Adam Bink

Meeting religious objections to marriage equality head-on

Filed By Adam Bink | January 28, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: California, Equality California, Mark Leno, marriage equality

There's an interesting approach being taken to further the cause of repealing Prop 8 in California. This week, openly gay State Senator Mark Leno- who previously sponsored the legislation legalizing marriage equality which was twice vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger - has introduced legislation to protect the right of religious institutions to refuse to solemnize same-sex weddings.

Leno, who is gay, is introducing legislation that says no religious leader would be forced to perform a marriage that goes against their own beliefs or that of their faith. The bill would also re-emphasize the tax-exempt status of churches, and states that they would not lose this status by refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

Leno, a Democrat, contends the bill would not actually change the law because the First Amendment already offers these protections.

Instead, Leno said, it is a clarification aimed right at the ongoing debate over Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that ended California's brief experiment with same sex marriage. The measure won by five points after a campaign in which proponents sought to mislead voters, Leno contends.

"If you heard any number of the arguments of the proponents of Prop. 8, you would have thought there were no First Amendment right to freedom of religion," Leno said. He added at the bill would be an attempt "to put to an end some of the nonsensical statements made in support of Prop. 8."

Protecting the rights of religious institutions is one of the leading objections to same-sex marriage, both at the voter level and in terms of opposition from institutions. While you'd normally see this kind of legislation introduced by the religious conservatives of the world - for instance, as an amendment to legislation legalizing same-sex marriage - here you have Leno and Equality California, along with the California Council of Churches, backing it as an element to nullify certain objections. This won't necessarily keep institutions like the Catholic Diocese on the sidelines during a repeal effort if it becomes law, but it will certainly make a positive impact in many respects.

And it certainly would put the religious conservative opponents of marriage equality in an interesting bind. I'll be interested to see if they support it.


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Very nice move on his part. I have several times been asked to coordinate with other people who serve as clergy when they assume that all people of faith oppose marriage equality. I always let them know that i play for their opposition and that I support and perform these ceremonies here in Mass. and that in fact our small minority faith gave religious recognition to these as marriages under our spiritual traditions well before it be came the law in Mass. They are always shocked because they believe that it has always been looked at as wrong by all faiths.

Doubt it'll work:

1. They don't seem to care that the first amendment of the US constitution provides these protections. An obscure statutory state-level law isn't going to impress people.
2. The religious exemption doesn't go far enough. I mean the Religious Right wants way more than that, not that I think it should go further. It only applies to clergy and private church property, not church property open to the public (like the Ocean Grove incident), religious people who don't work for a church but who don't like gays (like that Christian photographer in NM who didn't want to photograph a lesbian wedding and got sued), or prevent people for asking their Christian employer for health care benefits. This is what the right is looking for - way more than they should ever get.
3. The rightwing was straight up dishonest in California, and the facts never stopped them. The Matthew Shepard Act was written with a clear religious and free speech exemption in it that was approved by liberal Christian orgs and the ACLU. And still rightwing pastors held protests saying that they'd be thrown in prison for talking about homosexuality. They're just liars - a new law isn't going to change that.

It's cute, but this sort of thing is best attached to same-sex marriage legislation so it's harder to ignore.

Well, I think you need to define "they". Not every Joe and Jill Californian who votes on this and has concerns about their church being forced to do something is a right-winger. My expectation is that this is also aimed at them, perhaps even more so than pleasing the right-wing religious community.

In terms of whether it's better to attach to a marriage bill, I would actually disagree. Sometimes those provisions can get lost in the mix. I saw something similar here in DC around the marriage bill and provisions. Stand-alone bills get more attention.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | January 28, 2010 1:04 PM

Religious objections as a basis for legislation in this country are bullshit anyway. The very first amendment in the Constitution of the United States says in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...". No I don't have to be a constitutional lawyer to interpret that and neither do you. Citing religion as a reason to establish second class citizenry in this country is un-Constitutional on it's face and in it's substance. It was when used to justify slavery and it is for justifying denial of equal rights to all.

I don't see any of these bible thumping, superstitious asshats advocating cutting the tax liabilities of the LGBT community since we don't enjoy the full privileges of our society.

Bingo! My understanding is that the point of the separation between church/temple/mosque/big-box-church-complex is to ensure that laws and policies are not based on religious dogma.

Besides, you can believe what you want and use that as a basis for how you vote. But, religious dogma should have nothing to do with the reasoning behind public policy or the law of the land.

BTW, I hold the same opinion for religious liberal folk. "God loves everyone" or "God created everyone equal" should not be the basis for civil rights or public policy. If our civil rights are based on faith or religious revelation than these can quickly be negated due to the same reasons.

Senator Leno is barking up the wrong tree in sponsoring legislation that is supposed to clarify the rights of churches and clergy to refuse to perform same sex marriage ceremonies.

He should be sponsoring legislation that removes clergy from acting as an agent of the state by signing marriage documents that makes marriage offical and recordable.

This would be the proper separation of church and state