Gay rights and religious freedom

marriageWhile the Los Angeles Times and other papers go for quantity over quality with their stories about the California Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage to include same-sex partnerships, there are a ton of interesting issues left barely touched about how same-sex marriage changes the lives of people who oppose it.

I highlighted the one NPR story on the collision between gay rights and freedom of religion. It was a great first story but I was hoping that other papers would pick up the ball and run with it. That hasn’t quite happened. Out of England, we have a story of marriage registrar Lillian Ladele who was punished for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. She took her case to a tribunal that ruled in her favor this week. She had claimed that she was discriminated against for her religious beliefs. Here’s the BBC:

Miss Ladele said she was being effectively forced to choose between her religion and her £31,000-a-year job as a result.

She said she was picked on, shunned and accused of being homophobic for refusing to carry out civil partnerships.

Miss Ladele said: “I am delighted at this decision.

“It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.

“Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs,” she said.

Except for the fact that the BBC fails to mention precisely what her religious objections were, the story is fairly straightforward. It quotes government representatives upset with the decision. The story gives the last few words to gay rights activists:

“Public servants like registrars have a duty to serve all members of the public without fear or favour. Once society lets some people opt out of upholding the law, where will it end?”

Certainly British law is different than that in the United States. Stateside, registrars likely would not have the right to opt out of same-sex ceremonies if they were allowed in their jurisdiction. For that matter, a Muslim or FLDS marriage registrar who supports polygamy wouldn’t have the right to perform a polygamous marriage ceremony in a state where that had not yet been legalized.

Other papers managed to find out Ladele’s actual views and include them in their stories, such as this May essay in the Times:

Ms Ladele said that Islington council was forcing her to choose between her beliefs and keeping her job by requiring her to undertake civil partnership duties. Giving evidence yesterday, she told the employment tribunal in Central London: “I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations. It creates a problem for any Christian if they are expected to do or condone something that they see as sinful. I feel unable to facilitate directly the formation of a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God’s law.”

Marriage Certificate
The reader who sent in the BBC story also sent along a link to a January story in the Daily Mail that is just laughably atrocious. Here’s the opening line:

A crucifix worn prominently around her neck, this is the marriage registrar at the centre of a landmark legal case over her opposition to gay weddings.

The picture that accompanies the piece is of Ladele wearing a cross, not a crucifix. The article actually gets worse from there, with various sides being quoted without any response from their opponents. It’s a train wreck.

Anyway, British law accommodates fairly broad religious exceptions in a way that law in the United States doesn’t. Here, people in positions of public authority have to follow the law, with narrow exceptions. All the more, then, this story shines a bright light on the need for American reporters to ease up on their cheerleading of same-sex marriage and begin providing some in-depth coverage that looks at how opponents of same-sex marriage will be affected by new marriage laws.

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  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Please keep comments focused on MEDIA COVERAGE of this news issue — not your personal opinions on same-sex marriage.

  • Jerry

    When you have a clash of deeply held beliefs, it is really critical for reporters to fully explore the positions of all sides.

  • Jerry

    I should also have said that comparing how different nations handle situations like this is also very interesting. That’s why I welcomed the comments about Britain versus the US.

  • danr

    “Here, people in positions of public authority have to follow the law, with narrow exceptions.”

    I can think of at least one such exception, where a judge ruled in favor of some Illinois pharmacists who claimed religious discrimination for being fired for refusing to dispense morning-after pills, and were suing the governor.
    Is the exception window really that much narrower here than across the pond? I’d suggest on this side, it often depends on the specific judge involved.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Well, a pharmacist is a private position. I was referring to agents of the state. Civil servants, if you will.

  • Verily

    Mollie, this statement of yours is dead wrong:

    Stateside, registrars likely would not have the right to opt out of same-sex ceremonies if they were allowed in their jurisdiction.

