 percent between the two time periods, and young women taught about HIV and AIDS declined from 89 percent to 86 percent during the same period.

While it may seem like a lot of young people are still learning about these potential consequences of unprotected sex, few are learning how to prevent them. In the 2011-2013 survey, only 50 percent of teen girls and 58 percent of teen boys had received formal instruction about how to use a condom before they turned 18. And the percentage of teens who reported receiving formal education about birth control in general decreased from 70 percent to 60 percent among girls and from 61 percent to 55 percent among boys.

One of the only things that did increase was the percentage of teen girls (from 22 percent to 28 percent) and boys (from 29 to 35 percent) who said they got instruction on “how to say no to sex”—but no corresponding instruction on birth control.

Unfortunately, many parents do not appear to be stepping in to fill the gap left by formal education. The study found that while there’s been a decline in formal education, there has been little change in the number of kids who say they’ve spoken to their parents about birth control.

Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, told Rewire that this can lead to a dangerous situation: “In the face of declining formal education and little discussion from their parents, young people are left to fend for themselves, often turning to their friends or the internet-either of which can be fraught with trouble.”

The study makes it very clear that we are leaving young people unprepared to make responsible decisions about sex. When they do receive education, it isn’t always timely: It found that in 2011-2013, 43 percent of teen females and 57 percent of teen males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time.

It could be tempting to argue that the situation is not actually dire because teen pregnancy rates are at a historic low, potentially suggesting that young people can make do without formal sex education or even parental advice. Such an argument would be a mistake. Teen pregnancy rates are dropping for a variety of reasons, but mostly because because teens are using contraception more frequently and more effectively. And while that is great news, it is insufficient.

Our goals in providing sex education have to go farther than getting young people to their 18th or 21st birthday without a pregnancy. We should be working to ensure that young people grow up to be sexually healthy adults who have safe and satisfying relationships for their whole lives.

But for anyone who needs an alarming statistic to prove that comprehensive sex education is still necessary, here’s one: Adolescents make up just one quarter of the population, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate they account for more than half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that occur each year in this country.

The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act

The best news about the REHYA is that it takes a very broad approach to sexuality education, provides a noble vision of what young people should learn, and seems to understand that changes should take place not just in K-12 education but through professional development opportunities as well.

As Advocates for Youth explains, if passed, REHYA would be the first federal legislation to ever recognize young people’s right to sexual health information. It would allocate funding for education that includes a wide range of topics, including communication and decision-making skills; safe and healthy relationships; and preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV, other STIs, dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment.

In addition, it would require all funded programs to be inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and to meet the needs of young people who are sexually active as well as those who are not. The grants could also be used for adolescents and young adults in institutes of higher education. Finally, the bill recognizes the importance of teacher training and provides resources to prepare sex education instructors.

If we look at the federal government’s role as leading by example, then REHYA is a great start. It sets forth a plan, starts a conversation, and moves us away from decades of focusing on disproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In fact, one of the fun parts of this new bill is that it diverts funding from the Title V program, which received $75 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2016. That funding has supported programs that stick to a strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education” (often called the “A-H definition”) that, among other things, tells young people that sex outside of marriage is against societal norms and likely to have harmful physical and psychological effects.

The federal government does not make rules on what can and cannot be taught in classrooms outside of those programs it funds. Broad decisions about topics are made by each state, while more granular decisions—such as what curriculum to use or videos to show—are made by local school districts. But the growth of the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach and the industry that spread it, researchers say, was partially due to federal funding and the government’s “stamp of approval.”

Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute and a co-author of its study, told Rewire: “My sense is that [government endorsement] really spurred the proliferation of a whole industry and gave legitimacy—and still does—to this very narrow approach.”

The money—$1.5 billion total between 1996 and 2010—was, of course, at the heart of a lot of that growth. School districts, community-based organizations, and faith-based institutions created programs using federal and state money. And a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations grew up to provide the curricula and materials these programs needed. But the reach was broader than that: A number of states changed the rules governing sex education to insist that schools stress abstinence. Some even quoted all or part of the A-H definition in their state laws.

REHYA would provide less money to comprehensive education than the abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams did to their respective programs, but most advocates agree that it is important nonetheless. As Jesseca Boyer, vice president at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), told Rewire, “It establishes a vision of what the government could do in terms of supporting sex education.”

Boonstra noted that by providing the model for good programs and some money that would help organizations develop materials for those programs, REHYA could have a broader reach than just the programs it would directly fund.

The advocates Rewire spoke with agree on something else, as well: REHYA has very little chance of passing in this Congress. But they’re not deterred. Even if it doesn’t become law this year, or next, it is moving the pendulum back toward the comprehensive approach to sex education that our young people need.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify Jesseca Boyer’s position at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Purvi Patel’s Appeal Is Around the Corner

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

In a matter of weeks, the State of Indiana will be back in court arguing for the right to prosecute pregnant people for not delivering a live baby.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

An Indiana appeals court will hear arguments later this month in the case of Purvi Patel, the Indiana woman currently serving 20 years in prison after a jury convicted her of conflicting charges of feticide and neglect of a dependent. Rewire will have analysis and commentary as the May 23 arguments approach, but as this piece explains, even now her case has wide-reaching ramifications.

Speaking of Indiana, a few fire departments there have started offering “baby boxes,” slots where parents can “deposit a newborn anonymously and walk away, reassured that it is safe.” That’s great and all. But not prosecuting pregnant people would be even better.

I mean, even Alabama is going to start limiting prosecution of pregnant people in the states—specifically, those who use prescribed drugs during pregnancy. That said, those using non-prescription drugs while pregnant in Alabama can still be charged under the chemical endangerment law.

The reverberations from Scalia’s death keep on … reverbing. This piece from Eilene Spear, Jennifer Schaller, and Nicole Cudiamat Minnis at the National Law Review discusses the impact Scalia’s death will have on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, specifically.

Here is another horrific example of why the fight about religious liberties is about way more than birth control.

“U.S. Supreme Court” and “victory for labor” are not two phrases that typically go together, but thankfully for Seattle’s $15 minimum wage campaign, this time they do!

However, the Supreme Court won’t allow the attorneys for the late so-called D.C. Madam to release her customer records, which, frankly, makes me more curious about what’s in them.

The justices did tell the State of Alabama to review its death sentencing practices, though.

Is the name for the Washington football team so offensive that it should not receive trademark protection? A couple of cert petitions ask the Supreme Court to weigh in.
 
This seemed inevitable. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from the bench over allegations that he “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority” in fighting off marriage equality in his state. Again.