Following the trends of recent years regarding the definition of “religious liberty,” the New York Times reports:
Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.
And as if on cue, this is already happening in places like Texas:
The state’s Attorney General is inviting, really encouraging, public officials to defy last week’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for same sex couples across the United States. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is telling country clerks they may refuse to issue marriage licenses if they believe same sex marriages violate their religious beliefs.
I think the state needs a pretty good reason to make someone do something they either don’t agree with or simply don’t want to do. I’m inclined to let those with strong feelings about same-sex marriage live as they like, even if I completely disagree with them. The problem is, we continue to talk about LGBT people as though they’re doing something some of us don’t agree with as opposed to being a certain way.
Federal anti-discrimination law covers five attributes: race, skin color, gender, ethnic origin, and physical disability. Note that none of these are things over which an individual has choice. One cannot choose to be younger or white or able to walk when physically unable to do so. In the same way, those who are emotionally satisfied in relationships with others of the same gender have not made a choice to be that way. At no point has any 8-year-old made the decision to be gay or bisexual. It just happens. Justice Kennedy called it an “immutable nature” in his majority opinion and, indeed, it is just that.
If it’s wrong to discriminate against people due to things they have no control over, then it’s wrong to discriminate against those who need to be in same-sex marriages. If one’s religion teaches that these people are somehow evil or going against the wishes of a supreme being and less deserving of basic dignities, then we need to have the courage to stand up and say their religion (or, more likely, their interpretation of it) is wrong. As such, absolutely no exceptions should be allowed for those who choose to discriminate against those who only want to live the life they were born to live.
The First Amendment protects people of faith from being required to do anything that violates that faith in the act of practicing their faith. That means Hasidic rabbis are not required to marry those who aren’t Jewish and Catholic priests can require those seeking marriage in that church to follow the tenets of Catholicism. But being a county clerk isn’t the same thing at all. Providing a government service guaranteed by law is not “being a Christian.” The government, as the 14th Amendment assures, is required to apply its laws equally. No person acting as an agent of the government has the right to apply any factors to their work other than the civil law. Their religion-driven discomfort is not as important as another’s right to be married.
The issue is a little squishier when it comes to businesses. My company has chosen not to serve gambling or tobacco clients, but that’s different than saying a baker cannot serve a same-sex couple because of her reading of the Bible. The tobacco company has made a choice to sell the products they do but the same-sex couple is only living as they are wired to. They’re following the only path to happiness they have. Discriminating against them is exactly the same as discriminating against a couple because they’re from Pakistan. Again, one’s right to conduct business does not trump another’s liberty to simply be as they are and pursue their own flavor of happiness.
We need to call this “religious liberty” stuff exactly what it is: Bigotry. LGBT people need to be protected under the law from all forms of discrimination. Since Congress is defectively constipated, it’s doubtful we’ll see any action there. Perhaps these calls for “religious liberty” will lead to a Supreme Court ruling that once again works to make our union a little more perfect. The shield of “religious liberty” needs to be broken.