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Monday, December 12, 2011

Marriage Equality Bill Will Explicitly Allow Churches to Deny Services to Same-Sex Couples

Posted by on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Taking a cue from New York, where a provision granting religious exemptions to a marriage equality law was considered key to its passage this summer (NYT), a bill in the Washington State Legislature to be introduced in January will make similar room for religious institutions to deny services to same-sex partners.

“We will have a provision in the bill we are drafting that emphasize religious groups will not be forced to marry anyone they do not wish to marry,” says Senator Ed Murray (D-43), who will be sponsoring the measure in the senate. Murray met with several members of the six-member LGBT caucus last Friday, he says, and the group coalesced around the provision that, in essence, reiterates the state Constitution’s robust protections for religious discretion. The language is not complete and lawmakers are "going back and forth," Murray says. It remains unclear if it will extend as far as New York’s measure that also allows churches to deny rental facilities and provides that if any portion of the law is struck down in court, the entire law is invalid.

While these concessions may be unconvincing to paranoid religious conservatives—who literally fear gay marriage will lead to bans on straight people raising children and force churches to marry leather daddies—it may be enough for the handful of senators on the fence to explain their support.

“There are people who are justifiably afraid and there are people who will create mass disinformation campaigns to scare people into thinking that the government is going to overturn their religious beliefs,” Murray says. “Right now we don’t have the votes in the senate. I think it is important emphasize that not trying to influence how churches operate.”

Murray adds: "Our supporters should not take it for granted that this is a done deal—we could lose as easily as win.


Comments (28) RSS

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Sargon Bighorn 1
Church groups are not forced to marry anyone now. Try having the Imam provide a Jewish wedding and see how far you get.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on December 12, 2011 at 1:38 PM · Report this
Julie in Eugene 2
Yeah, I'm with @1 here. The Catholic Church already refuses to marry people for any number of reasons. A friend of mine, a "good Catholic", really wanted to get married in the Catholic Church, but the church said no because her fiance was divorced.

I mean, if it helps, go ahead and make it explicit in the law that churches don't have to marry anyone who doesn't meet all the requirements of their religion. But, it's not different from how things are now...
Posted by Julie in Eugene on December 12, 2011 at 1:46 PM · Report this
They already have the right to be bigots in the name of religion; why does it need to be enshrined in law?

The problem with this is, it sets an expectation that ANYONE doing a marriage has the right to refuse on the grounds of religion. Want a civil marriage before a judge? This law will make it easier for the judge to refuse because your marriage is a "violation of religious conscience." Same with the county clerk issuing marriage licenses. If clergy have a legal right to refuse, why shouldn't a government official?
Posted by TechBear on December 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM · Report this
Julie in Eugene 4
Having said that... I'm curious though... isn't the best analogy (from a discrimination law standpoint) churches who don't agree with/allow interracial marriage? I guess I just assumed that it's legal for churches to refuse to marry an interracial couple. Is that true?
Posted by Julie in Eugene on December 12, 2011 at 1:54 PM · Report this
Ed is very smart to do this. It helped in New York, and will help here, with exactly zero effect on marriage equality.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 12, 2011 at 1:54 PM · Report this
I guess it's harmless to explicitly state what's already the law. If it makes it easier to get the law passed, it works out to be a good thing. Still, the stupid, it burns ...
Posted by Warren Terra on December 12, 2011 at 2:00 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 7
I think churches should be forced to marry leather daddies no matter what. They can have an exception for everything else but leather daddies... no; they MUST marry them in their church during Sunday services with all the Sunday School classes present.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on December 12, 2011 at 2:03 PM · Report this
OMG, would be SO HOT if churches were forced to marry leather daddies.
Posted by Sebasti├ín LeBang on December 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM · Report this
Yoder 9
I agree it's smart politics to include the explicit exception, even if it's solving a problem that doesn't exist.