    I suppose you missed this:
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080607/news_1n7samesex.html

    From it:

    San Diego County Clerk Greg Smith said his staff will perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, which he considers part of his legal responsibility along with issuing marriage licenses.

    “I obey the law. Period,” Smith said. “We’re doing the licenses. We’re doing the ceremonies.”

    Smith, however, is allowing his employees to opt out of performing gay ceremonies if they have a religious objection. He declined to say how many took that option, upon advice from county lawyers.

    And a month later:

    County releases workers’ protests on gay marriages

    By Craig Gustafson
    UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

    July 9, 2008

    County employees recalled their upbringings, cited religious beliefs and described their discomfort as they sought to opt out of performing gay marriages prior to the unions becoming legal June 17.

    “I will transfer. I am not going to compromise my beliefs or standards for anyone, not even the Supreme Court of California.”

    “I do respect the rights of other citizens who are now asserting same-sex marriages but I also need to assert my right to religious freedom.”

    “I also want to clarify that my refusal to perform this (sic) ceremonies is based only on my personal morals and beliefs, and it doesn’t come from intolerance.”

    The employees’ objections were expressed in a series of e-mails obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune through the California Public Records Act. The county now says 24 of its 112 deputized employees raised objections, up from 14 previously disclosed.

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20080709-9999-1m9clerk.html

    As for this bit of straw man, emphasis mine:

    Here, people in positions of public authority have to follow the law, with narrow exceptions. All the more, then, this story shines a bright light on the need for American reporters to ease up on their cheerleading of same-sex marriage and begin providing some in-depth coverage that looks at how opponents of same-sex marriage will be affected by new marriage laws.

    How will they be affected? They will opt out. I defy you to find a single documented instance where an American clerk was fired for not doing a gay wedding based on religious objections.

    This entire post, therefore, is thinly veiled scaremongering. I could make an argument about why that is wrong rather easily, but the post does it on its own rather eloquently.

  • danr

    True, only a small portion of pharmacists are public employees. But your post legitimately brings up the larger issue of collision between law (such as Illinois state pharmaceutical law) and freedom of religion. Certainly that realm extends beyond strict civil service boundaries. After all, not all US marriage practitioners are civil servants, though all are licensed by the government (as pharmacists must be). Doesn’t this issue potentially impact them as well?

  • danr

    How will they be affected? They will opt out.

    Specifically in San Diego, yes, where this specific clerk was magnanimous to personally “allow” clerks to opt out.
    You then extrapolate that to propose any and every clerk in every jurisdiction across the US will of course similarly “allow” opting out if (or presumably when) gay marriages are likewise legalized? The strawman appears to be yours.

  • Verily

    First, some definitions:

    A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “set up a straw man” or “set up a straw man argument” is to describe a position that superficially resembles an opponent’s actual view but is easier to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent (for example, deliberately overstating the opponent’s position).

    Danr, this is precisely what you have done. Gay marriage is legal in California and Massachusetts. It is not legal in every US jurisdiction. But since you brought it up… I do think San Diego’s opt-out policy will be rather widespread in US jurisdictions that choose to allow gay marriage.

    The head clerk wasn’t being generous and kindly. He was showing respect for differing views while still following the law. Interestingly, gay marriage has been legal for 4 years in MA, and no court case has been filed on this subject, either by gay fiances who found themselves clerkless, nor by religious clerks who refuse to serve them.

    The straw man remains yours and Mollie’s, and I think he’s on fire.

  • danr

    The head clerk wasn’t being generous and kindly. He was showing respect for differing views

    Kindness, generosity, and showing respect are more synonomous to most people than they seem to you. Either way, the connotation of both is arbitrary rather than compelled. And good for him.

    I do think San Diego’s opt-out policy will be rather widespread

    You’re entitled to think whatever you like. But based on some of the rhetoric and activism such as the pre-legalization antics of Mayor Newsom of SF, not all govt officials or employees can be assumed to similarly “show respect”. “Rather widespread” also hardly suggests all-encompassing, and the exceptions would be newsworthy.

