Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington closed their 80-year-old foster care and public adoption program in the District of Columbia because they would not violate their religious beliefs by licensing same-sex couples.

The foster care program - that consists of 43 children and their biological families, 35 foster families and seven staff members - was transitioned to the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) on Feb. 1.

"Catholic Charities has been providing foster care in one form or another for decades ... to transition this to another agency certainly was a real loss for us," said Edward Orzechowski, president and CEO of Catholic Charities.

Fortunately though, the NCCF "shares our commitment to permanency for children, and our perspective that foster parents are real partners with us in serving these children," he said.

The decision to transition these services was prompted by the impending legalization of same-sex marriage in the District. The D.C. City Council passed the same-sex marriage bill in December, and it's now under congressional review.

The legislation, "in many ways, forced us to either compromise our faith's teachings or comply with the law ... we will not compromise our faith's teachings, so we felt we had no choice but to transition (the foster care and public adoption program) to another agency," he said.

Catholic Charities of Boston closed its adoption services in 2006 because it would no longer comply with state law and place children with homosexual couples.

Officials from Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington held several meetings with members of the D.C. City Council and testified before the council asking them to expand the religious liberty protections in the new bill, but their concerns were rejected.

"This is the most narrow religious freedom exemption in the country," Orzechowski said, adding that the law creates a real challenge for the Church, forcing organizations like Catholic Charities, in instances such as the foster care outreach, to choose between their religious beliefs and serving in the public square.

Some local faith leaders have come out in support of Catholic Charities' decision to stay committed to their beliefs. The Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference of DC and Vicinity issued a statement saying although they "deeply regret" the decision made by Catholic Charities, "we stand with them."

"In their arrogance to gain political favor with one segment of the population, the mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia have legally crippled the faith community with a law that prohibits us from serving those to whom God has called us to minister," the statement said.

Rev. Patrick Walker, chairman of the task force Against Same Sex Marriage for The Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference, said, "It is unfair and unreasonable to expect the faith community to put our beliefs on the back burner ..."

Bill Donohue, president of Catholic League, said District lawmakers could have granted an exemption that ensured the continuation of services, "but instead they sought to create a Catch-22 situation for the archdiocese."

"Surely they knew that Archbishop Wuerl was not going to negotiate Catholic Church teachings on marriage, yet that hardly mattered to them. The real losers are the children who were served by the Catholic Church."

Catholic Charities, which operates more than 20 social service programs in the District, does not anticipate any other programs being affected by the legislation. Orzechowski said he remains confident that Catholic Charities will find a way to structure their employee benefits package without recognizing same-sex marriage, so they can continue partnering with the city.

"We are considering all alternatives of how we might meet the law. We have not come to a final decision, but we are studying all options," he said, adding that Catholic Charities needs to have a plan in place before the same-sex marriage bill is expected to become law in mid-March.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington serves Washington and five Maryland counties. Last year, the organization provided more than 124,000 people with support related to housing, food, legal aid, physical and mental health, and other services.