Gay rights, religious liberty and silence

On Friday night, the New York legislature voted to give same-sex couples the right to marry. This will certainly produce interesting journalism in the days to come, but let's look at some of the stories that had religion angles. First off, if you're interested in learning what the law itself says about religion, head over to the Washington Post where "On Faith" editor Liz Tenety wrote up the amendment which defined the bill’s religious protections. I'm thankful for this because I had a surprisingly difficult time finding it until she posted it. Legislative language changes regularly and I understand the difficulty of reporting on it but it would have helped if more reporters were looking into this angle. I kept hearing about religious protections and assumed they were significantly broader than what ended up in the bill.

USA Today religion blogger Cathy Lynn Grossman lightly touched on the issue of whether vendors should be able choose not to participate in weddings or anything else related to same-sex marriage that go against their religious views. (There are no protections in New York for vendors who are not clergy or religious institutions.)

The New York Times had a brief but interesting piece on the role that these religious exemptions played in getting passage of the legislation:

The Republicans who insisted on the provision did not only want religious organizations and affiliated groups to be protected from lawsuits if they refused to provide their buildings or services for same-sex marriage ceremonies, they also wanted them to be spared any penalties by state government. That would mean, for example, a church that declined to accommodate same-sex weddings could not be penalized later with the loss of state aid for the social service programs it administers.

The Times described this protection as "expansive" but when you think of the main religious liberty vs. gay rights battles of recent years, I think it only really addresses what happened to the Methodists in New Jersey who limited wedding rentals of their religious space to those about to enter into traditional marriage. The Methodists lost their tax status. I guess it also relates to what happened at Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish school in New York that was forced to include same-sex couples in its married dormitory. Even before New York recognized same-sex marriage, the New York Supreme Court ruled that Yeshiva had violated New York City's ban on sexual orientation discrimination.

But that's really only the tip of the iceberg -- and probably the easiest conflicts to resolve -- when it comes to discussions of religious liberty and gay rights. Will same-sex marriage laws impact the rights of religious organizations to place children for adoption as they see fit? What about Lutheran parochial schools that have faced civil rights lawsuits over their honor code? Will Muslim doctors have the right to refuse to do in vitro fertilization treatment on a woman in a lesbian marriage? Will an evangelical referring a patient to someone without religious qualms over same-sex marriage lose her job or license? What about the civil servants who have religious objections to same-sex marriage? Apart from wedding vendors, there are all sorts of other lines of work where individual religious liberty and religiously-motivated objections to same-sex marriage where the questions persist. What about adoption services, for instance? How might public school curriculum change? Will that pose a challenge for any public school teachers who are Muslim, Jewish or Christian?

So I'm glad that we're seeing just a teensie bit of coverage on the religious exemptions, but many questions remain. And the lack of coverage about these issues is really bizarre at this point. Some people were upset at Grossman for mocking business people with religious objections to same-sex marriage, but at least she mentioned that it's a point of conflict! Of course, discussion of weddings doesn't even begin to touch on the larger tension between gay rights and religious liberty.

Perhaps at some point in the midst of the jubilant coverage, we'll see a curious reporter ask and find answers to some of these questions.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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