  • Verily

    The exeptions would indeed be newsworthy. Can you find a few?

    I tried, and got this, originally posted at The Becket Fund:

    http://www.examiner.com/a-1324540~Roger_Severino__Legalizing_gay_marriage_will_spark_lawsuits_against_churches.html

    We need only look at Massachusetts for a preview of what to expect. There, in 2004, justices of the peace who refused to solemnize same-sex unions due to religious objections were summarily fired.

    It did not matter that other justices of the peace were available to do the job because, by Massachusetts law, same-sex unions were now entitled to equal treatment. A religious belief became a firing offense.

    Here’s the problem with it, though.

    It’s a lie. A rather baldfaced one, and oft-repeated, as propaganda often is.

    You see, more diligent digging on my part turned up no who, what, when, where, how, or by whom. No record of any First Amendment case, no names, no quotes, no location. I found several repetions of the “summarily fired” trope, but there’s no there, there.

    Something about seeing people who purport to be religious bearing false witness is particularly galling.

    You’re entitled to think whatever you like. But based on some of the rhetoric and activism such as the pre-legalization antics of Mayor Newsom of SF, not all govt officials or employees can be assumed to similarly “show respect”.

    Actually, they can. We have a First Amendment which strongly encourages it.

    As a practical matter, it’s quite easy to accommodate gays who wish to marry and clerks who don’t wish to help them do so. Find clerks that will marry gays, let the other clerks marry only straights, and everybody wins so long as there is no discrimination on the part of the agency itself.

    Raising a false boogeyman of religious clerks being fired is really the silliest strawman there is. There’s no monster under the bed, much as it may please those who wish martyr/victim status to think so.

    :0)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    VERILY:

    You would, of course, accept that a Supreme Court ruling establishing a protected civil rights status of gays and lesbians might change the equation that journalists WOULD BE COVERING?

    Return to the media angle, people.

  • gfe

    Stateside, registrars likely would not have the right to opt out of same-sex ceremonies if they were allowed in their jurisdiction.

    I’m not sure that’s the case. Under federal law, private employers are usually required to provide “reasonable accommodation” for employees’ religious practices. I’m not sure how that would be applied in this case. An employee might certainly make the argument that “reasonable accommodation” could require the office to assign that responsibility to someone who doesn’t have objections.

    How such a case would turn out, I don’t know. I’m merely saying that a plausible argument could be made by either side. So the media would be doing a disservice to suggest that the legal question is a slam-dunk in either direction.

  • danr

    Find clerks that will marry gays, let the other clerks marry only straights, and everybody wins so long as there is no discrimination on the part of the agency itself.

    Seriously? Considering the momentum for civil rights status for gays, to some that would be akin to saying, “Don’t want to marry an interracial couple? Against your religion, you say? No worries, we’ll just wait for another clerk’s availability within the same agency.” (lawyers salivating in background…)

    Anyway, this is teetering off the edge of GR’s posting guidelines… Peace out. :o )

  • Verily

    To tmatt:

    You would, of course, accept that a Supreme Court ruling establishing a protected civil rights status of gays and lesbians might change the equation that journalists WOULD BE COVERING?

    Yes. Is there one pending? I hadn’t heard.

    Back to the media. Here is an interesting story on how far some religious civil servants are willing to go to get out of performing gay weddings, or outright prevent them.

    They are willing to lie to the media, and when they get caught out, there are few consequences: http://www.bakersfield.com/hourly_news/story/464269.html

    Some highlights, referring to County Clerk Ann Barnett. The lie is in bold, and it’s senselessness is in italics:

    At her request, County Counsel Bernard Barmann filed a brief with the California Supreme Court opposing implementation of the May 15 ruling allowing gay marriage.

    She tried to resign her elected position as county clerk — while keeping her positions as auditor-controller and elections boss.

