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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  • http://Faith&Reason Cathy Grossman

    A good place to start looking for answers to the lived-experiences of people with religious objections to gay marriage would be in Massachusetts and the other states where marriage has been legal quite a while.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    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.

    I am not optimistic about this possibility. Using only the stories I have read at this site, it would seem that newsrooms mostly pre-judge activism for traditional marriage as an expression of active hate requiring opposition or ignorant bigotry requiring education. Neither of those choices lends itself to curiosity or exploration of that activism or the views of people who participate in it.

    Reading stories beyond just those linked by GetReligion doesn’t offer a much different picture.

  • Harold

    Another good place to start would be to talk to religious liberty legal scholars. The kind of special rights to discriminate by believers (as opposed to institutions) is something that hasn’t really existed in post-Jim Crow America, for obvious reason, and I think scholars can help respond to the parade of horribles that occur in these scenarios. Reporting on how these deals are made in legislatures–and they have accompanied every law that makes SSM legal–would also likely add light to the differences between protecting religious organizations and protecting business people and professionals who want to hang discriminate based on some belief.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Harold,

    Yes, the dominant view held by the mainstream media is that the definition of marriage as an institution designed around the procreation and raising of children is directly equivalent to racism. You are correct.

    And there is so much epistemic closure among adherents of this view, that these media figures would probably come off like idiots if they even tried to broach the topic. Which, for the most part, they’ve avoided simply by not broaching the topic.

    I’m shocked at how unable many reporters are to consider unintended consequences of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, or, you know, just when I ask them to define marriage and ask some probing questions about their definition.

    It’s unbelievable how uninformed and unthoughtful many reporters are when it comes to these things. And it shows in their coverage. And I say that as someone who doesn’t even believe the marriage can or should define or redefine marriage! Imagine how actual proponents of traditional marriage laws might feel about the coverage.

    There’s no question that orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians (not to mention those freethinkers who simply recognize marriage as a heterosexual institution) will be treated like racists when it comes to same-sex marriage. I had a reporter who covers this issue at one of the largest papers in the country tell me that this is what they are just this past week.

    Do you think the media has done a good job of explaining to voters that all of the ways this new legally-supported view might affect their lives?

    Yeah …. not so much.

    But, you know, here’s the New York Times editor telling readers he loathes proponents of traditional marriage just today.

  • Harold

    There’s no question that orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians (not to mention those freethinkers who simply recognize marriage as a heterosexual institution) will be treated like racists when it comes to same-sex marriage. I had a reporter who covers this issue at one of the largest papers in the country tell me that this is what they are just this past week.

    That’s not a religious liberty issue, which is why I agree with more coverage. Having your feelings hurt by being called a bigot isn’t grounds for a constitutional claim. Getting back to the law–which was your point–the Jim Crow era ushered in equal protection laws that prevents people from opening up “I hate gay people Bakery” and the using their faith as a justification for discriminating in providing cakes for Joe and Steve.

    I know you are hypersensitive to the race comparison, but we are talking about laws and not feelings. And the law in this area is shaped by the Jim Crow era where people refused to serve Blacks or allow Blacks into certain parts of their businesses because they believed race-mixing violated their religious beliefs. Religious liberty protects the Christian Identity movement and Lutherans, which is why religious liberties scholars can talk about reluctance to recognize the spacial rights you propose.

    Do you want a discussion of religious liberty by journalists or do you want coverage of grievances that are disconnected to actual religious liberty law? You seem to be talking about grievances and axe-grinding in your comments, but talked about religious liberty in your original post.

    I actually think the media has done a good job of covering the issue to voters. That the voters now agree with your position doesn’t mean the media has failed, but instaed that your concerns just aren’t shared by the majority of voters. That’s how democracy works.

  • Raoul Walsh

    Mollie,

    You wrote:

    “But, you know, here’s the New York Times editor telling readers he loathes proponents of traditional marriage just today.”

    Hem, he’s not exactly saying that, though he certainly means so.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Harold,

    You believe the media has done a good job of covering the conflict between religious liberty and gay rights? That’s silly.

    I can think of maybe two articles in the last 10 years that have done a fair job, and I follow this topic regularly.

    I doubt you could find 25 good articles, much less the hundreds necessary to substantiate what you claim. I’ve written about dozens of abysmal ones here in just the last few years.

