Religious Liberty No Reason to Discriminate
The number of judicial rulings declaring gay marriage bans to be unconstitutional is growing quickly (Michigan may have an opportunity to add to this collection in the next week or so). Seeing the writing on the wall -- there's a good chance that a majority of the Supreme Court will finally have the critical mass of decisions to determine once and for all whether the constitution allows states to discriminate against same-gender couples seeking to be married -- a number of state legislatures from across the country have attempted to enact laws that allow persons and businesses to discriminate against LGBT persons on the basis of religious liberty.
Fortunately in most of these states, enough people realized that passing laws that give license to discriminate isn't good policy. In Kansas such a law made it through one branch of the legislature but didn't pass muster in the other.
I understand that not everyone is on-board with the marriage equality movement. I know that many people have religious qualms about homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular. I've been there, so I understand. The Constitution recognizes the right of religious institutions to decide who they will ordain, marry, and even bury. So, if churches don't want to ordain LGBT folks, it's within their rights. If they don't want to hire them as clergy, it's within their rights. If they don't want to marry them, it's within their rights. But, that doesn't mean that businesses have the right to discriminate against persons using their religious beliefs as the rationale.
But, perhaps we should have seen this coming. Think about the debate over businesses and other institutions being required to provide contraception as part of their insurance packages. The law exempted religious institutions like churches, but it didn't exempt businesses or public institutions like hospitals and colleges that employed significant numbers of people not of that religious tradition. Before we knew it, businesses were trying to get an exemption on the basis of religious liberty. After all, the Supreme Court had ruled in Citizens United that Corporations are people to.
Think about the ramifications of this effort to use religion as a reason to discriminate or exclude persons from legally obtainable services. Think about where this stops. I'm not given to slippery slope arguments, but if this allowed, it does provide cover for all manner of discrimination. What about inter-racial marriage? Or inter-religious marriage? What if the store owner believes that women shouldn't hold a job, should they be free to discriminate against a two-income couple? That last one might be a stretch, but maybe it makes the point. Where do you draw the line? If I remember correctly, at the heart of the Civil Rights efforts was the belief that if you can discriminate against one, you discriminate against everyone. Now, in the name of religion we want to start making exceptions.
Back to legislatures entertaining legislation that would allow entities to discriminate against gays and lesbians seeking services on the basis of religious liberty, the state of Arizona has passed just such legislation. All that's needed to enact this legislation is the governor's signature. Since this bill is popular with the governor's own party it would seem quite possible that she'll sign it. But maybe she'll realize that using religion as a cover to discriminate against one group of people might not be good politics, let alone constitutional. The law if signed will surely get a legal challenge, but more importantly the governor needs to remember that a majority of persons under 40 support gay marriage and a growing number of persons over 40 support this trend. But perhaps she'll also recognize that discrimination is unjust, even if done in the name of God!
As a person of faith and as a pastor, I must say that I'm appalled that religion is being used as a cover for this kind of discrimination. It doesn't represent my faith. Therefore, I stand with those who protest. I also stand with those who have fought the good fight to gain the nation's recognition of their right to marry. I will pray that the governor of Arizona will see the light!
UPDATE: News in on the evening of February 26th -- Governor Jan Brewer vetoes the bill. Pressure from national Republican leaders and especially businesses seems to have clinched this. http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/26/politics/arizona-brewer-bill/index.html?hpt=hp_t1