Even apart from existing rights churches have to refuse services to anyone they want, though, why would anyone WANT to force a church to marry them? Call me crazy, but asking a priest to bless my lifelong commitment to someone under duress, knowing he'll wash his mouth out with soap afterward, and to do it front of a congregation that resents me and my partner for even existing ... that's not exactly my idea of romantic.
Posted by Yoder on December 12, 2011 at 2:07 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 10
So basically, reaffirm the First Amendment in the language of the bill. Redundant, but harmless. If that's what it takes to get it through...
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on December 12, 2011 at 2:14 PM · Report this
@3: That's not at all what the New York law states. I think you're trying to read something into this that isn't there.
Posted by bigyaz on December 12, 2011 at 2:19 PM · Report this
polkaparty 12
New York also had Andrew Cuomo speaking privately to Catholic bishops and other potential antagonists. I can't imagine Gregoire going to bat on this one and hope we have powerful allies on our side.
Posted by polkaparty on December 12, 2011 at 2:20 PM · Report this
#11 - My issue is not with what the law STATES, but that it creates a legal opening for anyone with religious objections to particular marriages to claim exemption, including judges and county clerks.

Remember, our state Supreme Court ruled that the Denial of Marriage Act was constitutional because of the presumption that the purpose of marriage was procreation. It does not seem far-fetched that the Court would rule that anyone with religious objections to a particular marriage could invoke the law, even if it explicitily applies only to clergy. After all, the Court could argue, clergy already have a right of refusal, so the law is clearly not intended for them alone.
Posted by TechBear on December 12, 2011 at 2:26 PM · Report this
Great job - doesn't do anything, except take away the leading argument that anti-gay marriage people cling to.
Posted by Alex G on December 12, 2011 at 2:31 PM · Report this
@13, the exemption specifies it is religious institutions as such that are exempt, not individuals who may be adherents to one religion or another. I appreciate your zeal, but how you figure a judge or county clerk can claim to be a religious institution is beyond me.
Posted by gloomy gus on December 12, 2011 at 2:43 PM · Report this
monkey 16
Yeah, I'm fine with that.
Posted by monkey on December 12, 2011 at 3:02 PM · Report this
@3, 13: So long as the language of the bill defines what a "religious institution" is appropriately, there will be no legal wiggle room for public officials, serving in their official capacities, to deny legal marriage to same-sex couples. Nor should there be. The difference being that public officials are paid by tax dollars, some of which come from gay people. They work for us, and when the majority of Washingtonians vote to approve the marriage law in the inevitable referendum battle next year, the people's voices will have spoken in a way that will also allow for a compelling legal argument against any litigious goofing-off by batshit right-wing public servants. If they don't wanna do the job the majority of us, nominally their employers, have said they are supposed to do, they're more than welcome to find another career.

Also, can I just say... let's not add the provision that allows the whole thing to be severable if the court finds one part of it unconstitutional. That's just asking for trouble.
Posted by pheeeew!crack!boom! on December 12, 2011 at 3:03 PM · Report this
@17, I encourage you to write that to Ed Murray, then, who will reply something like, "durrr".
Posted by gloomy gus on December 12, 2011 at 3:04 PM · Report this
#15 - A great many Protestant denominations hold that every believer is clergy. For centuries this doctrine has led to individuals creating religious institutions out of thin air. So a county clerk says, "I am a pastor of my home church. I object on religious grounds and refuse to participate." Even if he is not fired for malfeasance -- actually, especially if he IS fired for malfeasance -- this law would make it much easier for him to file suit, and win.

Seattle is very liberal, but much of the state is exceedingly conservative and very religious. When equal marriage becomes a reality in this state, there WILL be clerks and other government officials who claim religious exemption to excuse their bigotry regardless of what the law says: witness the ongoing brouhaha over pharmacists who would rather see rape victims forced to carry their attacker's child to term because "Plan B" and other emergency contraception hurts their delicate sensibilities.

Giving anti-equality bigots a weapon they can use, and then encouraging them to use it, does not seem a terrifically good idea to me.
Posted by TechBear on December 12, 2011 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Let religious institutions set their own boundaries; for every one that refuses to accommodate their GLBT parishioners, there'll be at least one other which will open their arms to them. Knowing which is which will simply become another way for same-sex couples and their supporters to identify the bigots from the non-bigots.