    Anyway, I believe that marriage is a heterosexual institution designed around the complementary nature of the sexes and the resulting procreation of children. Go ahead and call me a bigot if you want, but it doesn’t come close to changing my position and only serves to make me much more concerned about how horrible the coverage has been thus far.

    I don’t think the media has done a good job of explaining to Americans that same-sex marriage means that the majority of Americans who believe marriage is one man and one woman are to be considered bigots.

    That’s a different issue than the religious liberty one raised above, but an important one none-the-less. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Even if it’s decades late, would be nice to see some coverage of that as well.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Mollie,

    You wrote:

    “But, you know, here’s the New York Times editor telling readers he loathes proponents of traditional marriage just today.”

    Hem, he’s not exactly saying that, though he certainly means so.

    Yes, I was joking a bit. His actual tweet, for those interested, began:

    Gay marriage is unstoppable. GOP on wrong end of history.

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    Good work, Liz! :)
    I saw a lot of coverage in the AP leading up to the vote, since that was one of the major sticking points.
    And, here’s a brief mention in the Syracuse Post-Standard:
    http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2011/06/questions_about_the_same-sex_m.html

  • http://goodintentionsbook.com bob smietana

    The devil is in the details in all these religious liberty cases. The Methodist campground mentioned in the post lost the property tax exemption for beach-side pavilion – not for the whole campground.

  • Harold

    You believe the media has done a good job of covering the conflict between religious liberty and gay rights? That’s silly.

    That’s my opinion. I can understand, from your position as a conservative pundit, that our opinions would be different. But don’t call my view silly.

    Your comments are very emotional and you’re tossing around the “bigot” word a lot, but that’s not really getting to the heart of whether the dispute has covered enough, or even to the liking of activists. We could always use more coverage, as I’ve suggested, but that coverage needs to be less emotional (How dare you call me a bigot) and more focused on the realities of religious liberty law. I’ve suggested that from my first comment here.

    I don’t think the media has done a good job of explaining to Americans that same-sex marriage means that the majority of Americans who believe marriage is one man and one woman are to be considered bigots.

    I’m not sure how to respond to this kind of partisan rhetoric. I’m not all that interested in talking-points, but more interested in the coverage of the religious liberties issues. I think there is also merit in covering the politicization of the issue, which your points illustrated, but journalists need to cut through the manufactured outrage and not just parrot activists on either side.

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    Well, Mollie, I guess you’re just not being reasonable if you don’t agree with everyone else!

  • Dave

    Mollie, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a New York Times sidebar by Danny Hakim on the legislated religious exemptions. Their content reads like a transcription of the benchmark Maggie Gallagher story on this topic. No sneers, no cheerleading, just informative reporting.

  • Jerry

    Some of the issues have been covered already although in other contexts. So bringing in some history would be a good idea for a news story. I’m particularly thinking of Christian pharmacists and birth control as well as Muslim cab drivers both of which had a lot of press not so long ago. And we can go further back with Mormons and polygamy, use of psychedelics amongst Native Americans and many many other cases where there has been tension between secular society and the wishes of a particular religious group.

    I hope such a piece is written and that you review it here.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Hey,what about polygamy and Moslems? Or people who just do not find one enough?
    And why, why does coverage persistently equate “polygamy” and “polygyny”? If *I* know living, breathing polyandrists, how many are there that I don’t know about?
    Just why is it that when Santorum said “If you allow this, you have to allow polygamy”, the MSM burst into a chorus of “How DARE he”? What is their rationale for objecting to a form of marriage which has existed in all centuries and many cultures while demanding the creation of a “marriage” which has never existed? I have yet to hear an justification for this position which makes any sense.

  • Dave

    Will, without getting into the particulars of polyamory, the implicit attitude of the MSM might be justified by an adherent thereto with the thought that gay marriage simply expands the scope of marriage as our society knows it, while polyamorous marriage would undercut monogamy.

    Just sayin’.

  • Roger Pearse

    Try looking at the UK, where the last government brought in laws to force all the Catholic adoption agencies to close unless they placed children with homosexuals; passed laws allowing gay agents provocateurs to book rooms under false names at Christian homes offering a spare room, and then turn up, demand to sodomise in their home, and denounce the owners to the police when the unfortunate victims refused. The establishment is now threatening to levy the huge UK taxes on churches that fail to conform.

    The UK is ahead of you. But not by much. The exemptions for “religious” grounds are merely a figleaf to get the legislation through. They’re next.