    “She really wanted to get rid of it,” Barmann said.

    And finally, when the ruling came down Wednesday that she had to license same-sex marriages, she decided to stop performing all weddings. That involved canceling 25 heterosexual ceremonies that had been scheduled after June 13, according to her staff.

    Barnett, who was elected in 2006, is not required by law to perform marriage ceremonies.

    So when the California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to postpone legalization of gay marriage until voters decide the issue in November, Barnett’s office issued a news release stating “the County Clerk’s office will not solemnize weddings after June 13, 2008. We will not have the staff or space to deal with an increase in both licenses and ceremonies.”

    The statistics at the end refuting the lie are pretty interesting, as are the e-mails. I expect we’ll see a bit more of this sort of thing. Meanwhile, volunteers have stepped in to help, and other couples are going to neighboring counties to tie the knot.

    This is an angle we will never see as a featured post on GetReligion – what happens when the media gets religion caught doing something it shouldn’t.

  • Claude

    Verily makes wonderful points about the way some media has been scare-mongering in all sorts of ways, even resorting to bald-face lies. I remember a Bishop of Colorado issuing a statement saying that the Roman Catholic Church would be forced to marry same-sex couples if a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages were not adopted. Of course, that was a bald-face lie. I don’t know why we expect more from religious people than from others, but we do, only to be disappointed when we find out that they lie probably more frequently than others. In any case, I am amused by the fear of the “momentum for civil rights status for gays” expressed here. I know many “Christians” would prefer that homosexuals had no civil rights at all, but in fact very few states accord civil rights protections to homosexuals. In 30 states, people can simply be fired from jobs on the basis of their sexual orientation. Only two states permit same-sex marriage. Only a few others permit civil unions or domestic partnerships. For homosexuals, the momentum toward equal rights must seem to be painfully slow. In any case, getreligion’s fanning the flames of fear doesn’t help anyone, unless the real agenda of getreligion is to aid those conservative Christians who are determined to deny civil rights to homosexuals.

  • Verily

    The lies from Ann Barnett apparently are legion, according to this follow-up story.

    http://www.bakersfield.com/hourly_news/story/488761.html

    The California Catholic ignored all this, instead focusing on the fact that she got hate mail, again, underscoring the martyr/victim role and completely omitting the liar role for Ms. Barnett: http://www.calcatholic.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?id=e9d9a4f9-dd6f-47a9-aa80-794fb95d0f05

    I, for one, am glad that the media is showing how some religious people get it wrong, abuse their elected offices, and even get the Bible wrong:

    If she is lying :
    Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

    If she is just refusing to execute her job because of religious reasons:
    Romans 13:1-2 tells us, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

    Then there’s Christ’s admonition abour rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

  • Stoo

    . Out of England, we have a story of marriage registrar Lillian Ladele who was punished for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

    Not marriages, civil unions. A completely secular arrangement.

  • Claude

    The Islington Council has announced that it is considering an appeal to the verdict in favor of Ladele. The head of the gay rights group OUTRAGE, Peter Thatchell, issued this statement: “Lillian Ladele claims she was won a victory for religious liberty. No, she has not. She has won a victory for the right to discriminate.”

  • FW Ken

    I noted this post this morning and enjoyed some time during the day mulling over the implications of permissive and prescriptive laws (and proscriptive, of course, but not so much in this case) and planned to read all the links and look for the connections that transcend any single issue. This involves, potentially at least, medical practice, religion, social services, and almost any other area of social activity.

    Unfortunately, I looked at this thread first and found a level of toxicity that left me thinking “to hell with it”. And that’s where I’m leaving it. Have a good night, ya’ll.

  • Dave2

    It seems to me that framing the issue in terms of “religious freedom” is already tipping your hand. If a registrar who belonged to the Nation of Islam refused to perform interracial marriage and was therefore fired, I doubt any newspaper would call it a question of religious freedom. More of a question of job requirements.


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