But, let's not go so far as to allow the entire law to be thrown out, if only a single provision is struck down; that just seems to be giving up too much ground, IMO.
Posted by COMTE on December 12, 2011 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Call me an apostate, but even if some civil clerks and judges were to refuse---so what? To me, this is like the specter of a homophobic florist or baker refusing to supply flowers or cake. Guess what people? There is always another place to buy flowers, and there is always another place to buy a wedding cake! Why not give your money to the people who want it? If one Justice of the Peace refuses to perform the service, another will do so happily. As long as same-sex marriage is (a) legal, and (b) the lisence is given to all who qualify (i.e. no homophobic clerks withholding lisences on religious grounds) finding someone to perform the service shouldn't be that big a deal. Just don't wait until the last minute to start looking.
Posted by Clayton on December 12, 2011 at 3:22 PM · Report this
Those county clerks in NY who refused to issue licenses ended up resigning, or getting reassigned to a different area. They were not given a religious exemption. They tried, but were unsuccessful.
Posted by SeattleKim on December 12, 2011 at 3:32 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 23
Religion, like everything else in the world, is run not so much on theology as it is market demand. That's why the Catholic church had Vatican II - they saw that people were getting bored/annoyed by that Latin stuff and made changes to make them more "relevant"

Once the old generation dies, and just a handful of Seattleblah types are left, the religions will come around and allow gay marriages, and all this stuff will just be a memory. So let them have their silly exemption. Our side is winning.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on December 12, 2011 at 4:29 PM · Report this
Xenos 24
@23 Precisely. This is what I tell people who say it's foolish to think we can outlaw or eradicate religion. I have castigated religion as silly, irrational, and a tool for extremism, alienation, exclusion, fascism, racism and any other number of things, but I am not naive enough to think that I can simply wish it away.

Religion will be around for as long as people fear their own mortality, but I can also guarantee it will not remain static. People will modify their religions as they need, and as they have since they were first organized. Fear will give way to knowledge on gay persons as it has on the origins of humans, causes of disease, and arrangement of the planets. At present course and speed, political opposition to gay marriage will likely bottom out in ten to fifteen years. Religious adherents in this near-future will come up with new rationalizations ("interpretations") as to why texts previously outlawing same-sex marriage are no longer relevant; and you know what? The earth will keep on spinning, just as it did before.

Rick Santorum will still be an asshole though.
Posted by Xenos on December 12, 2011 at 6:40 PM · Report this
That's fine, but I wish Murray would attend to the budget.
Posted by sarah70 on December 12, 2011 at 10:16 PM · Report this
@ 22

Not true. There's still one who's not only serving, but actually got reelected. There's a lawsuit in progress. but your statement is inaccurate.
Posted by Lymis on December 13, 2011 at 8:32 AM · Report this
That's why the language says "religious institutions" not individuals. A pastor who works during the week at the county clerk's office is not doing so in their role AS a pastor, and is therefore not subject to the exemption.

The language also needs to be clear that the exemption applies to conducting weddings, not to a broad exemption from recognizing the marriage in a civil sense.
Posted by Lymis on December 13, 2011 at 8:35 AM · Report this
Rev.Smith 28
@3 it IS enshrined in federal law already - first amendment covers it don't you think? And Unless the church is built on public land, the goings on inside -and who's invited- are subject to private property rules just the same as private colleges, rich men's clubs, McDonald's, and your house. "No shirt, no shoes, no christ, = no service" seems fair enough to me.
Licenses are not inherently 'religious' (you know, since they're a fawking piece of paper and all) so no, a clerk can't refuse to issue licenses (and expect to keep their job) anymore than a pacificist cop can refuse to fire their gun at a criminal about to kill a bunch of cops.

I'd say to judges, clerks, pharmacists, et al that want to put religion as their 'reason' for bullying and bigotry: You chose the job , dumbass. If your beliefs were so damned important, you'd have more integrity about how you make a living. I also have no pity for conscientious objectors who've gone through bootcamp - and vegans who work at burger joints. Fuck 'em all.
Posted by Rev.Smith on December 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM · Report this

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