  • Dave

    The exemptions for “religious” grounds are merely a figleaf to get the legislation through. They’re next.

    According to that NYT sidebar referenced earlier, the law has a clause that it is voided in entirety if a court strikes down any of the exemptions.

  • http://Faith&Reason Cathy Grossman

    Mollie, All the hyperbolic commentary is throwing you off your game. You posted this:

    “There’s no question that orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians (not to mention those freethinkers who simply recognize marriage as a heterosexual institution) will be treated like racists when it comes to same-sex marriage. I had a reporter who covers this issue at one of the largest papers in the country tell me that this is what they are just this past week.”

    With no documentation.

    I’m bearing fresh flogging marks for my own errors in posting a wire story that wasn’t accurately and fully sourced so perhaps I’m supersensitive on this but you just can’t throw a line like this out there unsubstantiated. Who is this person and how do you know what he/she said is true?

    And thanks to the person who brought in the NYT editor’s actual tweet. Since “history” is written by the victors, and rewritten all the time (check the soviets!) he could be making a correct forecast without agreeing personally with it. Like I might predict rain tomorrow but it doesn’t mean I welcome it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Cathy,

    I’m the person who brought in the NYT editor’s actual tweet (after making fun of it).

    Anyway, of course I am not going to out the reporter who said that to me! We were having a casual conversation and it was not for attribution. In conversation, this was one of the things the reporter opined on.

    They weren’t saying anything that was true or not true — just their own views that people who support traditional marriage are the equivalent of racists.

    Anyway, for evidence of this, you can look at your own post on the matter at USA Today where you suggested that religious freedom should not extend to vendors, right? And, presumably, neither should it extend to adoption agencies or landlords. And this is why I actually thought it was good of you to bring it up, as I said at the time, — I don’t think media outlets have done a good job of reporting on how a revision in the law might affect the lives of those Americans who don’t support same-sex marriage or homosexuality.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Anyone who has followed this marriage issue and the alleged religious exemptions knows that without individual believers protected–not just religious groups organizations ,etc.– it is all a packaged fraud. The MSM virtually ignored during the debate in NY the travesties and tyranny perpetrated against religious believers in places that bow to Gay power like Ma., places in Canada, and Europe.(some have been mentioned in comments above).
    I will give the NY Times credit for one major story I read AFTER the vote. It was about how a small group of millionaires provided leverage (bribes??) for the Gay Marriage side.
    I bet this story will disappear into a news black hole very quickly.

  • Dave

    I bet this story will disappear into a news black hole very quickly.

    Eh? This story has been all over the news, Deacon.

    Or do you mean the specific fact of wealthy backers? When has that ever made the front page? Don’t mistake normal behavior for conspiracy.

  • Harold

    Given the rhetorical excesses and utter confusion about constitutional protections, I’m prepared to sign-on to Mollie’s complaint the press had done a poor job of explaining this all. There’s a lot of debunking and explanation that needs to take place if people really believe individual believers who open up businesses of work for the government (or someone else) have a right to discriminate against public policy or that excesses in Europe are about to spread to the U.S.

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “There’s a lot of debunking and explanation that needs to take place if people really believe individual believers who open up businesses of work for the government (or someone else) have a right to discriminate against public policy or that excesses in Europe are about to spread to the U.S.”

    I agree Harold. In fact that education can be for everyone.

    We might start by talking about this new public policy you are talking about? There is a tension here between negative liberty and positive liberty( a much newer concept).I not quite sure the LAW is so much in the corner of everyone having too AFFIRM the new public policy as you phrase it as you think

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Dave,that argument makes as much sense the other way…. more, as monogamy has survived the history-long existence of plural marriage, and homosexual “marriage” has never existed before.

    I suspect the main difference is that no one has yet come up with a boogeyman label for “monogamornormativity” or “monogramistsism”.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Will,

    Actually, many marriage reformers have been pretty straightforward about their thoughts on polygamy, polyamory, dislike of monogamy, etc. They’ve talked about it in academic papers and in front of Congress.

    I don’t know why the media has avoided putting these arguments out there, but many activists have been consistent and public on their views that monogamy and the heterosexual basis of marriage are to be done away with.

    And yes, marriage as a heterosexual institution has seen all sorts of variations, including polygamy. Grover Cleveland may have felt so strongly about the dangers of polygamy that he mentioned it in his inaugural address, but historically speaking, it’s not the invention that same-sex marriage is.

