Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Religious freedom and civil marriage

Several states are resisting implementation of the Court's decision on same sex marriages, by throwing up the "religious freedom" meme.

The most extreme example is this, in which a lawyer under Alabama Justice Roy Moore claims
Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous.
Well, that's patently not true.  Alabama is NOT a theocracy and neither are these United States, and the oath to uphold the Constitution that they all took is not predicated on "when it agrees with my religious views."

In Michigan, efforts to protect "religious freedom" are renewed, including a demand that marriages only exist in religious settings.
Conservatives in the House have introduced legislation that would only allow religious clergy to perform marriage ceremonies and remove that responsibility from local clerks and judges. Other couples who don't want to use clergy for their nuptials could provide an affidavit of marriage to county clerks. The legislation also would allow marriage certificates to be shielded from public record laws.

"If this legislation becomes law it will protect our public officials from having to perform same-sex marriages and put the marriage licensing business back in the position of being in the realm of the churches and religious leaders," said state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, in a statement explaining the bill he sponsored.
But that is putting religion front and center in a CIVIL contract.  That is WRONG.

In Texas, the Attorney General has suggested that clerks are free to refuse licenses on religious grounds.  The Dallas Morning News correctly states,
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have equal rights to marry. Top Texas leaders must stop standing in the way by encouraging government employees to invoke a personal religious exception when asked to provide marriage-related services, such as issuing licenses or officiating at civil ceremonies.

Denton County Clerk Juli Luke struck the right tone regarding Friday’s ruling by stating, “Personally, same-sex marriage is in contradiction to my faith and belief. … However, first and foremost, I took an oath on my family Bible to uphold the law, and as an elected public official, my personal belief cannot prevent me from issuing the licenses as required.”
State employees do not have discretion to selectively embrace the constitutional protections they agree with while rejecting those they object to, even on religious grounds. Constitutionally, governments — including their employees — must present themselves as religiously neutral. 
Look, this is not a religious issue.  Civil marriages are civil contracts.  I haven't noticed Roman Catholic clerks refusing licenses to previously divorced people, although such marriages are disallowed by their faith.  Nor devoutly orthodox Jews refusing licenses to interfaith couples.  This is only about bias against LGBT people.  And it needs to stop.

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