For 90 years, the City Union Mission in the heart of Kansas City has given a roof, meals and warm beds to homeless individuals and families in need.
That fact alone, said executive director Dan Doty, makes its most recent decision regarding same-sex couples and their families all the harder.
Even if same-sex marriage becomes legal in both Missouri and Kansas — a matter now working its way through the courts — same-sex couples will not be allowed to stay as couples at City Union Mission’s family shelter.
“I knew this day would come, especially when the media would begin asking that question,” Doty said, deeply concerned about what effect the nonprofit’s decision could have on its broad community support and donations. “I truly hope you understand the can of worms this could open.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“…We are a Christian, faith-based organization that really does adhere to biblical standards. Our view is that it (same-sex marriage) is inappropriate. Our intent is not to shelter same-sex couples together.”
Married, same-sex couples who insist on being housed together will be referred to another area organization willing to accommodate them. Such organizations might include the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph and reStart Inc.
The mission, with offices at 1100 E. 11th, provides shelter to up to 550 individuals each night, including families with children. The mission is a private, non-profit that receives no local, state or federal money. Currently, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, neither the states of Missouri or Kansas protects individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation by state statute.
“Probably for the last three or four years this is something we have been concerned about, praying about, our board has been involved in,” Doty said. “We had an October board retreat where this was a very serious topic to talk about.
“We want to stay true to our biblical convictions, yet we do love all people. We do shelter men who are gay, and lesbian women, and transgender people, although if their birth gender is male, we require them to dress that way if they are in our men’s shelter.”
Long before same-sex marriage became an issue in Kansas and Missouri, the Salvation Army, which does receive government funding, allowed same-sex couples in its family shelters. In the Kansas City area, it operates one in Olathe and one in Independence.
“Our policy is non-discrimination toward anyone,” said Maj. Evie Diaz, divisional commander of the post that serves western Missouri and all of Kansas. “We help. If you’re homeless and need a place to stay, we help.”
The same policy exists at Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“We have all types of different families that we serve,” said Vicki Timiney, manager of marketing and communications for the group. The traditional “family” headed by a male father and female mother is hardly the standard any longer, she said. Families come to them headed by single adults, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends. Other couples consider themselves married by common law.
“Our values are Catholic, but the people who come to us aren’t necessarily Catholic, and we don’t ask them to affirm our beliefs,” she said.
In Iowa, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009, Leslie Van Der Molen, the program manager for poverty reduction for the Catholic Charities Diocese of Des Moines, said her staff doesn’t inquire about a couple’s marital status.
“The policy for our clients is that we serve everyone in need as long as they’re homeless,” she said. “We don’t make a big deal about it. We look at it like a traditional couple. If they’re not married, we don’t make a big deal out of that. Everybody had a different story. Our focus is helping them out of poverty.”
At the Lawrence Community Shelter, assistant education director Brian Blevins said, “We’re basically here to help people. Not to tell them how to live. We have a pretty clear policy that we don’t discriminate according to someone’s identity. If they admit themselves as a couple, that’s fine.”
But not far away, at the Topeka Rescue Mission, officials have yet to decide their organizational policy. Like the City Union Mission, the rescue mission deems itself a Christian, faith-based organization and receives no government funding. It operates a 286-bed facility that provides numerous social services, include dishing out more than 1,000 meals a day. The mission receives a lot of common-law couples.
“Unless someone is legally married,” said Terry Hund, the mission’s director of program development and media, “we have not allowed them to stay together in the same room.”
Couples need to show a marriage certificate. Hund said the mission turns no one away unless they pose a danger.
“It’s about loving the people and caring for the people who come here,” she said.
Should the people be a legally married same-sex couple who want to stay together?
“At this point,” said Hund, who said there is now a scheduled meeting, “we are definitely going to need to stop and discuss how we are going to approach this.”