National Catholic Reporter

February 7, 1997

page 2

Archbishop Levada threatens lawsuit

against gay rights law


Archbishop William Levada, a staunch conservative appointed to head the San Francisco archdiocese last year, initiated his first public battle with the city recently when he threatened to sue over the city's new domestic partnership law, which recognizes gay and lesbian couples.

Levada arrived in the archdiocese with a reputation for being far more conservative than his predecessor, Archbishop John Quinn. Except for a brief earlier statement about homosexual unions being a threat to the traditional family, Levada has, until now, avoided high-profile controversy.

But on Dec. 20, Levada sent a letter to Mayor Willie Brown and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors threatening to sue the city for violating the religious freedom of Catholic Charities.

The archbishop wants the city to exempt Catholic Charities from having to comply with the city's new domestic partnership law. The law, scheduled to take effect June 1, requires city contractors to grant health insurance benefits to gay and lesbian couples, as well as to married heterosexual couples.

In a front-page San Francisco Chronicle story Jan. 28, Levada said the ruling would violate the church's

"religious and ethical tenets."

Levada wrote in his letter to the mayor.

As it stands now under the law, Catholic charities must comply because it contracts with the city to operate social programs, intruding Leland House, a new 45-bed housing project for people with HIV. Leland House was scheduled for a grand opening Feb. 6.

Levada has threatened to sue, but said a legal battle would divert city and church resources. Mayor Brown told two local radio stations that he hopes Levada will withdraw his request.

Levada wrote,

Leslie Katz, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, told Chronicle reporter Don Lattin that

Katz and fellow board member Tom Ammiano drafted the legislation, which passed with a 10-0 vote by the board. After receiving Levada's letter, Katz resigned in protest from a committee working on the grandopening plans for Leland House.

Ammiano told the Chronicle that

In a letter to Levada, Ammiano, who attended parochial schools, said:

Derek Tynan-Connolly, a gay rights activist and former Jesuit seminarian who helped draft the legislation, said that the church is free to do as it wishes in

The Board of Supervisors sent Levada a letter of protest Jan. 23 saying,

Catholic Charities serves 70,000 people in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. Its $13.6 million budget includes $5.6 million from city funds.