  • Dave

    many marriage reformers have been pretty straightforward about their thoughts on polygamy, polyamory, dislike of monogamy, etc. They’ve talked about it in academic papers and in front of Congress.

    I don’t know why the media has avoided putting these arguments out there,

    Mollie, this is probably because they can’t see the connection between theorists who disdain monogamy and a movement that so desperately wnats to get in on it. They have no more in common than the US Bishops and the Phelpses, and it would border on slander to conflate them.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Not at all, Dave! Leaving aside Andrew Sullivan’s problems, he’s an influential advocate of same-sex marriage. And he questions the value of monogamy as a norm, as do a bunch of the other heavy hitters. This is in no way an outlier view. And he and others have been very up front, as I said.

    Those views aren’t typically highlighted in mainstream pieces on the topic, and I don’t know why, but I certainly wouldn’t blame the advocates.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I think it is pretty obvious why. It would be hard to reconcile with the mantra “There’s no slippery slope”…
    (Isn’t that what they told us when they said divorce/abortion/etc was only for hard cases?)

  • Judy Harrow

    Two things:

    1. I disagree that “supporting traditional (heterosexual) marriage” requires opposing same-sex marriage, or that supporting marriage implies opposing heterosexual marriage. All the advocates of marriage equality that I know actually support the right of anybody to choose to live in a long-term committed relationship (hetero- or homo- sexual) and to have that relationship legally recognized. I think it’s intellectually dishonest to portray support for diversity as opposition to any one of the available choices.

    2. With regard to the Ocean Grove Pavillion and a lot of the adoption agency situations, the issue is not whether organizations can discriminate against gays, but whether they can receive government subsidies for doing so. (I consider tax exemptions to be a form of government subsidy.). As a tax payer, I don’t want my money to support organizations that discriminate against approximately 10% if my neighbors. They can do whatever they want on their own dime.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Judy,

    We’re not discussing the underlying issues but whether the media have covered the implications of this legislation well.

    So, for instance, do you think all those people who are being told to be open to including same-sex unions realize that this may mean the end of the government’s relationship with all of these social institutions they love and rely on?

    Do they get the tradeoff? And should it be mentioned?

  • Judy Harrow

    Hi, Mollie

    My first point was to call you on your inaccurate portrayal of the pro-marriage-equality position. It is not opposition to traditional (heterosexual) marriage any more than it is opposition to White people to demand equality for Blacks. So it was a journalistic comment directed to the discourse right here.

    Yes, of course I think the tradeoff should be mentioned. I’m generally in favor of more openness and more information. As you rightly point out, this touches deeper issues than the specifically gay ones — separation of church and state being foundational to this country.

    I personally think we went down a dangerous road when the government started supporting “faith based” institutions. I’m guessing that, from the perspective of those institutions, the danger was becoming dependent on government funds. But it’s an old adage that “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” and I don’t think government should be supporting discrimination, even when faith-based, whether that’s Bob Jones’ prohibition of interracial dating (a policy they were forced to change) or denial of full public access to the Ocean Grove Pavillion.

  • Dave

    Mollie, I don’t see how you can ignore the overwhelming, obvious desire of the mass of BGLTs in this movement to hitch their wagon to the star of monogamy. It doesn’t make anti-monogamy scriveners obscure, but it does make them irrelevant, and the MSM properly treats them as such.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Repeatedly, I see here and in the media the Big Lie about how large the homosexual population is in America.
    Since 2002 the accepted figure in court cases –and even accepted by Gay groups involved in a major legal case– has been that given by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics and it is NOT 10%. It is 1-2%. The 10%–which the media refuses to stop using– is a Gay Movement propaganda lie culled from the long ago discredited Kinsey research. And clearly people of good intention–like Judy above– fall for it.
    The reason the 10% lie is so important is that history shows that a group’s political power and influence grows exponentially when it is PERCEIVED (rightfully or erroneously) that a group has reached that level.

  • Dave

    Mollie, I clicked on that link you provided, thank you. You are conflating monogamy and fidelity. Married heterosexuals are not all faithful all the time, but that’s not the same thing as having more than one spouse.

    I speak btw as someone with no philosophical objection to polyamory as a lifestyle but harboring some puzzlements as to how it could be institutionalized. Unsurprisingly these latter mostly concern children, property and divorce. Much bigger problems than instituting marriage equity for BGLTs imho.


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