March 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Archdiocese of Washington joins effort to kill D.C. gay rights measure

Donald Wuerl, gay news, Washington Blade

Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Photo by Tomasz Wachowski; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington signed on to a letter to members of the U.S. Senate on March 20 calling for Congress to block a D.C. bill that would protect LGBT students from discrimination at religious schools operating in the city.

The letter, which was signed, among others, by Cardinal Donald Wuerl calls the Human Rights Amendment Act approved by the D.C. Council last year an attack on religious freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of association in the nation’s capital.

The letter also calls on Congress to kill another bill approved by the Council and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. That measure would prohibit D.C. employers from discriminating against employees based on their personal reproductive health choices, including a decision to have an abortion.

D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton joined city officials in strongly disputing claims that the two bills would infringe on religious freedoms or freedom of speech.

The Archdiocese of Washington oversees 139 Catholic parishes and 95 Catholic schools in D.C. and five counties in Maryland.

“The Human Rights Amendment Act, by removing conscience protections in the law, would prevent religious educational institutions from operating according to the tenets of their own faith with regard to human sexuality,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

Archdiocesan officials joined other mostly conservative faith-based groups in speaking out on the two D.C. bills after U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced separate resolutions of disapproval calling for killing the two bills.

The senators acted under a provision of the D.C. Home Rule Act that allows Congress to prevent a newly passed D.C. law from taking effect if the Senate and House pass by simple majority vote and the president signs a disapproval resolution. Such a resolution must be passed and signed by the president within a 30 legislative day period in which Congress must review all D.C. approved legislation.

Both bills are currently pending before Congress in the review process, which is expected to end on April 17.

Under the Home Rule Act passed by Congress, disapproval resolutions can be discharged from a committee after 20 calendar days and can’t be block by a Senate filibuster, according to an analysis of the process conducted by Roll Call.

A disapproval resolution targeting one or both of the two D.C. bills had not been introduced in the House as of late this week. But U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that has oversight over D.C., told Roll Call newspaper on March 20 that he’s considering introducing such a resolution.

“We want to take some action in the House too,” Roll Call quoted him as saying. “We’re still working on that.”

The Human Rights Amendment Act, as passed by the D.C. Council and signed by Bowser, would repeal a 1989 law passed by Congress known as the Armstrong Amendment. The amendment changed the D.C. Human Rights Act to exempt religious educational institutions from a provision in the act that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Armstrong Amendment, which remains part of the D.C. Human Rights Act, allows religious schools such as Catholic University to deny meeting space or other privileges to student clubs or groups that engage in “promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation or belief.”

Monica Palacio, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, has said that based on a 1989 court ruling, which set guidelines for the D.C. Human Rights Act’s coverage of religious institutions, religious schools like Catholic University would not be required to officially recognize or provide funding to LGBT student groups if the Armstrong Amendment is repealed. Such schools would only be required to provide LGBT student groups equal access to facilities such as meeting rooms and school bulletin boards, she said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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