A bill legalizing same-sex marriage for couples in New York State is at a standstill over the issue of exemptions for religious organizations and individuals. The reach of these religious protections is wide-ranging -from whether Catholic adoption agencies may reject same-sex couples, to the right of religious caterers to refuse services for gay weddings. In New York State’s Marriage Equality Act, should there be exemptions for religion? What should happen when equal rights for gay citizens and the right to religious free exercise clash?
Advocates of legal recognition for same sex marriages assert their cause is about expanding equality and civil rights for a group of Americans. If such an expansion of civil rights is to occur, it must be consistent with the long-standing American tradition of not expanding some people’s rights at the expense of others’ rights. That is why there must be robust protections for religious liberty in New York’s Marriage Equality Bill.
The objections traditionalist religious groups and institutions have to homosexuality, and thus same sex marriage, are mandated by our faith beliefs. There is not room for modification and compromise of these positions. Thus, the failure of the state to appropriately accommodate the beliefs and needs of these religious institutions in the law would certainly lead to legal and policy consequences that would infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed Free Exercise rights of these institutions.
This scenario is not speculative, we have seen it already. In Massachusetts, where the state refused to accommodate religious liberty in its same sex marriage law, Catholic Charities was forced out of the foster care and adoption service it had engaged in for more than a century. In New Jersey, a Methodist church had a portion of its tax exemption revoked when it declined to rent its reception hall to a same sex couple to celebrate their civil union. Failure by New York to include robust religious liberty protections in its legislation will bring these and more issues to the Empire State.
Conscience protections are a thoroughly American idea. Since Colonial times, legislatures have exempted religious minorities from laws inconsistent with their faith. Such exemptions allow Americans with radically different views on moral questions to live in peace and equality in the same society.
| Jun 22, 2011 9:55 AM