As I argued back in November, seeing defeat on the horizon in the gay-marriage wars, social conservatives have shifted gears. Instead of trying to stop the tide of social change, they are seeking to exempt themselves from it under the banner of “religious liberty.” Typically, social conservatives have pushed for exemptions in blue states like New York or Vermont only once the legislature has begun considering gay-rights legislation. But starting with Kansas, followers of the gay-marriage saga should expect to see more and more red states considering such preemptive measures as standalone bills.
Here’s my core question: how can we know these bills are genuinely about religious liberty and not actually about anti-gay prejudice? I think there’s one test that can clarify that. Allow me to explain.
Readers know I have sympathy for those – like evangelical florists, say – who feel that catering a same-sex wedding violates their conscience. I don’t like the idea of forcing those people to do something that truly offends them; if I were planning my own wedding again and found that a florist really had issues, I’d find one who didn’t. It would sure be nice to muddle through a bit here and avoid, if we can, outright zero-sum battles between the freedom of some to marry and the freedom of some to avoid an occasion of what they regard as sin.
But this is America, and so we won’t, of course. So it also seems to me that the one demand we should make of such a defense of religious freedom is that it be consistent. For me, with devout Catholics, the acid test is divorce. The bar on divorce – which, unlike the gay issue, is upheld directly by Jesus in the Gospels – is just as integral to the Catholic meaning of marriage as the prohibition on gay couples. So why no laws including that potential violation of religious liberty? Both kinds of marriage are equally verboten in Catholicism. So where is the political movement to insist that devout Catholics do not have to cater the second weddings of previously divorced people?
For that matter, why no consideration of those whose religious beliefs demand that they not bless marriages outside their own faith-community? Do we enshrine the right of, say, an Orthodox Jewish hotel-owner to discriminate against unmarried couples who might be inter-married across faiths? Do we allow an evangelical to discriminate against Mormon couples, because their doctrine about marriage is so markedly different from mainstream Christianity’s?
It seems to me that the acid test for the new bills being prepared by the Christianist right with respect to religious freedom and marriage is whether they are discriminatory against gays and straights alike. Currently, they don’t begin to pass muster on that front. Until they do, the presumption that they are motivated by bigotry rather than faith is perfectly legitimate. Dish readers are already flagging the discriminatory bills as they pop up:
I’ve appreciated your work in keeping the world up to date on the recent events in Kansas. Unfortunately a bill that would seem to be suspiciously similar, if not identical, is being picked up in Tennessee as well.
It may not have gotten the same amount of attention because it hasn’t been passed, although given the current makeup of the state legislature, it seems likely. Our state legislators labor under the belief that a race to the bottom is one they want to win. There’s a good summary here in Nashville’s local alt-weekly, which takes the primary daily paper to task for skipping some of the facts about the proposed legislation.
The Tennessee bill was withdrawn yesterday. Another looks west:
An almost identical bill has been introduced in Arizona. There is a fundamentalist Christian “non-profit” group here called the Center for Arizona Policy. They write all sorts of anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-education bills and pass them on to state legislators. The legislators introduce the bills, have the Center for Arizona Policy spokeswoman (Cathi Herrod) testify in support, and the laws get passed. The group claims to be non-partisan. Ha! See their blurb about the bill here. The next step is the state having to defend these laws in court. Millions and millions of tax payer dollars spent to defend laws written by this “non-profit.” In almost every case, the bills have been deemed unconstitutional. Always amazed at the amount of time and money spent on culture war crap in Arizona.
There’s also a bill similar to Kansas’ proposed in Idaho – in fact, it might be worse.
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)